Category: Climate

Here’s How to Successfully Grow Grass

By   /  May 6, 2019  /

I took the time to walk through most of my pastures a few days ago. I recommend doing this fairly often to keep a mental forage inventory. It is best to record the findings. Some use fancy electronic data sheets, some track on paper charts, some just have notes in their pocket datebook or smart phone. I use a combination. I like the paper charts for long term planning, but for a quick assessment, I like a white board.

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I have a white board, you know, one of those new-fangled chalk boards that you use erasable markers on. I took 1/8-inch black tape and used it to outline the boundaries of all the fields. If I get present yield estimates taken, I put those numbers on the board with the date collected. But I use the board more for tracking grazing patterns and, more importantly, rest.

Animal groups are color coordinated and enter and exit dates are marked on the board. If animals are strip grazed across the field, then an arrow is included to show the move. I can now look at the board and quickly see how long it has been since the field was last grazed and/or how many days it has been rested.

Rest is very important – Really important!

How productive would you be if you worked 24/7 with no rest? It’s the same for forage.

Rest grows grass. If a pasture is continuously grazed, how much rest does the pasture get? None if the animals are never removed.

Forages can’t rest while being bitten off by ruminants. They only rest when they are allowed to regrow in peace! I often talk about stop grazing heights. It takes grass to grow grass! We need to move the animals to maintain an effective solar panel. Only green, growing leaves carry out photosynthesis! Most tall cool season forages, such as orchardgrass and tall fescue, need at least four inches of live leaf matter left for collecting solar energy for rebuilding roots, reserves, and then regrowth.

The grazing or harvest event of forage removal has a direct correlating effect on root growth. Research shows that we can remove up to fifty percent of the forage plant with little or no impact on root growth. If we removed more than that fifty percent, then root growth is drastically slowed down. Once we remove seventy percent or more of the plant, which is approaching hay removal levels, root growth comes to a screeching halt. It will now take a longer rest period. There is approximately equivalent live growth above and below ground. When we remove plant leaf matter, roots respond similarly because they are supported by those leaves. Therefore, there is die back of roots when not enough leaf matter is left for maintenance.

How much rest is really needed or ideal?

Early in the growing season when forages are growing fast, it can be pretty short, but normally never less than 14 days. As forage growth starts to slow down a little, then rest should be at least 30 days. When summer heat and drier conditions kick in, cool season grasses then benefit from longer rests, quite often 45 and up to 60 days. To keep it simple, just remember when forages are growing fast, move animals fast (no running, a gentle walk from pasture to pasture is sufficient), and when forages are growing slower, move animals slower.

Longer rests periods and more live residual left behind mean more roots. More roots support quicker regrowth of grazeable material and increase drought tolerance. The more growth there is above ground means there are more live roots below ground. As longer, deeper roots move downward through the soil profile, they bring moisture and nutrients upward. Shallow root systems have no drought tolerance. It certainly doesn’t appear right now like the lack of moisture could possibly be a problem, but we are always only about sixty days from a drought. Drought management should always be a part of our contingency plan.

How can you rest your grass?

If you divide the pasture up into four permanent paddocks and rotate through them, 75% of the paddocks are at least getting some rest. Is it ideal? No, but it is still better than no rest. If we increase the number of paddocks to say, twelve and rotate through them, then 94% of the paddocks are getting some rest while the 60% portion is being grazed.

After grazing is initiated in the spring, I generally recommend continuing to graze around the system until the first paddock is ready to graze again. You can then move back to that paddock and start over. The paddocks that you skip can then be stockpiled for summer grazing or cut for hay. If forage growth starts slowing down quicker than expected, say from lack of rain, then you can always jump back to the paddocks you skipped. If you plan ahead, especially if you have been tracking moves for a few years, you can estimate what field(s) you may want to skip this year in the first rotation. If you have fields that could benefit from longer rests due to being used hard the previous year or overwinter, or one(s) that could benefit from some extra carbon, then this is a chance to provide some extra rest and recovery.

Annual rest is important too.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. It is best not to start the grazing season in the same field every year. Those first fields often get grazed before ideal conditions. This short time abuse, done year after year, can increase problem weeds and reduce diversity of forages, especially desired forages.

How low can you go?

