Grazing

What really is good grazing?

Consider adaptive, multi-paddock grazing as a way to increase the profit potential of your cattle.

In the last few months, I have provided ideas that can quickly and directly affect the amount of net income or profit that your cattle enterprise(s) can produce. Following each of the articles, I received several emails thanking me for the suggestions.

I often wonder if that’s where it ends, or if some of the readers really do begin to make some changes. Occasionally I get a gratifying “thank you” from someone telling me that for several years they have been following some of the suggestions and are pleased to report great results.  Now I’m asking, “Why wait?” It’s only your net income we’re talking about here.

If I were to take over the management of a ranch today, I would attack four areas immediately:

  • Reduce overheads—almost until it hurts. On most ranches, nothing changes profitability faster.
  • Calve at the right time of year—never in winter. In most situations, I like to calve in sync with nature, meaning that you arrange calving and rebreeding to fit the time of year when quantity and quality of grazable forage is at its best.
  • Adjust cow size and milk production and let nature and the bulls select cows that fit the environment—highly fertile, trouble free and low maintenance. Methods were presented last month.
  • Begin the process of planning and developing grazing management practices that will greatly improve soil health and pasture productivity—leading to improvements in stocking rate.

The remainder of this article will initiate a discussion on grazing. I am sure you have heard some good graziers use different names to describe what they are doing—planned grazing; time-controlled grazing; high-density, low-frequency grazing; management intensive grazing (MiG); tall grazing; non-selective grazing; mob grazing; etc.

We could make a case for each name. While there may be some differences between the various methods and recommendations, I think we waste a lot of time arguing over which is best. I have come to the point where I like to describe it as “adaptive, multi-paddock grazing.”

Why?  Because:

  • As an ever-learning and ever-improving grazier, you will certainly get to the point of using many paddocks for each herd.
  • You will adapt grazing to fit:
    • Your typical climate conditions and the weather of each year
    • The condition of the land and the plants
    • The health and condition of the cow,
    • The season of the year, especially in relationship to calving, breeding and weaning
    • Your short and long term objectives, etc.
  • “Adaptive” should imply that your grazing will always be planned and time-controlled. You will plan the timing of use for each paddock along with the length of the graze period and, more importantly, the length of the recovery period.
  • Good grazing may be high density and almost always low frequency—“high density” meaning a high number of livestock on a small piece of land. This usually comes along later as grazing infrastructure and skills are developed. And “low frequency,” meaning not returning to the same place very often. This has to do with desired recovery time, which relates to the expected growth rates of the grazed plants.
  • You may even use “mob grazing”—whatever that means.
  • If you are grazing well, it will surely be management intensive grazing with emphasis on “management” being intensive.
  • There may be times of the year when you want to graze tall and other times when non-selective grazing could help you reach well defined production, landscape or soil health goals.

I mention these because those who have not embraced some method of improved grazing have probably heard the names and the chatter. They have also probably watched across the fence or even attended a ranch tour or pasture walk where the results of some good grazing were observed.

There is, then, a danger of thinking that you understand what is being done when there is a high probability that you don’t. While most good graziers have some preferences and even biases, they don’t argue much about the names of the methods. They are ever learning from each other and are striving to continually improve the soil, plant community and the livestock.

Good graziers have learned that everything they, their machines, their chemicals, animals, and fire do on the soil surface has a positive or negative effect on the soil, the plants, the insects, the birds, the small and large animals, and even themselves. You can’t affect one of these without affecting them all. So, some actions may have both positive and negative reactions.  We need to get good at assessing the long-term net effects.

Stay tuned for more on grazing next month.

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