Stop Being LAZY!
Mar 03, 2014
Don’t Wait for Spring!
During all of the weather challenges this winter I was reminded that pastures are often last on the list of management priorities on many farms. In our area I have noticed a lot of pastures that were overgrazed late into last season and still others that were allowed to "stockpile" before winter hit in November. And these pastures were a common combination on many farms. This is due to a poor grazing plan and or laziness on the part of the producer because with proper management pastures can be used to reduce feed costs, improve animal performance, and boost farm income especially in the winter months.
Plan now on how your going to manage grazing late in the 2014 season (August-October), this can have a greater effect on the pasture than any other part of rotational pasture management. While working with beginning grazers I often find myself suggesting that they consider having more, smaller paddocks, rather than one BIG pasture that allows their stock to be too selective and in return allows their pasture to become "WILD" with invasive weeds and an explosion of un-favorable/un-palatable grasses that will quickly take over the entire pasture.
Set aside a few pastures in mid-August and don’t mow or graze them. Let them grow as long as they can into the fall/winter and use them as your winter pastures. This is commonly referred to as "Stockpiling Forages". One stockpiling advantage is it assures grasses will be replenishing and storing carbohydrate root reserves during the critical fall period, which will build stronger root systems. If the grass to be stockpiled is Tall fescue, this may be the best use for it. Cattle that reluctantly graze fescue in August and September find fescue in November & December to be very palatable. In addition, fescue will maintain its forage quality and tonnage better than other cool-season pasture grasses throughout the winter.
Grazing management principles:
- Allow the plants rest at least 30 days after grazing.
- Keep grazing times short (MOB Graze). Move, Move, Move!!
- Use a high enough stocking density to harvest the forage.
Grazing/removing leaves from forage plants is stressful. It eliminates photosynthesis, stops nutrient uptake from soil and in legumes it stops nitrogen fixation. Plants need rest to recover from this stress and to re-grow. We give the forages rest by removing the animals before all the leaves are eaten off the plants. No leaves, no photosynthesis, no regrowth. And those three negatives in your grazing program equal bigger input costs for the following season, and with Alfalfa seed hovering around $300 a bag that only re-seeds approx. 2.5 acres, that should be enough sticker shock to give you the kick in the pants to move your cattle more often and keep a better eye on the grazing height of your rotational pastures!
Overgrazing is a term used to describe inadequate rest periods. Most 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.
What causes overgrazing?
Allowing animals to re-graze plants before they are able to replace root reserves used for re-growth.
When most animals are turned into a new pasture they will select the plants they prefer. If kept in the same field long enough the plants grazed first will re-grow. New growth is always preferred to old growth. But remember that these recovering plants with new growth must be protected. Overgrazing keeps these plants stressed. In the short term it can slow plant recovery/re-growth. Long term it can lead to the loss of some plant species in the pasture and the loss of forage yield. As stated before, this is simply due to a combination of poor pasture rotation planning and laziness. And laziness equals un-necessary $$$$.
If we keep the grazing times short then we need enough animals to harvest all the forage we want in a paddock. Stocking density is the number of animals in an area at a particular moment. High stocking density increases the uniformity of gazing. Grazing management typically increases stocking density. Livestock are no longer spread over one large pasture but consolidated, for a point in time, into a smaller paddock. Increasing stocking density frequently improves grazing distribution and harvest efficiency. There is greater competition for the available forage. With heavy grazing pressure 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.