The old adage, or rule of thumb, of “take half and leave half” is actually not a bad rule as long as the starting point is high enough! More importantly, when we allow animals to graze too close, we slow down regrowth, require longer recovery, and reduce year around production. For the highest production, most tall cool season forages do the best when grazing is initiated at eight to twelve inches and ended at four to six inches as the stop grazing height. Stop grazing height, or residual height, is not the tallest forage left behind after a grazing event, but the shortest! The shortest forages should be at least four inches tall. Animal intake is also influenced by the amount of desirable forage present, especially height. Intake can be reduced when a full bite is not possible.

The bottom line…

Forages need rest. Rest influences forage yield, persistence and, therefore, animal performance. No or little rest results in lower forage yields and poor persistence of desirable species due to depleted root reserves and roots. On average, most forages benefit from at least thirty days of rest between grazing events.

Enjoy the new grazing season and keep on grazing!

Climate Change Solutions

Here is a great article from Holistic Management Canada Newsletter September 2018 Whether you believe in Climate Change or not: If you store more carbon in your soil, you will be more profitable, pastures more productive, and your land will be more resilient. As Blain states it is a WIN-WIN solution.

Climate Change Solutions by Blain Hjertaas
Several months ago, I wrote about the history of the climate change and the limited success of change to date. In fact most people are disengaged and feel powerless to effect change on the single greatest event that we have ever faced as a species. This focuses on some of the practical solutions that we are doing and could all be doing.

If you look into climate issues one of the first things you will come across is the Keeling Curve. In 1958 Dr. Charles Keeling set up an observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii high on the side of a mountain facing into the Pacific trade winds. He wanted samples that would be representative of world levels. In 1958 the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was 312 parts per million (PPM). The observatory is still working today and levels are 409PPM (as of July 2). (See attached photos from previous post)

If we look at a single year the levels are the highest in the winter and the lowest in the summer. The reason for this is more land mass in the northern hemisphere. As we green up in the spring the green growth uses a tremendous amount of C02 which brings the curve down. There isn’t an equivalent amount of land in the southern hemisphere to offset our winter period so the curve oscillates being the highest in winter and lowest in summer.

How much? On an annual basis the natural cycles remove about 120 billion tonnes of C02 in the spring and in the fall about 130 billion tonnes are released back into the atmosphere from vegetation dying, land use, fire and burning fossil fuel. Hence the gradual slow increase in the curve which is currently at 409PPM.

If we want to become serious about climate change we need to ramp up photosynthesis, so that we are removing 130 billion tonnes every spring or better yet 140 billion tonnes so we begin to remove the legacy load from the atmosphere. Over time our C02 levels will begin to decline and our climate will become more stable.

The question is how do we do this? Most of our discussions over the last 60 years have focused on limiting our burning of fossil fuels as the solution to climate change. Fossil fuels contribute about 6% of the 130 billion tonnes that move annually in C02 cycle. I’m not saying we shouldn’t burn less fossil fuel. If we want to have an effect why wouldn’t we do something that has a major effect not a 6% effect?

We can see from the above chart, how we have changed the surface of our home over the last 10000 years with agriculture. Instead of 13 billion ha doing photosynthesis, we now have 8.5 billion ha doing photosynthesis and some of that is not very efficient. Crops are only green for 70 or 80 days of the year and the desert is doing nothing. If all 13 billion ha of our surface were functioning effectively we would not be having this discussion.

To solve the problem we need to ramp up photosynthesis worldwide so we are cycling at least 130 billion tonnes per year and better yet 140 billion.

As nature did, we only have one means to do this. That is to maximize plant growth so as to:
• A) Draw down carbon from the air to fix it via plant photosynthesis and then…
• B) Minimize how much of that fixed carbon is oxidized back to CO2 and instead allow it to be…
• C) Converted via soil fungi into stable soil carbon to restore the Earth’s carbon ‘sponge’.
This A, B and C process is simple and natural, but what matters is that we do it, now.
How do we do it on a world scale? I don’t know but part of it is knowledge. The good news is that most of us are already doing it. With our grazing management we are maximizing photosynthetic capture which relates to C02 cycling. The beauty of it is that it gives us more production and makes our system more resilient as we build our soil carbon sponge. It’s a win/ win for everyone as we begin to regenerate our soils using holistic principles.

