In the first two stories of this series we covered some terms used in managed grazing, provided their definitions, and explained why the terminology and the ideas they represent matter.
In this third and final article of our managed grazing primer, we’ll cover some important concepts that aren’t based in terminology.
Plants: Taller and deeper is better
Early in the days of managed grazing there was a huge and largely mistaken emphasis on grazing plants in Phase II, or vegetative state.
Pushed to its logical end, this resulted in what then grazing consultant Burt Smith once commented about New Zealanders: “They’re so afraid of Phase III growth they never let their plants get out of Phase I.”
Young forage is high in nitrogen/protein and low in energy, while older forage is higher in energy and better balanced in a ratio of nitrogen/protein, although it has higher indigestible content.
This older attitude foiled the greatest advantages of managed grazing. It never let the plants work with soil life to build soil. It never let the grazier build much forage reserve for winter or for drought.
Last but not least, we were told for years the quality of taller, older forages was so poor that cattle could not perform on it. That is not necessarily true of properly managed, multi-species pasture where soil health is on an increasing plane and cattle are harvesting forage for themselves. It’s all in the management.
Balance animal needs with grass management
One of the most important concepts to managing livestock well on forage is to recognize livestock production and nutritional needs and graze accordingly.
If you have dry cows or are dry wintering cattle, you might ask them to eat more of the plants.
Remember the highest quality in mature, fully recovered forage is near the top of the plants and the outer parts of newer or longer leaves
Again depending on livestock class and forage conditions, an affordable and well-designed supplement program can let you graze more severely, also.
Erratic grazing breeds success
Nature is chaotic and constantly changing, so your grazing management needs to be also.
If you graze the same areas the same way and same time each year, you will develop plants you may not want because they will try to fill the voids you are creating and you may hurt plants you desire because they will become grazed down and weakened, perhaps at critical times.
If you move those grazing times and even change animal densities and perhaps also add other grazing species, you will create more diverse plant life and soil life.
Remember, too, that your livestock don’t need to eat everything in the pasture to do a good job grazing.
Cattle legs are for walking
Water is always a limiting factor for managed graziers, but the low-cost solution in many cases is to make cattle walk back to water.
Certainly you can eat up thousands of dollars of profit by installing excessive water systems and numerous permanent water points.
This can be overcome to some degree with temporary fencing back to water and using existing water sources.
Mob grazing, planned grazing, cell grazing, Savory grazing, MIG grazing, AMP grazing – All these terms and more have been coined to describe managed grazing. When we say managed grazing, it means cattle are being moved to fresh pasture often enough that the manager has some control over consumption level of the cattle, as well as the graze and recovery times for plants. It also implies the manager has a plan (planned grazing) for grazing that meets certain goals of both the soil-plant complex and the livestock.
MIG is management intensive grazing. AMP is adaptive multi-paddock grazing. Savory grazing was a colloquialism based on consultant Allan Savory’s early advocacy for multi-paddock grazing in the U.S.
Cell grazing refers to the once-common label of a grazing unit as a “cell,” with a grazing unit being the area where one herd is managed. This is less common terminology today. Mob grazing refers to very-high-stock-density grazing and has either Australian or South African origins.
Paddock — is the term defining an enclosure where cattle are contained for a brief grazing period. This might be a week, or more, or less. It might be a few hours. It could be made with permanent, semi-permanent, or temporary fencing.
Stocking rate – Typically refers to the number of cattle that can be run on a ranch, or more specifically the total pounds of a livestock type and class that can be run year-around. It is typically based on the number of animals that can be grazed on one-half of one-half (or 25%) of the total forage grown in a year. Arguably, this carrying capacity would not include additional animals dependent on purchase of hay and other supplemental feeds. It can be a way to measure ranch productivity, but improvements in consumption, regrowth and soil health under well-managed grazing should improve stocking rate immediately and long-term.
Why does stock density matter?
Stock density is inversely related to grazing time. The higher the stock density, the fewer pounds of forage will be available for each animal and therefore the shorter must be the grazing time. The longer you graze livestock in a paddock under any circumstances, the less residual forage you leave in the paddock and the more forage animals will consume. High stock density also increases trampling. Managing stock density also helps determine the evenness of grazing and of urine and feces distribution, and whether less-desirous plants will be grazed or left behind.
