Category: Grazing

Ranchers get training for DIY range monitoring

A University of Idaho Extension program aims to empower those using rangeland to track its use.

Apr 04, 2019

Public rangelands are a great Western resource. Ranchers running cattle on those lands know they are the stewards of that ground, and federal land managers help track the land’s use. Those grazing allotments are monitored annually — and if overuse is found, it can limit a rancher’s ability to run the same number of cattle in that location.

Standing forage height is determined annually to help with erosion and plant growth, and land managers decide how long and how many cattle can be turned out on each pasture based on data collected. If overuse is found, limiting the duration and number of cattle on pastures helps grasses replenish, but this can also reduce ranch income. This switch from grazing lands to alternative feed can be costly.

But ranchers can monitor rangelands themselves. The process can be relatively simple, and it can help those using grazing lands better manage the ground. Shannon Williams, University of Idaho Extension educator, Lemhi County, has long offered rangeland monitoring workshops but has found adoption of the practices taught to be low.

She found that workshops held during the growing season — the best time for monitoring — had ranchers attending, but few were taking the next steps. She discovered it was due to the ranchers’ lack of time or comfort level in how to monitor the land properly.

Williams added: “For the majority of ranchers, a few have a plant background, but where they were really comfortable is the animal side of everything. We train them and expect them to go out and do it, but they need a little bit of help and encouragement.”

In 2016, Williams met with federal land managers from the Salmon-Challis National Forest and Salmon Bureau of Land Management to explore ways to help ranchers better monitor those grazing allotments. The group decided that photo monitoring would be the ideal method. Photos can establish long-term trends, are easy to take and are already being shot on allotments by federal land managers.

grid for rangeland monitoring
ACCURATE MEASUREMENT: This is a photo kit with a grid and instructions developed by the University of Idaho Extension, Lemhi County office. The kit can help growers do their own rangeland monitoring.

Show, don’t tell

Photo monitoring is a solid management approach to grazing allotment analysis; instead of just telling ranchers how to photo-monitor, however, Williams took an added step. She decided to show them with the implementation of a photo monitoring tutor program. That year, Williams secured funding and hired Tessa Shepard, a UI student studying rangeland ecology who received training in photo monitoring.

The next step was to assemble a photo monitoring kit: “I didn’t want one of the excuses for the ranchers to not monitor to be that they didn’t have the equipment,” Williams said. She noted they needed a fence post, a photo frame and a book with some common plant pictures. Williams and Shepard built a photo frame with a bag to hold the hardware, so all ranchers had their own kits. The idea was to get those ranchers comfortable enough to go out and monitor for themselves.

Participants in the program, which included Shepard traveling to ranches and helping demonstrate monitoring, also gave UI Extension permission to access the photo monitoring data for their grazing allotments that was collected by federal land managers. Shepard scheduled time to visit monitoring sites with the ranches and offer help with GPS on how to find the correct sites. At that point, she showed ranchers how to take photos with all the required elements present; and how to complete a photo board, fill out the data sheet and build notebooks for housing the data.

Ranchers can’t always be on hand when federal land managers show up, but Shepard was able to set up her visits when ranchers were available. That flexibility allowed more ranchers to become familiar with the process.

The photo monitoring process continued in 2017 with a second intern. “The interns were the nudge [ranchers] needed to go out and do it,” Williams said of the do-it-yourself photo monitoring. “It was one-on-one, it was their range — so it was important to them.” And it continued in 2018 as well.

Source: University of Idaho. The source is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

Overgrazing is a matter of timing

Grazing with Steve Kenyon

The Most Effective Pasture Rejuvenation Method Ever – and it’s FREE

By   /  March 11, 2019  /

Tom Krawiec and Troy Bishopp are on the same wave length – grazing charts are where it’s at if you want to have healthy pastures and a successful grazing season.

There are many ways to improve your pastures. Depending on who is presenting the method it can be in the form of a mechanical, chemical, or seed amendment. Magazines are full of ads detailing the amazing results of seed varieties, the latest chemical weed suppressant, and mechanical-stimulation. However, there are no ads for the most effective method. It is something that can’t be bought from your local sales rep. You do not need to know what soil type you have or what bugs are in your soil. The formula is something you can get for free and will last longer than any input you can purchase. The method of which I speak, is to get yourself organized with a grazing chart & a weekly planner.