Spread the good news about what you are doing on your farms and ranches. It is critical we get our good news story out, that we are the solution to climate change.

The above is a very brief summary of the work that Dr. Walter Jehne is doing. HM Canada recently sponsored him at a meeting in Regina.

For more on Dr. Walter Jehne’s work:

READ: http://www.globalcoolingearth.org/regenerate-earth/
WATCH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nC6j80sLZo

Grazing Management

http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/grazing-management-48

Effective grazing management on pastures not only ensures high forage yield, sustainability, animal health and productivity, all of which impact cost of production, it also benefits the pasture ecosystem.  Innovations in pasture management give producers greater control to support the environment (e.g. biodiversity) but also allow them to better use pasture resources for food production.

Pasture is a critical resource in the cattle industry. An effective management plan requires clear understanding of forage production, realistic production goals, effective grazing strategies and timely response to forage availability and environmental changes. Managing grazing lands so that they are productive and persist over time requires knowing when to graze certain species, if they can withstand multiple grazings/cuttings within a single year and how much recovery time is needed to prevent overgrazing (which is a matter of time not intensity)

Plant Growth

  • Plants go through three phases of growth that form an “S” shaped curve
  • Adjust grazing and rest periods to keep plants in Phase II
  • The timing of the growth curve for each forage species is unique and an important factor in determining proper season of use for grazing

Rest and Recovery

  • Overgrazing is a function of time; rest is key to prevent overgrazing
  • When plants are growing slowly the required recovery or rest period will need to be longer than when plants are growing rapidly

Stand Management

  • Plant diversity is important to maintain a productive pasture; if only one kind of plant exists, diversity is narrow, and production will be limited
  • Management of a forage stand relies upon the level of utilization that allows for maximum grazing of forage without damage or negative impact to the vegetation
  • A general guideline employs 50% utilization by weight (biomass) of the key available forage species in a stand

Developing a Grazing Plan

  • A grazing plan that matches animal numbers to predicted forage yields should be carried out before animal turnout
  • Conducting an inventory of resources is essential

Grazing Systems

  • Grazing systems will vary with the climate, plant species, soil types and livestock
  • Four basic principles of management apply:
    • balance the number of animals with available forage supply
    • obtain a uniform distribution of animals over the landscape
    • alternate periods of grazing and rest to manage and maintain the vegetation
    • use the kinds of livestock most suited to the forage supply and the objectives of management

Paddock Design

  • Paddock shape should be determined by the topography, soil type, and species differences to reduce problems with uneven grazing and varying recovery time
  • The size of individual paddocks should be determined by the projected herd size based on forage production potential and preferred stock density
  • Access to water impacts grazing patterns of livestock and understanding this will assist in managing forage utilization
Livestock Distribution
  • Ideal grazing distribution occurs when the entire pasture is grazed uniformly to an appropriate degree within a predetermined time frame
  • Livestock do not graze randomly and must be forced or enticed to seldom used areas
  • Salt and mineral should be placed away from water and used to distribute animals more uniformly

Grazing Legumes

  • Legumes as part of an annual grazing plan can help restore soil nitrogen, increase forage yields and extend pasture carrying capacity
  • Legume grazing requires increased management efforts to ensure optimal stand persistence and animal performance

Grazing Management Terminology and Calculations

  • Stocking rate is the number of animals on a pasture for a specified time period
  • Stock density is the number of animals in a particular area at any moment in time
  • Carrying capacity is the average number of animals that a pasture can support for a grazing season

The efficiency with which plants convert the sun’s energy into green leaves and the ability of animals to harvest and use energy from those leaves depends on the phase of growth of the plants. Plants go through three phases of growth that form an “S” shaped curve (Figure 1).

Phase I occurs in the spring following dormancy or after severe grazing where few leaves remain to intercept sunlight forcing plants to mobilize energy from the roots. The roots become smaller and weaker as energy is used to grow new leaves.

Phase II is the period of most rapid growth. When regrowth reaches one fourth to one third of the plant’s mature size, enough energy is captured through photosynthesis to support growth and begin replenishing the roots.

Phase III material is mature and nutrient content, palatability, and digestibility is relatively poor. Leaves become shaded, die and decompose. During this phase new leaf growth is offset by the death of older leaves.

