Long-Range Pasture Planning
For many livestock operations in the Ozarks, grass is the backbone of the feeding program. Many producers rely on pasture to get their cattle up to market weight, so implementing a grazing schedule to maintain optimum forage growth and nutrition makes a lot of sense.
Without a grazing plan, it is unlikely that producers can achieve maximum efficiency from both their pastures and their herd.
The best way to maximize pastures is to implement a rotational grazing system, also known as Management Intensive Grazing (MIG).
According to information from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), under rotational grazing, only one portion of the pasture is grazed at a time while the remainder of pasture rests. To accomplish this, pastures are sub-divided into smaller areas (referred to as paddocks) and livestock are moved from one paddock to another. Resting grazed paddocks allows forage plants to renew energy reserves, rebuild vigor, deepen their root system, and give long term maximum production.
Better production from the forage translates to higher stocking densities while still being able to provide good quality, nutritious grass. Research has found that rotational grazing offers far more benefits to the farmer than continuous grazing on the same piece of ground all year, especially if the pasture is overstocked.
“Contrary to expectations, overstocked pastures decrease animal gain and forage production. Grazing forages close to the ground (i.e., less than 3 inches stubble height) decreases the amount of sugars and other nutrients left for pasture regrowth, thus reducing forage production in subsequent years,” Alex Rocateli, professor of Forage Systems at Oklahoma State University, has stated.
Continuous grazing will eventually kill all the forage and leach the nutrients out of the soil – plus, the bare dirt that results from continuous grazing provides a stellar environment for noxious weeds to grow, something that no farmer wants to contend with.
The amount of acreage a producer has is the deciding factor in how many paddocks he or she can create for rotational grazing – ideally, a grazing system would consist of 28 to 31 paddocks in the pasture, so that animals can be moved almost daily, and each paddock gets a month of rest to recover and produce new forage before livestock graze it again, explained Caleb Howerton of Green Thicket Farm in Springfield, Mo.
He went on to say that such a number of paddocks also aids in parasite prevention – most parasites are on a 26- to 28-day cycle, and by thoroughly resting your paddocks, the parasites in a particular paddock never get the chance to get taken up by a host. Without a host, the parasite dies. The more paddocks, the more intensive the grazing plan is, but the extra work is worth it in the long run if your farm is able to accommodate such a practice. Producers must also consider the growth rate and type of forage in the pasture to properly manage an intense system.
The thought of fencing so many paddocks would make most producers cringe, but this process can actually be quite simple – the majority of people who implement rotational grazing simply use electric polywire fencing or electro net and step in posts. Most animals will respect electric fence, and it is easy to take down and move.
Not only does a rotational grazing plan benefit your animals, and therefore, your bottom line, it also has great environmental advantages, per the NRCS. This type of grazing can reduce soil erosion from the deeper root systems grown by the plants, improve water quality, retain soil nutrients, and provide food and cover for wildlife. With so many pros, rotational grazing is a plan any producer should want to put into place on their farm.