A grazing plan is not romantic like going to a bull sale. Nor does it seem like you are really doing something which is quantifiable. The grazing plan is the simple counting of days. You don’t even have to know much about grass. All that is required is to know the approximate days of recovery for your area, counting the number of paddocks you have (I recommend at least 15), then counting the number of days of recovery for a particular time of year. In this article I will discuss how simple, yet imperative it is to develop a grazing plan for long term pasture improvement. This must be done before you learn about things like bugs in the soil, best growing grass, or best grass finishing genetics, etc. This is to say that if you don’t have your grass management figured out, everything else you do will eventually be a waste of time.

I was first introduced to planned grazing in 1999 when my wife & I attended a Holistic Management course. We were taught that grass has three stages of growth. The first stage is slow-growing & highly palatable. The second phase is fast growth because of the increased leaf area available for photosynthesis and is also palatable. The third phase is slow growth because the plant is putting its energy into reproduction and is much less palatable. The goal of the grazier, then, is to keep grass in late Stage 2.

By employing these simple concepts, we were able to achieve significant results. Within two years carrying capacity doubled. This phenomenon was also repeated on each piece of land we rented. At one point we had over 5000ac of rented land and 3000hd of cattle and the results were the same on each parcel.

There are subtleties of grass management that become apparent when you consistently use a grazing chart. For example, recovery time varies depending on how much sunlight is available as the growing season progresses. Daylight hours at the latitude of Athabasca, Alberta are from ~4:30am to ~11pm in June. This means that plants have a lot of time to collect solar energy and are growing very fast. To clip them before they mature, your stock must be moved through the paddocks rapidly. This leads to another subtlety. If a plant reaches maturity before being clipped, it is my observation that you lose ~50% of the possible regrowth. Once a plant reaches maturity, it has completed its life cycle for the year and there is no longer an urgency to grow & reproduce.  Again, a grazier’s goal is to keep the grass sward in late phase two.

What I have shared so far leads back to the importance of the grazing chart. Your plan is a visual reminder of recovery time. At the latitude of Athabasca, 35 days of recovery between May 15 & July 15 is pretty consistent (plus or minus five days). After July 15, recovery is more like 40-50 days. Which is to say, you don’t have to know much about grass to be a successful grazier. All that is involved is counting the number of days between when you last left a paddock and when you go back to the paddock. If you are more than 40 days you will lose ~50% production on the next rotation, so rework your plan. If you are less than 30 days you are injuring the plants because they won’t be in the second half of phase two, so rework the plan.

It should be noted at this time that the number of days in a paddock is very important as well. During fast growth, plants will grow enough in three days that animals can take a bite of new growth. This does not seem like a big deal. However, the plants are being injured and hence, weakened. This is easily overlooked because it is not immediately noticeable. If we were injuring our livestock, we would certainly notice right away. I consider plant injury the same as injuring livestock…DON’T DO IT! The grazing chart will show you if your graze periods are too long. If they are, you must once again rework the plan.

Here is an example of how to rework a grazing plan. Let’s assume it is June 5 and it has been a dry spring. Your grazing plan is based on 35 days of recovery, but you notice the paddocks that have already been grazed are not recovering as fast as you anticipated. The recovery period must be increased and you decide to extend it to 42 days. There are two ways to do this. First, add more paddocks (i.e. graze bush paddocks, some hay land, etc.) and you may need to be creative. Secondly, you can increase your graze period if you have been leaving an abundance of grass in each paddock. Increasing your graze time by one day on 10 paddocks, will give you an extra 9 days of recovery. Of course if there is not enough grass to increase your graze period then method one is your best option.

Once you decide how to increase recovery time, go back to your grazing chart and erase your plan. Then fill in your new plan using the extra paddocks or increased graze periods. Once complete, count the number of days between the when herd leaves the current paddock and when the herd will be back for the next graze. If the number of days is between 42-45 days, you are set. If it is more than 45 days or less than 42 days you must do some more tweaking.