Adjust grazing and rest periods to keep plants in Phase II. Do not graze plants so short that they enter phase I as regrowth is very slow.  Nor should plants be permitted to mature and enter phase III as shading and leaf senescence reduces photosynthesis. The harvest of energy is maximized by keeping plants in phase II.

Figure 1: The sigmoid (S) growth curve of  a typical forage stand indicates how yield, growth rates and rest periods change over the growing season. (Voisin 1988).

The timing of the growth curve for each forage species is unique and these growth characteristics are an important factor in determining proper season of use for grazing (Figure 2). For example, crested wheatgrass begins growth relatively early in the growing season while native grass species grow later in the season. Based on these characteristics, crested wheatgrass is best grazed early in the season with native rangelands better suited for use in the summer or fall. It is important to recognize that forage species may be grazed outside their optimal season of use however, the subsequent rest period must be extended to allow plants adequate time to recover.

Figure 2 – Average relative yield and period of growth of native grass and seeded pastures in Saskatchewan.

Overgrazing is a function of time and occurs when a plant is grazed (defoliated) before it has recovered from a previous grazing event. This occurs by either leaving grazing animals in a paddock too long or bringing them back too soon, before plants have had a chance to recover and regrow. Rest is key to prevent overgrazing and must occur when the plants are actively growing, not during dormancy.

The length of time that a plant needs to recover following grazing depends on several factors including the type of forage species, plant vigour, and the level of utilization (i.e., how much plant material has been removed). Recovery time also depends on the season or time of year which determines conditions such as daylength and temperature. Fertility and moisture also impact plant growth rates.

When plants are growing slowly, such as in late summer, the required recovery or rest period will need to be longer than when plants are growing rapidly. This relates to the “S” shaped growth curve discussed above. Understanding the phase of the growth curve, the corresponding rate of growth, and the timing of the growth period for each forage species, is critical to management decisions related to adequate rest and recovery periods.

Figure 3: the required recovery or rest period will need to be longer than when plants are growing rapidly

Determining the number of days of rest required is unfortunately, not a simple calculation. Rather, watching and evaluating how pastures regrow and recover will provide the best information. With experience will come the knowledge needed to determine when a pasture has recovered and is ready for grazing.  As a general rule of thumb a minimum recovery period is estimated to be at least 6 weeks.

Maintaining a pasture stand in good condition is critical to a successful grazing plan. Desirable species provide high quality forage and production for a large part of the grazing season. Typically, the desirable forages are hardy grasses and legumes that regrow quickly. Undesirable species are those that are typically unpalatable to the grazing animal or may contain anti-nutritional components. Plant diversity is also important to maintain a productive pasture throughout the entire landscape and growing season. If only one kind of plant exists, diversity is narrow, and production will be limited. If many plant varieties are present, diversity is broad. High plant density must also be maintained as bare and open spots are unproductive and allow for weed encroachment and soil erosion.

Management of a forage stand relies upon the level of utilization that allows for maximum grazing of forage without damage or negative impact to the vegetation, including both above and below ground growth. Determining the optimum amount of forage to remove versus leave behind is not an easy task and depends upon plant, animal and environmental factors. Research findings and professional judgement help provide guidelines for determining appropriate level of utilization, but experience is the best guide. A general guideline often employed by grazing mangers employs the ‘take half, leave half’ rule or 50% utilization by weight (biomass) of the key available forage species in a stand. This level of utilization fits a moderate level of grazing intensity and is a good starting guideline to employ. However, it is important to adjust utilization rates based upon site-specific variables including forage species, time of year, available forage, and overall management goals.

The overall condition of a forage stand impacts the number of animals that a pasture can support and the length of time that grazing can occur. Factors such as previous grazing management, species of forage, age of stand, soil type, texture, fertility level and moisture conditions all influence forage yield and quality and consequently stocking rate. Understanding these factors and implementing a grazing system is key to effective grazing management.

An interactive Forage Species Selection Tool is available to assist land managers in selecting the correct forage species best suited their land. Seeding rate and seed cost calculators are integrated as well.

Visit the Rangeland and Riparian Health page for more information, including videos, related to pasture condition and health assessments.

A grazing plan that matches animal numbers to predicted forage yields should be carried out before animal turnout.