Further, high stock density is directly correlated to length of recovery time and to number of paddocks needed. Put another way, higher stock density requires more paddocks and increases length of forage recovery. In turn, that allows greater forage production and the chance to leave more forage behind, preferably much of it trampled onto the soil surface to make more available for consumption by soil life while still protecting the soil.
Found a reliable logger locally who got started on my farm several weeks ago. He has been terribly hampered by weather (especially now that the ground is thawed and we are receiving about an inch of rain!) With Missouri’s unpredictable and challenging weather, it may be July before he can get back in!
Research results published November 30, 2017 by Sarah Kenyon, PhD, University of Missouri once again illustrate how grazing the non-native, invasive toxic-endophyte (E+) fescue plant causes health problems in cattle and other livestock, including horses. Other studies show the effects on the soil microbial populations and wildlife. E+ Fescue is pervasive, persistent, and poisonous.
Short grazing of E+ fescue in the last fall/early winter before a killing frost has been used by us and others to manage the spring growth of the plant by shortening the root system which slows spring growth, allowing more desirable grasses and legumes to get a foot hold. This is effective, but a relentless endeavor since it must be done every fall/winter to control the fescue and quite simply, there is no way to manage ALL the fescue at once everywhere on the farm.
I’m thankful for professors and agricultural leaders bucking the status quo and revealing this long-known information to a modern generation and offering solutions to not only mitigate the health issues associated with the toxin, but also ideas on eradicating it. Time will tell if changes will work – it’s expensive to renovate and manage pastures and fields – – and farming and ranching does not lend itself to wide margins of profits to plough back into improvements.
My farm in south Missouri has been recently split into two offerings to hopefully generate interest by people with different interests.
This link is to Whitetail Properties who is representing and showing the property. This piece is 30+/- acres fenced pastures with two ponds, nice shade/timber, beautiful updated earth contact home, detached garage and one bedroom apartment. Huge barn out back, horse arena, and round pen. Horse property with home near Springfield, MO.
The other piece is 173 +/- acres just across a lightly used paved road and also includes an RV barn with electrical hookup, fenced, live water, several ponds, stunning views, mountain and mature timber with world class hunting opportunities. Currently leased for cattle pasture. Pasture/Timber
Of course, it is also available in its entirety.
Located in Christian County, Missouri
Share and reblog if you will – thanks in advance!
Boy, howdy, now there’s an exciting title and one to really pull in a reader eager to learn about such a thing. Well, not, of course, but to cattle farmers and ranchers across a great portion of the United States, it’s a reality that sucks an estimated $1 billion out of our collective pockets EACH year!
in 1943 Kentucky 31 variety of fescue was commercially introduced and sold, it seemed at first a godsend to sod forming, persistence, deep rootedness (soil conservation), and production for cattle and other livestock producers. In the late 1970’s, scientists at last identified that fescue hosts a fungus that can produce toxic compounds called ergovaline. However, it is important to note, that reports of toxic effects of grazing infected fescue have been around at least since the early 1900’s. Why didn’t the light bulb go off that there is a problem that needs addressing BEFORE scattering it all over the US!? The only answer that seems reasonable is that establishment of the grass is cheap and easy and the resultant health concerns in stock are a silent drain.
Whatever the case may be, I’m now on a mission to eradicate to a degree as much as possible toxic fescue from my pastures. In so doing, cattle health and numbers should increase, calf gains and cow milking ability should increase as well as reproduction improvements. Additionally, soil health and tilth should improve, thereby increasing its moisture capturing and holding capacity (resulting in less runoff and erosion). Lastly, but certainly not least, ridding the pastures of tall fescue will greatly improve wildlife habitat – especially ground nesting species such as quail.
The fruits of this project will likely be for the next generation and i ask myself if it is really worth the expense and effort to make a bold move in such uncertain times of low cattle prices. Time will tell, i guess.
I think I’ll put these entries in a separate category so my reports and progress can be easily accessed. I’m no Pioneer Woman like Dee, (ya gotta admire the outreach she has done with her whit and way with words), but if you have an interest in organic, no chemical, minimal tillage farming, pasture renovation, cattle rearing for producing clean healthy food while improving (regenerating is the popular term) our environment, come alongside and join the conversation. I will enjoy any questions.