 

In my days before ranching, I worked on oil well drilling rigs. When I was set up as a motorman (a motorman is like the head roughneck) I was working my butt off the entire 12hr shift. The only problem was that I wasn’t getting anything accomplished! The rig manager watched me for the first week without saying much. He then called me into his office and asked me how it was going. I told him it was a lot of work, and I didn’t feel like I was getting anything accomplished. He readily agreed! He then went on to explain that to get ahead in my duties, I needed to finish one task before going on to the next. By following that philosophy, I wouldn’t have to go back and do it again. Further, I wouldn’t have to fix something right before I used it because it would be completely operational ahead of time. Amazingly, my job became easier and easier as I employed this principle.

Since my rig days, I started using a weekly plan and then a monthly plan to accomplish my goals. You may question the efficacy of this thinking because there are too many variables when ranching. Maybe you always have too many ‘fires to put out’ to effectively plan. This may be true to start. However, the more you use a weekly and monthly plan, the fewer ‘emergencies’ you will have to deal with, and you will be able to get ahead of upcoming duties. Combining the grazing plan with a weekly plan enables you to remember well in advance that a fence requires fixing or water line must be set up.

When I first started grazing, I was very impressed by all the grass I could grow. I thought that what I was doing was pretty amazing. After about 8 years I realized all I was doing was being organized. It was a pretty humbling epiphany. In fact, it was a bit depressing because I thought I was this incredible grass manager when really all I was, was a good organizer.

I have now come to the realization that to jump start your pasture is a simple thing. Kids in primary school can figure it out once they understand the three phases of grass growth. All that is required is to count the days of recovery and the days of grazing. The grazing chart enables you to do this effectively and it is my contention that a grazing plan is the most effective way to improve your pastures. Once you have that mastered, only then is it time to look at other things like improved seed varieties, the latest chemicals, or any other pasture amendment. Quite possibly by then, you will realize you don’t need much more than a grazing plan.

Are You Ready to Get Organized?

You Might Be Cell Grazing If…

by Dave Pratt

A lot of ranchers use some kind of grazing rotation. Very few do it in a way that has even a 50/50 chance of improving the health of the land, the performance of their cattle and the profitability of their businesses.  There are so many names attached to various rotations, it is hard to know from the name what people are doing. Cell grazing is not a grazing system, it is a management method based on 5 fundamental principles.

You might be cell grazing if…

  • You are using at least 10 paddocks per herd.  It takes a minimum of 10 paddocks just to stop the overgrazing.  14-16 are required to support decent animal performance and it’ll take 25 or more if you want to see rapid range improvement.   Ranchers using fewer than 8 paddocks are not rotationally grazing. They are rotationally overgrazing.
  • You have combined several herds into one.  The fastest, cheapest way to create more paddocks per herd is to combine multiple herds into one.
  • You have reduced your workload. It takes a lot more time to check 4 herds of 200 cows than it does to check one herd of 800.
  • Productivity per acre has improved without sacrificing individual animal performance.  Many people using grazing rotations increase output per acre but find that individual performance suffers.  Cell graziers keep graze periods short and animals moving frequently to fresh forage. This tends to keep performance high.
  • You’ve dramatically increased the productivity of your pastures and the carrying capacity of your ranch without seeding or fertilizing pastures. Many Ranching for Profit School alumni have doubled the carrying capacity of their ranches while reducing labor and input costs.

 

You aren’t cell grazing if…

  • Someone asks you how long your recovery periods are and you tell them how often you move the cows. I’m continually surprised by the number of people who describe their grazing practices by explaining the length of their graze period when it’s the rest period that is most important.  The single biggest mistake most people make in grazing management is providing too short a rest period.
  • You use the same recovery period year round.  In cell grazing the recovery period is matched to the growth rate of the pasture.  Since growth rates change, the length of recovery periods needs to change too. Slow growth, long recovery.  Fast growth, shorter recovery.
  • Animals are moved from one pasture to the next in lock-step fashion.  In cell grazing, if a paddock isn’t ready for grazing, the animals should not be moved there.  The animals ought to be moved where the resource dictates they go.
  • You have increased your use of herbicides, fertilizer, seeding or fire.  These tools aren’t bad per-se, but they can have more negative consequences than positive ones.  Cell graziers usually don’t find herbicides, fertilizers or seeding necessary and many have dramatically reduced the need to burn.