An important first step in developing a plan includes defining goals and objectives for the entire grazing operation. This includes profitability measures, lifestyle choices, and biological outcomes such as soil health, forage production, ecosystem impacts and animal performance.

Conducting an inventory of resources is essential. How much forage is available and at what times during the grazing season? Is the forage source able to meet the intended animals’ nutritional requirements? How long is the intended grazing season? What physical infrastructure is available or needed?

This process of completing an inventory and evaluating resources is critical to developing and implementing a successful grazing system. The Pasture Planner: A Guide to Developing Your Grazing System provides an excellent resource to assist producers with planning, development and/or modification of their grazing system. It includes a number of worksheets and templates useful in the inventory and planning process.

A grazing system is the way a producer manages forage resources to feed animals, balancing livestock demand (both quantity and quality) with forage availability and promoting rapid pasture re-growth during the grazing season as well as long-term pasture persistence.Grazing systems will vary with the climate, plant species, soil types and livestock. Systems that are commonly used in Canada include continuous grazing or controlled grazing systems which are numerous and varied, even in their terminology, including but not limited to: rotational grazing, forward grazing, creep grazing, strip grazing, limit grazing, stockpile grazing and extended grazing.

A number of resources exist which provide an excellent overview of the types, development, and implementation of grazing systems. Examples include:

Maritime Pasture Manual: Chapter 2 – Grazing Systems

Managing Saskatchewan Rangeland

Pasture Planner: A Guide for Developing Your Grazing System

With continuous grazing, animals will naturally graze the most palatable plant species most frequently. Root reserves are eventually exhausted, and plants may die. In highly stocked continuously grazed pastures, regrowth will be grazed quite frequently. Lightly stocked continuously grazed pastures consist of patches of plants in phase I and phase III. If animals are forced to eat phase III material, their daily intake will drop, reducing animal gains.

In a controlled grazing system, animals only have access to relatively small parts of a pasture for a period of time. Pastures are divided into paddocks where the land is grazed for relatively short periods of time following which, livestock are removed to ensure the plants have adequate time to recover before being grazed again. Because this requires more knowledge of forage plants and pasture-animal interactions, controlled grazing is often referred to as management-intensive grazing (MIG).

Whether managing native rangeland or tame forage species, four basic principles of management apply:

  • balance the number of animals with available forage supply
  • obtain a uniform distribution of animals over the landscape
  • alternate periods of grazing and rest to manage and maintain the vegetation
  • use the kinds of livestock most suited to the forage supply and the objectives of management.

Stocking rate histories on similar fields in the same area can be very useful in setting initial stocking rates. The optimum number of animals on a pasture makes efficient use of the forage but leaves enough plant material behind to allow a quick and complete recovery.

When developing a grazing system, paddock shape should be determined by the topography, soil type, and species differences to reduce problems with uneven grazing and varying recovery time. If a paddock has a lot of variation in it, some areas will be underutilized while others are severely grazed.

The size of individual paddocks should be determined by the projected herd size based on forage production potential and preferred stock density to keep the frequency of cattle moves consistent. As productivity of the land increases, paddock size should be reduced to achieve desired levels of utilization. Generally, square paddocks offer more uniform forage utilization and better manure distribution compared to long narrow shapes.

Developing a practical water distribution system is an important consideration in designing an efficient grazing plan and paddock design. Access to water impacts grazing patterns of livestock and understanding this will assist in managing forage utilization. It is recommended that pasture systems be designed to provide water sources within 600 to 800 feet of all areas of a paddock for optimum uniformity of grazing2.  Portable water systems are a powerful tool for managing grazing distribution and manure cycling. If water cannot be provided in each paddock, laneways designed to bring the stock to the water source are the next alternative. Plan the pasture layout to minimize laneway length and keep laneway width within 16 –24 feet to reduce the amount of loafing by animals3. Similarly, minimizing the common area around a water source will reduce the amount of time that animals spend congregating at the site.

 

Proper livestock distribution, achieved by spreading grazing animals over a pasture management unit to obtain uniform use of all forage resources, can increase production. Grazing distribution varies with the kind and class of grazing animal, topography, location of water, salt and mineral placement, forage palatability, vegetation type, forage quality, forage quantity, location of shade and shelter, fencing patterns, pasture size, grazing system, stock density, and prevailing winds.

