Manage Grazing Two Ways At Once For Better Production

The Grazier's Art

Plan grazing so you have a dormant-season reserve and growing-season quality.

Published on: August 22, 2013

To create high animal impact and have the cattle graze non-selectively we need control of every hoof and mouth in our cow herd.

Electric fence has enabled the grazier to effectively control animals after an initial training period. As a result, that has made it a simple matter to have them on the right spot for the correct amount of time, in a manner that is conducive to our goals.

However, it is imperative we clearly define our goals so we are not blindly rotating between paddocks.

Part of this goal-setting process is we need a forage reserve, or stockpile, for the non-growing season. We also need to prevent some of the grass from reaching an over-mature stage and thereby preventing optimum animal performance.

Fortunately, there is a way to achieve both goals.

If we rotated blindly we would run into problems very soon because forage conditions change as do the weather and seasons. Growth can faster or slower, depending on environmental conditions so one has to adjust the size of the paddock while being aware of the consequences of this.

If we have too much grass growth it will mature faster. So, by giving a smaller break we effectively manage for better utilization of this extra growth. Yet we need to keep in mind that as we decrease paddock sizes and increase utilization we will have more stockpiled forage at the end of the growing season. Therefore we should plan to have more cattle to harvest it and not allow it to become senescent.

Conversely, if growth slows down in the growing season due to environmental conditions we need to increase the size of the break for the cows so they will have enough forage for their daily requirements.

Under slow-growth conditions we need to remember there is going to be less stockpiled forage for the non-growing season and we need to start making plans to either destock some of our animals or to eventually start feeding hay or find leased pasture.

The rest of the solution to all this is to have a section of the farm devoted to the growing season and another section devoted for the non-growing season.

Part of the farm is then under a more frequent grazing pattern that maintains higher quality grazing, while the rest is stockpiled, as I mentioned earlier.

That makes it easy to adjust paddock size and speed of herd movement during the growing season with the proviso that the two areas need to be alternated every year to allow the forages to grow and express their potential every second year.

It also allows desirable species to increase in proportion of the pasture and to set seed and increase their root mass, all of which is a very important part of the total organic matter increase you should be trying to develop under this type of management.

Managing your grazing this way will increase the total dry matter production at least 100% over a period of years, when compared with continuous grazing.

We’ll talk in my next blog about what happens if we do not alternate management schemes on the two areas we’ve designated, or if we “graze tall” all the time.