Responding to a survey we included in last week’s ProfitTips, reader’s answers revealed several important trends. For example, people reporting that carrying capacity increased “A lot”  used an average of more than 30 paddocks/herd. Readers reporting “A little” increase used an average of 20 paddocks/herd, and those reporting no increase used an average of 10 paddocks per herd. The same trend held true for improvements in pasture quality, animal performance and profit.

 

Your responses also revealed several differences in the grazing practices used by Ranching For Profit School alumni v. non-alumni.  The key differences are:

While more than 60% of RFP alumni completing the survey use at least 14 paddocks per herd, only 40% of non-alumni use that many.

 

RFP alumni reported that the average recovery they gave paddocks during fast growth was two to four weeks longer than the rest periods used by people who have not attended the RFP school.  The difference was even greater during slow growth. The average recovery period used by RFP alumni averaged one to two months longer than the recovery periods used by non-alumni.

 

Most interesting to me is the difference between RFP alumni and non-alumni in the change in workload.  RFP Alumni using 30 paddocks or more were four times more likely than non-alumni to report that cell grazing dramatically reduced their workload. Non-alumni using an equal number of paddocks were twice as likely to report a dramatic increase in their workload.

 

The most dramatic decrease in workload was reported by RFP alumni using more than 50 paddocks per herd. Why would the workload decrease for alumni using that many paddocks?  The majority had also timed the breeding season of their livestock to match the breeding season of wildlife, thereby drastically reducing or eliminating the need for hay. Fewer non-alumni had the breeding season of their herds in sync with the forage cycle.

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

Fenceless Targeted Grazing Using Supplement Blocks

By   /  December 3, 2018

Sometimes landscape terrain and size makes temporary fencing too expensive or difficult to set up. Here’s an alternative that I’ve used successfully. From November of 2015 – an alternative to fencing that still directs your animals where you want them.

When Derek Bailey began looking at ways to move animals across landscapes it was because he wanted a way to protect riparian areas from damage due to overgrazing. He and his fellow researchers set low-moisture supplement blocks on ungrazed uplands and then herded the cattle to the area.  “We were flabbergasted! We were just terribly surprised,” he said, when they found that went from spending 1% of their time in the study plot, to them spending 32% of their time within 600 yards of the low-moisture supplement blocks. It got them thinking about how ranchers could use this tool to improve the quality of their rangelands for livestock and wildlife while improving profits at the same time.

Derek describes the results of his work in this 19 minute video. In case you’ve got a slow connection, I’ve included the video’s highlights below along with tips for getting started with low-moisture blocks.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/15461789

The video is part of a SARE-funded grant I worked on with Beth Burritt of Utah State University. Our focus was on sharing ways that folks can use animal behavior to accomplish their goals rather than spending money on equipment and infrastructure.

What’s a Low-Moisture Supplement Block?

The product is made by heating up molasses and then cooling it into a very hard block that can only be licked, not bitten or chewed. Different manufacturers have different recipes but in general they all provide additional energy, protein and vitamin and minerals. They were originally created to be a supplement to low quality forage. They work because the protein in the supplement feeds the rumen’s microbes. That gives the microbes the ability to break down mature/dry forage and turn it into something useable.

The positive feedback from the nutrition in the block and the nutrition that animals can make from licking it explains why low-moisture blocks are a better attractant than salt. Derek explains:

“A lot of people have asked me over the years, wouldn’t salt work just as well? It’s a lot cheaper and we put it out there anyway. And my answer is ‘Sure salt helps. But it’s not very persuasive. It’s not very powerful.” These maps, showing the movements of radio-collared cows demonstrate what he’s talking about.  The pink dots on the first map show where cows grazed in relationship to the placement of the low-moisture blocks.  The blue dots on the second map show that grazing was much more dispersed when there was only salt placed in the pasture.

