When asked by producers, "What forages should I plant?" National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) State Grazinglands Specialist Mark Kennedy does not suggest planting what you may think.
"For the first three years I tell people not to plant anything but fence post and waterlines," Kennedy said. "The first thing you should do is see what happens naturally by employing a grazing management system."
Management-intensive grazing is an approach to managing grassland resources for long-term sustainability. The typical management-intensive grazing system will allow cattle to graze for a period of about five days and then allow the pasture to rest for 20-40 days.
According to Kennedy, letting the pasture rest is important and should not be overlooked.
"Once you have let your livestock on the pasture and they graze the plant off, they are removing a lot of carbohydrates, which is the plants energy source. If we allow the plant to rest by taking the cattle off the pasture, the plant will catch enough solar energy to jump start it."
Keep it growing
Continually moving cattle to and from actively growing vegetation is key. To do this many paddocks are needed, allowing cattle to be moved from one paddock that has been intensely grazed to the next paddock that has been rested. Rest periods are scheduled to allow leaves to regrow and replenish carbohydrates. During any one grazing event, about 50-60% of the top growth is removed leaving the height of the plant at 3-4 inches. Appropriate height to turn livestock into a paddock is somewhere between 6-10 inches tall for cool season grass and legume pastures.
"If your paddock at rest is not yet ready to be grazed and the pasture you are currently grazing needs to have the cattle moved off, do not move them," said Kennedy." I would much rather supplement cattle with hay where they are at than move them to a pasture that has not fully recovered. This will cause unnecessary stress on the plant and in return we will see thin and weak stands."
Kennedy says that it takes more than one component to make rotational grazing work for you especially during a time of drought or drought recovery. Management-intensive grazing allows you to do more than just renovate your forage content but prepares you for a dry year
"A healthier more vigorous plant community keeps the soil covered and improves water infiltration. This leaves residuals followed by rest periods allowing the surface of the soil to be cool and to hold moisture for those dry days ahead," stated Kennedy.
Kennedy says that a key to success is pasture management, without a change in management it really does not matter what forage you plant because the pasture will just revert to the degraded condition.