Thursday, August 29, 2013

Intensive Grazing on Pastures

Management-intensive grazing, intensive grazing, short-duration grazing, and holistic-management grazing are all variations on the same theme. They all make use of short paddock grazing periods, high stocking densities, and planned pasture-recovery periods designed to optimize forage quality, diversity, and longevity. Combined, these three components enable ranchers to improve forage production and harvest, thereby maximizing net profit. All intensive grazing schemes are defined by:
     Paddock grazing periods of one to four days
     Stocking densities of 50,000 to 500,000 pounds per acre
     Pasture-recovery periods of 20 to 35 days

Advantages of Intensive Grazing Over Continuous Grazing or Haying
     Double your stocking rate, compared to continuous grazing.
     Harvested forage dry matter costs several to 10 times less than haying ($4.85 to $6.50/ton vs. $50/ton).
     Produce and harvest stockpiled forage for $60/ton vs. $100/ton.
     Control parasites without wormers by maintaining a 5-inch stubble.
     Increase your control of pasture species, resulting in greater legume populations, more diverse stands, and less fertility inputs.
     It is easier to predict forage inventory at any given time during the grazing season.
     Provide stockpiled least-cost forage for winter.
     Grass uses 25% less water than alfalfa over the crop season.

     Requires slightly more planning and management than other grazing systems or haying.
     Increases labor. You are harvesting your crop (i.e., moving livestock) every day or two instead of every week or two.
     Uses more temporary fencing than continuous or conventional rotational grazing.
     Requires more fertility (mostly nitrogen) than conventional grazing systems because of higher forage production.

Will It Work for Me?
     Am I willing to devote a little more time each day to management? Use of ATTRA's new Grazing Calculator will greatly simplify pasture and irrigation management.
     Am I willing to allocate labor to move stock every one to four days?
     Always maintain a grass gradient. Look ahead. Use the Grazing Calculator to estmate how many pounds of dry matter per acre your grass produced over the last week? How many pounds per acre are currently in the paddock where the stock will be one week from today? At the present growth rate, will there be enough forage to meet the grazing unit's daily dry matter intake?
     Plan ahead to integrate irrigation with grazing. Know the available water-holding capacity of your soils; apply that moisture in a timely manner, using evapo-transpiration rates as a guide. Dust off your Paul Brown soil moisture probe and use it!

Bottom Line
In the long run, intensive grazing will decrease forage harvesting costs by a factor of several to 10 times. It diverts investment capital from high-cost forage-harvesting equipment to livestock. Over time, livestock reproduce and appreciate in value. Haying machinery will only break down.  The cost is your management time and labor. Are you allocating your time to its best advantage?

(Adapted from ATTRA's new publication, Why Intensive Grazing on Irrigated Pastures? by Dave Scott, NCAT Livestock Specialist)

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