Map of grazing with low-moisture blocks placed in the top center of the map.

Map of grazing when salt was placed in the upper center of the map (see the 2 white dots).

Derek also found out that low-moisture blocks were better attractants than either hay or range cake. As Derek says:

“Low moisture blocks last a long time, so they’re always there. But if you feed something like hay or cake, animals will readily come, eat it all up and spend about an hour a day where we feed. But if we put a low-moisture block they’ll spend 5 hours within 100 yards of the location.” He also notes that feeding hay or cake requires a lot more time and money to deliver.

Are Low-Moisture Blocks For You?

Find out by asking yourself some questions. First, do you have a forage quality problem? The answer is yes if you look out at your pastures and your grass is not green and you see lots of dry, mature forage.  Like this picture from the video:

Low Quality Forage

Next, do you have a distribution problem?  Are there areas of your range or pasture that are rarely used? Derek’s review of pastures in Montana and in New Mexico showed that in large pastures with rough or steep terrain about 1/3 of the pasture received very little grazing. If that’s the case in your pasture, what would happen if you could use that pasture? Derek figures that using that pasture could extend the grazing season or allow more cattle to be run on the same amount of pasture.

Is It Economical?

Rangeland Economist, Dr. Alan Turrell puts it this way, “If you can replace relatively high-priced hay by staying out on rangeland longer because of feeding the block then that was a very valuable, economical tool.” Ranchers like Melvin Armstrong who participated in one of the studies in Montana said that using low-moisture blocks allowed them to use rangeland that hadn’t been used in the 4o years he’d been running his ranch. But specifics about the costs will vary by location and forage conditions at different ranches. Turrell suggests that ranchers do what they normally do: figure out what the cost is compared to the potential benefit in gain and reduced winter forage costs to determine what will work best in their particular case. To make that easier, here’s an Xcel-based calculator where you can plug in the cost of winter feed and compare it to the cost of using low-moisture blocks to extend the grazing season.

How Do You Use Low-Moisture Blocks?

Here are Derek’s tips for being successful:

Cows lick molasses block1. Make sure the animals know what the blocks are before you begin.
“You can’t expect a cow to walk a long ways if they don’t know what the product is,” says Derek. They introduced the blocks to their herd at calving season when the cows were close to the home place. Then when they saw it out on range they knew what it was and they were more likely to travel long distances, up a steep hill to go eat it.

2. There has to be something around the block for them to graze.

3. Show your animals where the block is.
You can place the block and then herd the cows to it the first time so that they know where it is. Then they’ll return on their own to eat it. Once cattle know where a block is, you can place subsequent blocks in a succession, 200 yards or so from the first one, working your way across the landscape. Just don’t put the new block too far from the old one, or they may not find it. Also, the more mountainous your terrain, or the more trees you have, the more you need to do to make sure your herd knows where you are putting new blocks. In Montana, where it was fairly open, Derek found that the cattle would follow the paths where he had driven his vehicle to drop off the next tub. Other researchers have trained cattle to recognize a flag that they placed near the low-moisture block. When the cows saw the flag, they headed over to find their new block. The flag could then be used to move cattle easily to new locations. Finally, Derek says, “You don’t have to show every single animal.  If you show a fourth to a third of the herd, the rest will soon learn where it is.

How Much Product Do You Need?

4wheeler and trailer hauling supplementDerek has found that one 250 pound supplement tub will last 25 cows 2 weeks. But if you can’t drive to your location, you’ll need to consider the smaller size tubs and adjust your quantities accordingly. Derek has hauled smaller tubs on pack horse, but normally used the 250 pound tubs, hauling them with a 4-wheeler and a trailer.

Ranchers See Success

Participants in the study were very positive about the results.  One noted that it kept his cows in a part of the pasture that was rarely used, giving rest to other areas that were typically grazed hard. Another said it gave him summer pasture that he wouldn’t otherwise have, and without that he’d graze 400 less cattle and one less family would be able to make a living at the ranch.

Figuring If It Works For You

Beth Burritt at Utah State University put together a couple of Xcel based calculators to help you do the math for figuring out how much nutrient you need and how much supplementing with low moisture block might compare to feeding hay during the winter. You can download them below and use them to see how low moisture blocks might help you out.

