It is never too early to plan ahead for the coming year, and as you look at the cold days through your frosted window, perhaps the 2010 grazing plan is the furthest thing from your mind. Yet starting the new year with a great plan is always fun and leads us to a higher level of thought. So dust off those grazing records and consider the green grass of your home.
The cost of feed is always the highest production cost for a livestock operation. As with many things, there is a fine line between the most-and least-profitable producers in Alberta. That difference has been well documented as just over one tonne of feed delivered per cow. Extending the grazing season through the implementation of a rotational grazing system is the most appropriate way to offset this cost. Just as important is the benefit this production practice has to the land, even tired and abused old pasture stands.
It must be a part of your belief system to understand and appreciate your soil. Tired pasture can be rejuvenated to its potential without chemical or equipment intervention by using livestock to stimulate the growth.
At first, the learning curve may seem a little frustrating, as we tend to expect instant solutions and gratification. (Understandably, a lack of moisture also takes special consideration). It does not take long though to see how little changes become big improvements in land that at first glance seemed unsalvageable. Any old and tired pasture, with moderate moisture, can quadruple production in that many years.
Mother Nature is very modest and likes to keep herself covered. Your job is to provide her with cover or she will simply shade herself with the first available plant, and that plant in most cases will be a weed. Her soil needs to be cool if it is to host a healthy diversity of life. When cool and protected, she has the power to heal herself and allow for the grass and legume seeds to grow and develop extensive roots.
To rest land, take the pasture and divide it for rotations with your strongest considerations being water access and palatability of the species mix. Don’t worry about straight fences and exact patterns. Simply fence the way the land flows, the grass grows and how the cattle will easily move. The more pastures you have, the more time the land is resting. For example if there are five paddocks, four are resting. But if there are 15 paddocks, then 14 are resting.
There will be a response within the first year. The real discipline comes in taking the cattle off of the pasture in time so it may rejuvenate. Remember, the more plant above the ground, the more root below. Graze only to the crown on the most predominant and palatable plant. Then move the cattle along, leaving a good stand on cool ground.
Don’t worry about having too many cattle, worry about having too few, as you want the cattle to graze to an even clip. You will also enjoy the way the cattle change in their behaviour as now you are using a positive reinforcement to move them. So when they see you coming, that is a good thing!
Land is land. It is what man has fought over since the beginning of time and the most valuable material asset on earth. Soil is meant to be cool, healthy and host a diversity of life. Through rest, it has the power to heal itself even after extensive abuse. The payoff in a rotational grazing plan is healthy soil, extended grazing and a reduction in feed costs. Enjoy the green grass of your home!
Brenda Schoepp is a market analyst and the owner and author of Beeflink , a national beef cattle market newsletter. A professional speaker and industry market and research consultant, she ranches near Rimbey.[email protected]