Category: Grazing

Comparing Rotational and Continuous Grazing – A Time Lapse Video

By   /  August 12, 2019  /

Seeing how two pastures function side by side under different management is one good way to consider what kind of management we’d like to implement. That’s why I like this video from the Natural Resources Conservation Service staff in Clark, South Dakota. They set up a camera on a fence line and took time lapse photos from May to December of 2018 to see how the vegetation responded to continuous grazing (on the right side of the fence) and rotational grazing on the right. They wanted to be able to show folks the difference, not just in the amount of forage produced, but also what happens through the winter.

View the Video

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!

Replacing the Monkey –

By Kit Pharo

The PCC Discussion Group recently had a very interesting discussion that tied in very well with the “Woe is Me” article in last week’s PCC Update.   While most people know what they should do, very few actually follow through.   Why is that?   What prevents most people from making the changes they know they should make?  I will share a few high points from this discussion.

The discussion thread was started by Jim Gerrish, who is a world-renown grazing expert.   Jim discussed two clients he had worked with.   He helped one client double his carrying capacity and reduce hay feeding by 60% in just three years.   Since the infrastructure required to do this cost $36 per acre, this client essentially purchased another 8000-acre ranch for $36 per acre.   Rangeland in that area is currently selling for $1000 per acre.   That was a no-brainer.

Jim worked with another client who had a 30,000-acre ranch.   Jim said, “I am confident we can double the carrying capacity on this ranch similar to what we did on the other project.   Spread across the 30,000 acres, that is a stock water and fence infrastructure cost of less than $40 per acre.”   He went on to say, “That is the equivalent of buying another 30,000-acre ranch without closing costs, additional taxes, or all the other associated overheads for less than $40 per acre when the prevailing land cost in that area for similar rangeland is about $800 per acre.”   Although the client understood the possibilities, he decided not to go forward with the project.

Doug Ferguson, who lives in Nebraska and is a very active and outside-the-box contributor to the PCC Discussion Group, responded by saying, “Jim, I have spent several years studying the subconscious mind and paradigms – and how they affect our results.   I’ll try to condense what I have learned.”

Doug went on to say, “What you ran into with the second rancher is called the Terror Barrier.   He probably understood it, and gets it.   So, what is stopping him?   His old paradigm.   The old paradigm is what keeps us from doing what we know we should do.

“The second rancher has the knowledge and you gave him a simple plan to follow.   But then what I call the Monkey Mind kicks in.   The monkey represents the old paradigm – and that monkey talks a lot.   He’s going to put up one hell of a fight because he doesn’t want to be replaced by a different monkey.

“So, the monkey says things like: That’s a lot of money.   How are you going to pay that off?   What if there is a drought in a couple years and you have to destock?   What are you going to do then?   People will laugh at you because you spent all this money to increase stocking rate and you ended up destocking.   You’ll never be able to show your face in public again.

“The monkey may go a different route.   Fear of success: What if this works?   If your stocking rate doubles, where are you going to get the stock?   Can you afford to buy that many cows?   That’s a big risk putting all those dollars out there.”

Doug concluded this part of his discourse by saying, “The second producer was on board and fired up right until the monkey started talking.   Then he gets scared, hits the Terror Barrier and goes right back to his old paradigm – with results he is comfortable with.

“Paradigms are a multitude of habits.   Habits are hard to change.   That reminds me of a great quote that ties in with what Kit is always preaching, ‘In times of change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists’”

It is not easy to replace the old monkey.   It is a bit scary and a lot uncomfortable.   Nevertheless, monkeys must be replaced every now and then if we want to achieve true happiness and success.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen.”   ~ Horace Mann

“The cure for boredom is curiosity.   There is no cure for curiosity.”   ~ Ellen Parr

 

Twelve Steps to Amazing Grazing – Part 1

By   /  May 13, 2019  /

This article comes to us from Matt Poore and Johnny Rogers. Amazing Grazing, in addition to being something we all aspire to, is state-wide, pasture-based livestock educational initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, coordinated by Matt and Johnny coordinate.

These steps aren’t just 1-2-3 and you’re done. We’ve all started down this road, and these are some ideas to help us keep going.

One day last winter as we drove to Roanoke  for the American Forage and Grasslands Council Annual Conference we talked at length about why more people don’t adopt better grazing management techniques. We realized it might be because we have been practicing Adaptive Grazing Management for so long we forget how we got started.  Advanced graziers sometimes turn off novices because what seems obvious to the experienced is a brand new concept to folks just getting started.  It is clear, however, that more and more farmers are interested in starting the pursuit of “Amazing Grazing”.  We get a lot of questions about how to get from a traditionally managed farm to a place where you can see “Amazing Grazing” in action. It doesn’t happen quickly, but changing your management approach can turn a system around and begin the soil health building process.  Here is a twelve step plan that can help you along the journey.