Nutrient Reqs and Costs

Click to download this calculator and try it out.

You Might Be Cell Grazing If…

by Dave Pratt

A lot of ranchers use some kind of grazing rotation. Very few do it in a way that has even a 50/50 chance of improving the health of the land, the performance of their cattle and the profitability of their businesses.  There are so many names attached to various rotations, it is hard to know from the name what people are doing. Cell grazing is not a grazing system, it is a management method based on 5 fundamental principles.

You might be cell grazing if…

  • You are using at least 10 paddocks per herd.  It takes a minimum of 10 paddocks just to stop the overgrazing.  14-16 are required to support decent animal performance and it’ll take 25 or more if you want to see rapid range improvement.   Ranchers using fewer than 8 paddocks are not rotationally grazing. They are rotationally overgrazing.
  • You have combined several herds into one.  The fastest, cheapest way to create more paddocks per herd is to combine multiple herds into one.
  • You have reduced your workload. It takes a lot more time to check 4 herds of 200 cows than it does to check one herd of 800.
  • Productivity per acre has improved without sacrificing individual animal performance.  Many people using grazing rotations increase output per acre but find that individual performance suffers.  Cell graziers keep graze periods short and animals moving frequently to fresh forage. This tends to keep performance high.
  • You’ve dramatically increased the productivity of your pastures and the carrying capacity of your ranch without seeding or fertilizing pastures. Many Ranching for Profit School alumni have doubled the carrying capacity of their ranches while reducing labor and input costs.

 

You aren’t cell grazing if…

  • Someone asks you how long your recovery periods are and you tell them how often you move the cows. I’m continually surprised by the number of people who describe their grazing practices by explaining the length of their graze period when it’s the rest period that is most important.  The single biggest mistake most people make in grazing management is providing too short a rest period.
  • You use the same recovery period year round.  In cell grazing the recovery period is matched to the growth rate of the pasture.  Since growth rates change, the length of recovery periods needs to change too. Slow growth, long recovery.  Fast growth, shorter recovery.
  • Animals are moved from one pasture to the next in lock-step fashion.  In cell grazing, if a paddock isn’t ready for grazing, the animals should not be moved there.  The animals ought to be moved where the resource dictates they go.
  • You have increased your use of herbicides, fertilizer, seeding or fire.  These tools aren’t bad per-se, but they can have more negative consequences than positive ones.  Cell graziers usually don’t find herbicides, fertilizers or seeding necessary and many have dramatically reduced the need to burn.

Responding to a survey we included in last week’s ProfitTips, reader’s answers revealed several important trends. For example, people reporting that carrying capacity increased “A lot”  used an average of more than 30 paddocks/herd. Readers reporting “A little” increase used an average of 20 paddocks/herd, and those reporting no increase used an average of 10 paddocks per herd. The same trend held true for improvements in pasture quality, animal performance and profit.

 

Your responses also revealed several differences in the grazing practices used by Ranching For Profit School alumni v. non-alumni.  The key differences are:

While more than 60% of RFP alumni completing the survey use at least 14 paddocks per herd, only 40% of non-alumni use that many.

 

RFP alumni reported that the average recovery they gave paddocks during fast growth was two to four weeks longer than the rest periods used by people who have not attended the RFP school.  The difference was even greater during slow growth. The average recovery period used by RFP alumni averaged one to two months longer than the recovery periods used by non-alumni.

 

Most interesting to me is the difference between RFP alumni and non-alumni in the change in workload.  RFP Alumni using 30 paddocks or more were four times more likely than non-alumni to report that cell grazing dramatically reduced their workload. Non-alumni using an equal number of paddocks were twice as likely to report a dramatic increase in their workload.

 

The most dramatic decrease in workload was reported by RFP alumni using more than 50 paddocks per herd. Why would the workload decrease for alumni using that many paddocks?  The majority had also timed the breeding season of their livestock to match the breeding season of wildlife, thereby drastically reducing or eliminating the need for hay. Fewer non-alumni had the breeding season of their herds in sync with the forage cycle.