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Plant posts not grass

Grazing with Steve Kenyon: That is the first step to improve pasture production

That is the first step to improve pasture production

At almost every seminar or school I teach about grass management, I get the question about pasture rejuvenation. “What grass seed should we plant to improve our pastures?” Of course this is because our industry is trained and addicted to treating symptoms.

It is easier to apply a band-aid fix to a problem than it is to spend the time and energy to properly prevent it in the first place. Don’t get me wrong. You need seed to re-establish a pasture. But let’s break it down and separate the problem from the symptom.

The symptom is we have no grass on our old pasture. Maybe we have a bunch of weeds we need to deal with because the county is after us? By reseeding this pasture, we might improve the production on it for a few years… but at what cost? Is it economical to put all these labour and equipment costs into a pasture to have it produce for five years before it goes back to a similar state? If we do not address the problem, the symptoms will reappear.

The problem is the pasture is overgrazed. To fix the problem, we need to stop overgrazing by implementing an intensive cell-grazing plan. But, you say your stocking rate is very low and lots of plants have the time to mature, so there is no way you are overgrazing. Sorry, if you continuous graze you are overgrazing.

Maybe you are overgrazing all the best plants and undergrazing the rest. By definition, overgrazing is only a measurement of time, nothing else. It does not matter how many animals or how many acres you use. If you allow animals to take a second bite off a plant before the root reserves have time to replenish, you are overgrazing. Now, this second bite can occur because your graze period is too long or because your rest period is too short. The length of both your graze period and your rest period depends on your environment, your pasture condition and your season. Your area, and conditions may be different than mine, but the concepts are the same.

Let’s review the concepts first. The graze period is the length of time your animals are on a piece of pasture. Our goal with intensive cell grazing is to have our graze period short enough to stop the second bite. This means that the animals have to be removed from the paddock before the plants are able to put up another leaf after the first bite. Now this depends on your environment. This second bite could occur after only a few days in the fast growing season. If the plants use up all their stored energy from the roots to put up that new leaf, the root reserves will be empty when the second bite occurs and the plant will be hurt.

Rest period is the amount of time between graze periods. This is also important to maintain a healthy, profitable pasture. Adequate rest has to be given to ensure the root reserves have been replenished before the plants are allowed to be grazed for a second time. Now, depending on your environment and season, this could be anywhere from 25 days to 365 days. Both the rest period and the graze period have to work together. You can’t just fix one and not the other. It all comes down to the timing, depending on the health of the root reserves. We are managing for the roots, not the tops of the plants.

Stock density is the number of animal units on a piece of land at a specific point in time. It is measured in Animal Days per Acre. This is not to be confused with a stocking rate, which is the number of animals you have on a pasture for the season. The benefit to a higher stock density is improved plant utilization and better manure distribution. If you have good plant utilization, every plant is either bitten or stepped on or damaged in some way. This allows for an even playing field for every plant when it comes time to regrow. The higher the stock density, the better your manure distribution and the better your nutrient recycling will be.

Last but not least is animal impact. This refers to the physical stimulation on the land by the animal’s hooves. Animal impact can help with new seedling development, improve nutrient recycling and breaking up capped soil. Positive animal impact can result in tremendous improvement to the land as the cattle will step a lot of litter into the ground. Many people see this as a “waste” of grass but it can be surprising what trampling can do to improve the water-holding capacity and the fertility of the land. Most of the animal impact I see around the countryside is the negative type. This is caused by animals being allowed on the same piece of ground for too long. Alleyways and watering sites usually show negative animal impact. Our goal with intensive cell grazing is to have as little negative animal impact as possible, and maintain positive animal impact out on our pastures.

So what do we plant? Our symptom was that we have poor pastures. To address the symptom by reseeding, we are only temporarily improving the production at a high cost.

What is our problem? The pastures are overgrazed. The way to deal with this is to plant some posts. Set up some cross-fencing so you can manage the grazing. Manage your pastures with an intensive cell-grazing plan. This is a long-term solution to the problem instead of a quick fix.

Now by all means, if you have addressed the problem and you still want to deal with the symptoms, go ahead but only if it is economical for you. Do what you have to do on your farm to make it profitable, just deal with problems, not symptoms. Best wishes.

About the author

Contributor

Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta. You can email him at [email protected] or call 780-307-6500.

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