Step 1.  Decide you are ready to become a critical thinker and to manage your farm using ecological principles.

Most of us have grown up with a production system that uses a lot of hay and other purchased feeds, is based on continuous or very lax rotational grazing, and that has a focus on a single part of the system, the animal.  We have been taught a lot about nutrition, reproduction and genetics, as well as showing animals, but relatively little about managing the complex and dynamic pasture ecosystem. When we get in a drought we hold onto the animals, buy more hay, and allow the pastures to get overgrazed.

The truth is that if you spend a lot of time feeding hay in winter, making hay in summer, and worrying about running out of grass during droughts, there is a better way.  Your farm is an ecosystem that includes you, the animals, the forages, the soil, and the water cycle and a million other connections.  Once you see it as one system, you have a chance to observe and then guide the system in a direction that benefits your production and personal goals.

Do you want to shorten the hay feeding season, grow more forage with less inputs, and improve your lifestyle?  All that is possible, but Adaptive Grazing Management can only work if you admit you don’t understand your system but are willing to spend the time and energy trying to figure it out.  The truth is no one really understands these systems, but there are many of us that have decided to devote a lifetime to observing all parts of the system, making management decisions, critically evaluating results, and adapting our management to improve those outcomes.

One key thing to be aware of is that Adaptive Grazing Management means you will spend more time on your feet and less time on equipment.  While new remote sensing technologies are being developed, there is no substitute for walking pasture, feeling it under your feet, and spending time putting up polywire and closely observing your cows. The exercise you get from this activity is well balanced and low impact, and can really improve your health and well-being.

Step 2.  Surround yourself with like-minded graziers.

After you decide to embark on this endless journey to Amazing Grazing, you need to have a support network. We need to keep our current friends, but understand there will be peer pressure to go back to the old ways of doing things.  Obviously it is mentally easier to turn on a tractor, spear a bale of hay and deliver it to a hay ring, than to have cows strip grazing behind a single strand of polywire. You may become known among your peers as “that loco guy that spends all winter moving that silly little string”.

The best way to succeed is to make a new peer group that has similar goals to your own. Finding them is easy; just attend an Amazing Grazing Workshop or other educational event and engage the more experienced participants with questions. Experienced Adaptive Graziers are very likely to attend these educational events and you will find them amazingly open with sharing their ideas and practices.

Another issue with the way many of us were raised is that we were always in a competitive environment.  Competition can be a good thing as long as we have the correct target in mind. Learning from each other about practices that improve our land and profit margins should be our focus instead of bragging about weaning weights at the coffee shop.

Adaptive graziers tend to be open and sharing, and approach life more as a collaborative journey than as a competitive one. As you develop and grow your skills you will see opportunities to host educational demonstrations and workshops, so take advantage of those opportunities to lead and expand your network.

Step 3.  Do a preliminary analysis of your system resources.

Start with aerial maps of your place. You can get these off the web or from your FSA or NRCS office. Evaluate the acreage in each pasture and evaluate pasture condition. The best way to evaluate your forage stand and pasture condition is to do a “point step” analysis which involves randomly walking the pasture, periodically writing down the species of plant you are stepping on (or bare ground), and writing down a preliminary condition score from 1 to 5 (1 = bare with almost no productive forage and 5 = as good as it gets with a diversity of strong and desirable forages and no bare ground). Do this on at least 100 points and get the average for the pasture.

Were you able to identify all the major desirable and undesirable species? If not then reviewing the common weeds and pasture plants would be advised. (Here are some resources to help you with plant ID.) Was it easy for you to call out a condition score?  If not then take time to learn more about this topic. Condition scoring can be a complex subject, but also it is a simple concept you can learn to monitor continuously once you really know your pastures.

Take soil samples from each pasture to determine the pH and soil nutrient levels. Once you are practicing more intensive forms of Adaptive Grazing Management many of the manure and urine nutrients will cycle and reduce your need for fertilizer, but, if you start with low pH or low nutrient levels, you will need to correct them to get the system working. From this systematic approach you can start to better understand your pastures, what the balance of desirable and undesirable species is, identify weak and strong spots, and which pastures will give a bigger response to improved management or complete renovation.

Step 4.  Upgrade your electric fences and electric fencing skills. 