Ideal grazing distribution occurs when the entire pasture is grazed uniformly to an appropriate degree within a predetermined time frame. Cattle, being creatures of habit, rarely graze uniformly when left alone. They graze convenient areas, especially those near water and easily accessible. Livestock do not graze randomly and must be forced or enticed to seldom used areas.

Improving grazing distribution results in higher harvest efficiency because livestock consume a greater proportion of the available forage. It also spreads defoliation effects across a greater proportion of available forage plants.

Methods for improving livestock distribution include:

  • managing stock density and/or season of grazing;
  • forcing animals to specific locations by fencing;
  • using grazing management strategies such as rotational grazing;
  • enticing animals to specific locations with water, salt, supplemental feed, or rub and oiler placement; and
  • using the kind and class of livestock best suited to the terrain and vegetation characteristics.

Placement of water developments is probably the most important factor affecting grazing distribution as water is the central point of grazing activities. Near water, plants are heavily used and forage production drops. Reducing pasture size and reducing the distance to water can significantly improve livestock distribution. Salt and mineral should be placed away from water and used to distribute animals more uniformly.

Topography is an important cause of poor grazing distribution. Where possible, pastures should be fenced to minimize variability in topography, plant communities, and timing of plant growth.

Shade is another important factor of animal distribution as animals will migrate towards these areas during the hot times of the day to stay cool and to avoid insect irritation.

Legumes as part of an annual grazing plan can be advantageous as these plants can help restore soil nitrogen, increase forage yields and extend pasture carrying capacity. Improved animal performance may also be achieved when grazing stands containing legumes. However, legume grazing requires increased management efforts to ensure optimal stand persistence and animal performance.

Producers are often hesitant to seed alfalfa for grazing purposes due to fears of bloat even though yield and productivity could be increased. To gain the benefits of grazing this legume, careful management is critical. To reduce the risk:

  • do not move cattle onto new pasture when it’s wet with heavy dew, rainfall or irrigation water. Grazing alfalfa when it is wet increases the possibility of bloat, so it’s better to move animals to a new pasture in the afternoon rather than in the morning.
  • never allow animals to stand hungry before turning them into an alfalfa pasture, as it can lead to overconsumption of fresh alfalfa.
  • wait until alfalfa is in full bloom to graze. Bloat risk is highest when alfalfa is in vegetative to early bloom stages of growth. As alfalfa enters the full bloom or post bloom stages, soluble protein levels decrease, plant cell walls thicken, lignin content increases, and the rate of digestion of alfalfa in the rumen decreases.
  • do not graze alfalfa for three days to two weeks following a killing frost. Frost may increase the incidence of bloat by rupturing plant cell walls, leading to a high initial rate of digestion. Delay grazing alfalfa until the stand dries. The time required to dehydrate varies by location and weather.

The risk of bloat when grazing pure alfalfa stands can also be reduced through the selection of reduced bloat varieties (e.g. AC Grazeland) and the use of products including Bloat-Guard, the Rumensin CRC bolus, or Alfasure.

Many producers prefer to avoid bloat by seeding alfalfa-grass mixtures. Depending on the percentage of alfalfa in the mix, this can reduce the risk of bloat but maintaining alfalfa within the stand can be a challenge. Over time plants disappear from the stand eliminating many of the benefits including increased fertility.

A study in Swift Current, Saskatchewan4 showed that alfalfa and sainfoin plant counts both dropped by 50% over the four-year grazing trial. Research conducted near Brandon, Manitoba also found that the alfalfa percentage in a mix declined from 75.4 – 84.1% to 32.5 – 40.3% over a four-year period5.

The following management techniques can help to maintain legumes in a stand:

  • in the spring, wait until alfalfa is three to four inches tall before grazing. After the spring grazing period ends, allow the alfalfa to regrow for about 25 to 40 days before grazing again or cutting for hay.
  • allow plants rest during September and October, or control grazing to maintain at least 6 to 8 inches of standing alfalfa at all times.
  • avoid reducing stubble height to less than 2 or 3 inches in late fall to help protect alfalfa from winter damage.
  • allow plants to grow without cutting or grazing for at least four to six weeks prior to the first killing frost.

