May 20, 2011
With all of the weather challenges everyone is suffering through this spring, don’t let your pastures be last on your list of management priorities. I have noticed a lot of pastures that have cattle on them and there is still standing water on them. Not only are they severely overgrazed, but they weren’t allowed to mature before being grazed. This seems wrong because with proper management pastures can be used to reduce feed costs, improve animal performance, and boost farm income. While working with beginning grazers (Farmers not the cattle), I often suggest that they consider having more paddocks and a smaller number of cattle than what they think "they need" to start their grazing plan. It’s often easier to add cattle to pastures if needed, than it is to buy hay to supplement a cattle herd that is too large for the forages available. This is based on three grazing management principles: allow the plants rest/rejuvenate in between grazing periods, keep grazing times short and use a high enough stocking density to harvest all the forages. BEEFALO are perfect for consistent grazing. They aren’t as selective as "traditional" cattle. Once turned out of a paddock they leave it a consistent height.
Allow Adequate rest periods!
Grazing or removing leaves from forage plants is stressful on the plants. It eliminates photosynthesis, stops nutrient uptake from soil, and in legumes such as Alfalfa and clovers it stops nitrogen fixation in your soils. We allow our pastures rest by removing our cattle for at least 4 weeks. By providing an ample rest period, we allow the forages to recover. Overgrazing is a term used to describe inadequate rest periods, but many times it is misunderstood. Most producers think that having too many animals in a pasture causes overgrazing. Overgrazing is not having too many animals in a pasture, it is having animals in the pasture for too long. In the short term it can slow plant recovery. Long term it can lead to the loss of some plant species in the pasture and the loss of forage yield. Rest periods will differ throughout the season. In spring the rest period needed may be less than half of the rest period needed for summer primarily due to rainfall.
Shorten your grazing periods
Along with rest periods, keeping the time animals are grazing a particular paddock or pasture short is important. Growth rates change during the year, so the length of time before plants re-grow also changes. The longer animals stay in a paddock the poorer the quality of forage. As forage quality goes down animal intake declines. If intake goes down, performance drops. Studies have continually shown that short grazing periods known as MOB Grazing increase the quality and quantity of grazed forages and improve animal performance.
Stocking density is the number of animals in an area at any one time. MOB Grazing otherwise known as high stocking density increases the uniformity of gazing. Most cattle selectively graze. They eat the best plants first. They also ruin part of the pasture with manure, urine and trampling forage. Grazing management is typically focused on increasing stocking density to graze a given area in a quicker amount of time. Obviously this type of management will increase your time spent with your cattle but is that a bad thing? Increasing stocking density frequently improves grazing distribution and harvest efficiency. When MOB Grazing is practiced more forage is consumed by livestock and less is lost to such things as trampling, spoilage by animal wastes, and plant maturation and leaf death. It’s a win, win, win situation!!!