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Grazing 2010

Grazing season will soon be upon us. For some it will be a sigh of relief, wow I can finally turn the cows out and be rid of them until fall. Another group will say, wow its grazing season again, another opportunity to use my cows to improve my land and increase my grass. Which group you choose to be in is entirely up to you.

Could this be the year that you choose to do a better job of grazing management? I urge you to consider that option. I think you would be pleased with the results.

1. More even utilization of the grass. When you use planned grazing you will have fewer herds and a higher stock density, resulting in a more uniform, more competitive graze. A greater percentage of the plants will be grazed. Those that aren’t grazed may be trampled or manured on, so their growth will be more uniform.

2. An increase in grass growth and regrowth.

3. An improvement in your land.

4. Peace of mind. Knowing you have the power to improve your land and increase production through management increases confidence and reduces worry. Things tend to get better, not worse over time.

5. Improved drought resistance.

What information do you require? Let’s start with some definitions.

Overgrazing is a function of time. It happens to individual plants not a pasture. Overgrazing occurs when animals stay in a pasture too long or return to a previously grazed pasture too soon.

When you leave animals in the pasture long enough to graze a plant, then bite the regrowth before the root reserves are fully replenished, that is too long. In good growing conditions it likely occurs in three to five days, so to prevent overgrazing you must move your animals sooner than that. The number of days that animals are in a pasture at one time is the graze period.

The plants need enough time to fully recover before they are grazed again. The best indicator of full recovery is that the plants are ready to flower. In most places full recovery will require 60 to 90 days, even longer in some areas. The recovery period is the number of days between grazings.

In Holistic Management we use the term planned grazing to help us manage our grass. It is based on a short graze period, followed by full recovery before a second graze occurs. This is achieved by monitoring the regrowth of the plants. We then adjust the recovery period to fit the growing conditions. By monitoring the regrowth we are automatically adjusting for the many variables that occur each year.

Let’s look at a typical example. We are interested in better grazing management. We decide to go with a five-day graze period and a 75 recovery period. To determine how many pastures we will require we use the formula:

Recovery period / graze period +1 = number of pastures 75 / 5 + 1 = 16

Conditions Average Poor

Excellent Graze period 5 days 6 days 4 days Severity Moderate

Severe Light Recovery 75 days 90 days 60 days

From the above chart and diagram we can determine the following:

When we have an average year we will follow this plan and everything will work out. The result will be full recovery (75 days). The graze will be moderate.

In a poor growing year we will increase the graze period to six days. The result will be full recovery (90 days as conditions are poor). The graze will be severe.

In a good growing year we will decrease the graze period to four days. The result will be full recovery (60 days as conditions are good). The graze will be light.

All of these examples are correct for the growing season we are experiencing. There will be no overgrazing. Our land and our plants will continue to thrive and improve.

Let me demonstrate what happens when we don’t plan and why using our “gut reaction” will lead to poor grazing. I think we all agree that in poor growing conditions plants will require more days to achieve full recovery. Each one of us has a picture in our mind of how much grass we would like to leave in a pasture when we move our animals. If we start with a plan, let’s say moving every five days but don’t monitor the regrowth the year will go something like this.

In an excellent year we will look at the grass at the end of the five days and think we haven’t utilized enough of the grass. We will stay longer and increase our recovery when conditions indicate we should be shortening it. The same thing will happen in a poor year. We will look at the grass, say, on day three and think that we have utilized enough. We will then move our animals and decrease our recovery when conditions indicate we should be increasing it. Your gut reaction will always be wrong.

The only way to prevent overgrazing is to monitor the regrowth in the pasture you started grazing in. You then adjust the severity of the graze and the recovery period to fit this year’s growing conditions. The question often arises how much grass should I leave behind. The best answer is as much as possible, the more the better but you must achieve full recovery.

We only have one growing season each year. We all know how quickly it passes. Happy grazing in 2010.

Don Campbell ranches with his family at Meadow Lake, Sask. He can be reached at 306-236-6088.

About the author

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Don Campbell

Don Campbell ranches with his family at Meadow Lake, Sask., 
and teaches Holistic Management courses.

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