There are many other legume species that in more recent times are seeing increased use within grazed pasture stands. This includes sainfoin, cicer milkvetch, birdsfoot trefoil, alsike clover, red clover, white clover, kura clover, sweet clover, and purple or white prairie clover. These legumes may not have the yields of alfalfa but may better suit the land, soil type, or management system. Legumes including sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil, purple prairie clover and white prairie clover contain condensed tannins which can reduce protein breakdown in the rumen and prevent bloat. Having protein digested in the small intestine instead of by the rumen bacteria contributes to more efficient animal growth. If these tannin-containing legumes are seeded in a mixture with alfalfa they will “actively” reduce bloat risk. Cicer milk vetch does not have tannins but is slower to digest so will not cause bloat.

As a non-bloating legume, animal gains on sainfoin pastures can be as efficient and rapid as on alfalfa pasture. Sainfoin is resistant to the alfalfa weevil, grows earlier in the spring and later in the fall. Researchers at AAFC Lethbridge have been selecting sainfoin for improved yield, regrowth and survival in alfalfa stands, and have found that sainfoin’s survival depends partly on the alfalfa variety it is grown with, as well as where it is grown.

More information about legume grazing strategies and research being conducted can be found in the following BCRC Factsheets:

Keeping legumes in pasture stands longer

New sainfoin varieties

Increasing fall productivity in winter-hardy alfalfa

Grazing alfalfa more safely

Improving abiotic stress tolerance in alfalfa

A working knowledge of grazing management terms and calculations is an extremely useful tool when planning and developing practical, successful grazing plans. The ability to prepare and estimate forage utilization means less uncertainty when dealing with management decisions in ‘real time’ once animals are grazing pastures.

The animal unit (AU) is a standard unit used in calculating the relative grazing impact of different kinds and classes of livestock. One animal unit is defined as a 1000 lb (450 kg) beef cow with or without a nursing calf, with a daily dry matter forage requirement of 26 lb (11.8 kg).

An animal unit month (AUM) is the amount of forage to fulfill metabolic requirements by one animal unit for one month (30 days). One AUM is equal to 780 lbs (355 kg) of dry matter forage.

Forage requirements change with the size and type of animal. Metabolic weight (live weight to the 0.75 power) accounts for significant variation in dry matter intake among animals of different size and provides a more accurate estimate of forage demand. Animal Unit Equivalents (AUE) have been calculated for various species and sizes of animals. Table 1 provides beef cattle size categories and corresponding animal unit equivalents.

Table 1: Beef cattle size categories and corresponding animal units

Stocking rate is the number of animals on a pasture for a specified time period and is usually expressed in Animal Unit Months (AUM) per unit area. For example, an area that supports 30 (1,000 lb) cows for a four-month grazing season has a stocking rate of 120 AUMs for that area. If the pasture is 100 acres in size, the stocking rate would be expressed as 1.2 AUM/acre (120 AUMs divided by 100 acres). Your stocking rate will not stay the same year after year, so you will need to adjust the number of animals you intend to graze to achieve the desired stocking rate for each pasture within your grazing system.

Stock density is the number of animals in a particular area at any moment in time and increases as the number of animals in a paddock increase or as paddock size decreases and is based on level of grazing management. For example, a herd of 30 (1,000 lb) cows on a 2 acre paddock fenced off within the larger 100 acre land base has a stock density of 15,000 lbs/acre (30 cows x 1,000 lbs/cow divided by 2 acres) or 15 Animal Units/acre (1 AU = 1,000 lb therefore 15,000 lbs/acre divided by 1,000 lb = 15 AU/acre), even though the stocking rate for the entire 100 acre pasture is 1.2 AUMs/acre. The difference between these two values is the time factor.

Carrying capacity is the average number of animals that a pasture can support for a grazing season. It is a measure of a pasture’s ability to produce enough forage to meet the animal requirements over the long term and is expressed in AUMs.

