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Graze for 365 days

One of the greatest advantages of Management-intensive Grazing, or MiG, is summer grazing in order to give producers the opportunity to grow more forages for winter grazing, says Jim Gerrish, a nationally recognized grazing specialist. Winter grazing can save money and time, allowing farmers and ranchers to graze standing forages and stalks instead of feeding hay.

“Our goal is 365 days of grazing,” Gerrish told a group of producers recently at a workshop in O’Neill as part of an eight-stop speaking tour around the state.

Gerrish, who has 22 years of research experience, including work at the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center, now works as a grazing consultant at May, Idaho. He told the group that producers don’t always achieve year-around grazing.

“But we need to have a target out there to achieve it,” he said. “At first, maybe you only reach your goal one in every four years. You’ll at least get close.

“You have to make a plan,” he said. “Start planning before the first blade of grass shows up in the spring. In your grazing plan, stock the ranch to your winter grazing capacity, not the summer-grazing capacity.”

He advises, “Know your forage supply. Know not only what it is, but what it could be.”

Gerrish said it’s important to work up a calendar of seasonal forage availability that includes cool- and warm-season grasses, winter annual forages and forage legumes, looking at when each forage type peaks in productivity. “You need to know how much, when it’s available and how the quality matches up to the needs of the livestock,” he said.

Producers need to calve at the appropriate time, so there is fresh forage available when cows need it for their nursing calves. It helps to have functional cows in the herd that thrive without excessively high nutritional demands.

Gerrish said that producers should visually assess their pasture and forage inventory regularly, taking note of what they have available for grazing immediately, and what will be available in the coming days and weeks. “You’ll have paddocks at all different stages” during the growing season, he said.

During the growing season, the inventory tells producers the average forage availability for that day, the availability for the future, whether the forage availability is increasing or decreasing, and how management affects the inventory.

Gerrish said that strip-grazing winter forages, even cornstalks, provides up to 30% to 40% more utilization. Balancing forage supply with livestock demand helps producers make adjustments when needed. “You can’t manage things if you can’t measure it,” he said.

What’s your cow’s job description?

According to grazing consultant and author Jim Gerrish of May, Idaho, every cow on the farm or ranch is an employee, so there are responsibilities that are delegated to her. If she doesn’t cut it, she is fired from the staff.

Here are a few of Gerrish’s job requirements for cows on his place.

She has to enjoy the weather where she lives. Gerrish says he doesn’t want to baby his cows because of bad weather. He wants the cows to be acclimated to the type of weather expected where they live.

She needs to produce a live calf every 12 months. Gerrish says that he doesn’t like getting up in the middle of the night to assist in calving. Cows around his place must be able to birth on their own.

She has to feed her calf through weaning. In other words, he wants the cows to be able to raise their calves on the forages available.

She has to “rustle her own grub,” as Gerrish says, or harvest her own feed. In his quest for year-around grazing, Gerrish wants the cows to be able to thrive on available forages without much fed baled hay. “I want her to know how to work the range and find the best bites of feed that she can,” Gerrish says.

She needs to stay healthy without a lot of fuss. Gerrish doesn’t like veterinary bills, so he needs cows in his herds that require little veterinary attention.

She needs to stay in the herd for 10 years. Longevity is a big financial plus in a cow herd, so cows that can stay healthy, produce a calf every year and thrive on available forages are the keys to success.

She needs to spread fertilizer. MiG grazing cycles nutrients efficiently across the span of rangeland, so Gerrish expects his cows to do the fertilizing for him.

She needs to control weeds and brush. He wants cows to be able to utilize a diversity of forages on his rangeland, including weeds and brush.

Gerrish says that a producer’s job is managing his employees. “We need to create an environment where our employees can excel,” he says. “A cow can be very good at her job if we create the environment for her. Our job is also to plan and to market.”


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WINTER-GRAZING TIPS: Jim Gerrish, grazing expert, told cattle producers at a meeting in O’Neill that year-round grazing takes planning that starts in the spring.

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.