This is a critical step because Adaptive Grazing Management requires animals that are well trained to temporary fencing. You’ll need high power levels and good fence trouble shooting skills to make that happen. With traditional management and multi-wire perimeter fences, having some power on the fence some of the time may have worked, but it will not work with Adaptive Grazing Management. You need to understand the theory of how electric fence works, and how to use a fault finder to find shorts and keep power on the fence high. Bluntly, if you don’t maintain power on electric fence, animals will not respect temporary fence and you will likely abandon the journey to Amazing Grazing. (Here are all the OP articles on electric fencing. We’ll be adding more in coming issues!)

Step 5.  Train your animals to respect a single strand of wire.

It is critical that your animals have a high level of respect for temporary electric fence.  Electric fence is only a mental barrier, and that is played out to the extreme with a single strand of polywire.  However, once animals are well trained to it, it opens up a whole new world based on “The Power of One Wire“.  Those benefits include improved forage management, easier movement and gathering of animals, ability to flexibly exclude sensitive areas within pasture, and to respond to perimeter fence damage resulting from natural disasters.

To train the animals, set up a single strand of polywire on tread-in posts about 18 inches inside of a pen or a small pasture. It is probably better to use a small pasture because it is more the setting where the animals will first encounter polywire cross fences. The key to the training period is that there is plenty of power on the wire. We would recommend a minimum of 5 kilovolts. You might do some feeding under the wire so animals are close to it, and you also might use the trick of attaching a strip of aluminum foil with peanut butter on it to the wire to attract deer and teach them what polywire is too. It will take a few weeks for this preliminary training period, and then the training goes to the next level with a single strand cross fence.

This is Part 2 by Matt Poore and Johnny Rogers. Here’s Part 1 if you missed it.

These steps aren’t just 1-2-3 and you’re done. We’ve all started down this road, and these are some ideas to help us keep going.

Step 6.  Start cutting individual pastures in half with polywire.

The place to start with Adaptive Grazing Management is to divide each permanent pasture in half, with cattle entering the half with the water source whenever you rotate pastures. This change alone will lead to being able to double your stocking density and improvements in your system. We recommend using some rigid fiberglass or plastic posts on the ends (and potentially within the line) in these initial temporary divisions because animals, especially wildlife, will still be in the training process. Setting it up so it will not be easily torn down is good to start with, and as you repeat the process again and again you will learn how to make it stronger and more resilient to tear down using only tread in posts. Now you will also start to develop your skills at looking at a grazed sward and determining when to take down the division fence.  An average stop grazing height of 2-4 inches in all systems is not a bad rule of thumb, a little on the shorter side for bermudagrass-based systems (2-3 inches) than for fescue-based systems (3-4 inches).

Step 7.  Stockpile forage in autumn and strip-graze during the winter followed by dispersed hay feeding.

In early summer determine one or more pastures to stockpile for late fall or winter grazing. Here in North Carolina, this might be a mostly fescue field in many areas but could also be a bermudagrass field. Either way, manage the pastures so that the stand is in good shape (either grazed or clipped), and then add about 50 lbs of nitrogen on about September 1, and allow it to grow undisturbed until November 1 for bermudagrass or January 1 for tall fescue. If you’re in other parts of the country check with your local Natural Resources Conservation Serviceor Conservation District office, or with an extension professional to find out what works best for you.

When you start grazing, set up an initial grazing strip that includes the water source and an expected 2 to 3 days of grass.  Once the forage has been consumed you will need to move the fence to allocate enough grass to feed your cattle for the next 1 to 3 day grazing period. Moving cattle daily has many advantages but cannot be achieved in all situations. However, moving fence every three days is attainable and still gives great forage utilization. This is a great learning opportunity for you and your animals, and it seems doing some daily moves really helps you develop the skills of forage allocation. Try moving your cattle daily when you can (i.e. weekends) and resume the every third day move during the week.

Calculate the forage needs of your cows and determine an estimate of how much forage is available to target the length of your moves.  Of course you need to adapt the size of the offering as you go, but having an idea how many acres should be needed each day will give you a good starting point and a way to calculate a feed budget. Learning how to step off the length and width of your paddock will help you calculate the land area and forage allocation.  After you finish grazing all the stockpiled pastures start unrolling hay or rotating hay rings in areas that can benefit from animal impact and increased nutrients.

Step 8.  Start strip grazing with all pasture movements during the growing season.