Calculation of stocking rates or grazing acreage needed is done by the following steps:

  • estimate the production of each paddock as it is about to be grazed each time to acquire a total production estimate. Include the appropriate rate of utilization (e.g., managing pasture to utilize 50% of the forage available).
  • estimate animal consumption (per day) – nursing cows (with calves) and growing steers or replacement heifers consume approximately 2.5% of body weight (1 AU requires ~ 26 lb forage/day) as forage dry matter.
  • calculate stocking rates (animals/acre) by multiplying your average forage yield (lb/acre) by utilization rate, then divide by the amount an animal unit is expected to consume per month. The formula would look like this:

Stocking rate (AUM/acre) = (Forage yield [lb/acre] x (Utilization rate [%] ÷ 100)) ÷ 780 lb/AU/month

Regenerate Earth – we are doing it…

Here is a great article from Holistic Management Canada Newsletter September 2018 Whether you believe in Climate Change or not: If you store more carbon in your soil, you will be more profitable, pastures more productive, and your land will be more resilient. As Blain states it is a WIN-WIN solution.

Climate Change Solutions by Blain Hjertaas
Several months ago, I wrote about the history of the climate change and the limited success of change to date. In fact most people are disengaged and feel powerless to effect change on the single greatest event that we have ever faced as a species. This focuses on some of the practical solutions that we are doing and could all be doing.

If you look into climate issues one of the first things you will come across is the Keeling Curve. In 1958 Dr. Charles Keeling set up an observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii high on the side of a mountain facing into the Pacific trade winds. He wanted samples that would be representative of world levels. In 1958 the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was 312 parts per million (PPM). The observatory is still working today and levels are 409PPM (as of July 2). (See attached photos from previous post)

If we look at a single year the levels are the highest in the winter and the lowest in the summer. The reason for this is more land mass in the northern hemisphere. As we green up in the spring the green growth uses a tremendous amount of C02 which brings the curve down. There isn’t an equivalent amount of land in the southern hemisphere to offset our winter period so the curve oscillates being the highest in winter and lowest in summer.

How much? On an annual basis the natural cycles remove about 120 billion tonnes of C02 in the spring and in the fall about 130 billion tonnes are released back into the atmosphere from vegetation dying, land use, fire and burning fossil fuel. Hence the gradual slow increase in the curve which is currently at 409PPM.

If we want to become serious about climate change we need to ramp up photosynthesis, so that we are removing 130 billion tonnes every spring or better yet 140 billion tonnes so we begin to remove the legacy load from the atmosphere. Over time our C02 levels will begin to decline and our climate will become more stable.

The question is how do we do this? Most of our discussions over the last 60 years have focused on limiting our burning of fossil fuels as the solution to climate change. Fossil fuels contribute about 6% of the 130 billion tonnes that move annually in C02 cycle. I’m not saying we shouldn’t burn less fossil fuel. If we want to have an effect why wouldn’t we do something that has a major effect not a 6% effect?

We can see from the above chart, how we have changed the surface of our home over the last 10000 years with agriculture. Instead of 13 billion ha doing photosynthesis, we now have 8.5 billion ha doing photosynthesis and some of that is not very efficient. Crops are only green for 70 or 80 days of the year and the desert is doing nothing. If all 13 billion ha of our surface were functioning effectively we would not be having this discussion.

To solve the problem we need to ramp up photosynthesis worldwide so we are cycling at least 130 billion tonnes per year and better yet 140 billion.

As nature did, we only have one means to do this. That is to maximize plant growth so as to:
• A) Draw down carbon from the air to fix it via plant photosynthesis and then…
• B) Minimize how much of that fixed carbon is oxidized back to CO2 and instead allow it to be…
• C) Converted via soil fungi into stable soil carbon to restore the Earth’s carbon ‘sponge’.
This A, B and C process is simple and natural, but what matters is that we do it, now.
How do we do it on a world scale? I don’t know but part of it is knowledge. The good news is that most of us are already doing it. With our grazing management we are maximizing photosynthetic capture which relates to C02 cycling. The beauty of it is that it gives us more production and makes our system more resilient as we build our soil carbon sponge. It’s a win/ win for everyone as we begin to regenerate our soils using holistic principles.

Spread the good news about what you are doing on your farms and ranches. It is critical we get our good news story out, that we are the solution to climate change.

The above is a very brief summary of the work that Dr. Walter Jehne is doing. HM Canada recently sponsored him at a meeting in Regina.

For more on Dr. Walter Jehne’s work:

READ: http://www.globalcoolingearth.org/regenerate-earth/
WATCH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nC6j80sLZo