Once you are into spring, continue to use the strip grazing technique, flip flopping two reels so that cows are always on a fresh strip, and keep another 1 to 3 day strip set up ahead of them.  Having the next strip set up will help you save time and offer added security in case your polywire is torn down by wildlife or your cattle As long as you are not in an individual pasture more than 10-14 days there is no need to set up a back fence to keep animals off the grazed areas..  If you see animals grazing in the area they already grazed (back-grazing) then you need to make your strips wider as they will always prefer to graze in the fresh strip if there is adequate forage there.  This practice that we call modified strip grazing will become your key grazing tool and you will use it as long as you are a grazier.  The flexibility in the size of strip you offer allows you to flex with your schedule, and you can also set up multiple strips ahead of time if you have to depend on a helper to periodically move your animals. It also allows you to impact animal performance by varying the stop grazing height.  In general the higher the stop grazing height the higher animal performance but the lower grazing utilization efficiency.  The reverse is true….at lower stop grazing height performance will be lower but utilization efficiency can be high.  On general terms use a higher stop grazing height with growing cattle or thin cows and a shorter stop grazing height with brood cows in good body condition.

Step 9.  Develop a comprehensive grazing plan acceptable to NRCS and other governmental agencies.

As you start to optimize the use of your current infrastructure you will see opportunities to improve by adding additional perimeter fencing, watering points, and permanent cross fencing. To guide these efforts you need a comprehensive forage and grazing plan that includes existing and needed infrastructure, that determines an animal/forage balance, and that will project infrastructure development to guide your financial planning and application for cost-share funds. There are many opportunities for both infrastructure development contracts, and also management-based contracts for practices such as Prescribed Grazing. This comprehensive plan will need to be facilitated by a trained planner that can help make sure the plan is acceptable to all agencies involved, and also will be a key for you to keep on a long-term plan for your system.

Step 10.  Implement additional upgrades to infrastructure.

As highlighted in your comprehensive plan, start to improve your watering system, upgrade perimeter fencing and add cross-fencing.  This infrastructure improvement usually needs to be prioritized and done in stages so that you make major improvements in system function with each project, and so you have time to continue your good management while completing the projects in a timely manner.  Full implementation of the comprehensive plan will take many years or even decades, and the plan must be revisited and updated as you go through time.

Step 11.  Continue to refine your skills, be persistent and tenacious.

It takes 5 to 10 years to really see the benefits of Adaptive Grazing Management.  The road to “Amazing Grazing” is challenging because you are dealing with a very dynamic system that is upset by many environmental factors.  With time your system will become more resilient to drought and flood, as a result of improved soil health, but that happens gradually and you have to be patient.  When the first drought hits, realize that the most critical principle in Adaptive Grazing Management is to avoid overgrazing at all costs.  When pastures are all down to the stop grazing height, pull cattle into a sacrifice area and feed hay.  Don’t get discouraged and abandon what you have started!  As soon as the rain comes you will be amazed at what you see compared to your neighbors that continued to graze all pastures through the drought.

Also, understand that it is not uncommon for temporary fence to be torn down when you are early in the game.  Don’t get frustrated and quit….observe, learn and adapt.  Was it low power, lack of training, or a physical failure (corner failed?) that led to the malfunction?  As your skills develop  your system failures in the temporary fence will become rare events, but they can still happen even in the best of systems.

Step 12.  Observe your system and continually improve your management skills.

One thing we love about Adaptive Grazing Management is that we continue to be challenged to learn at a more rapid pace even after all these years.  We realize   that there is knowledge in every mistake  and from every curve ball that nature throws our way. But, no problem or failure is without opportunity. The road to Amazing Grazing is a journey without an end.  Once you have been practicing Adaptive Grazing Management for several years you will realize that you really don’t get to Amazing Grazing, but you can get close to it if you are tenacious.

Continue to attend educational events and as you mature in your understanding of your management, and share that with other producers.  Adaptive graziers with a positive collaborative attitude are a very positive role model in our industry.  Share your grazing excitement with young people, either your immediate family, or through other youth programs.  Teach Adaptive Grazing Management skills to the next generation when they are young so that it is not a new concept to them when they start making the management decisions.

We welcome you on the journey to Amazing Grazing!

There are many producers that have started using Adaptive Grazing Management and are on the journey. It works out to be an exciting and mindful life trying to figure out where we fit into this complex ecosystem.  No matter where you are on the twelve step plan, review the steps and make sure you are on track.  Whether you are at the steps where you are just trying to gain awareness, needing to improve your electric fence skills, learning how to take and interpret soil samples, or needing to develop a comprehensive grazing plan we hope you’ll keep on reading On Pasture and looking for educational opportunities that will serve you well.

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?