Are you looking to improve your grazing management system? The first step is to develop a grazing management plan! To better manage your grazing, you have to have goals. Our ultimate goals are to improve our efficiency, reduce pasture waste, conserve surplus forage, improve animal performance, and improve forage quality at its time of use.
How do we reach these goals? By managing our pasture and other inputs, we can effectively produce desired animal response and performance. The first rule of grazing management is monitoring pastures for proper minimum grazing height. We have to always think about what we see and what we don’t see. What we do to the top, happens to the bottom.
When the forage is removed (grazed or harvested), the roots die back because initial regrowth comes from root carbohydrates. If we come back too early to graze or cut, those roots die back even more. Continuously overgrazing will lead to loss of that plant in the field. However, with managed grazing, we remove that animal from the field to provide that adequate growth and a stronger root system. Now we have developed a system where our forages will stick around longer. The minimum grazing height establishes the point at which livestock should be rotated off of a pasture. Proper height management and rest equals the key to grazing success.
Forages are often inefficiently utilized when pastures are continuously stocked. Many times, grazing animals will only utilize 30-40% of the forage in a pasture with the rest refused or wasted. There are many reasons for this waste. The grazing herd is typically lazy and will heavily graze areas close to shade or water and ignore more distant areas. Animals also prefer young, tender, and leafy portions of forages and refuse stemmy mature material when allowed a choice. When allowed to choose, the grazing animal frequently returns to grazed areas to utilize fresh regrowth and they refuse large amounts of previously un-grazed forage because it is too “tough”.
We know that the more vegetative a plant is, the higher the quality. Many plants respond well to short grazing periods followed by long periods of rest. Rest periods allow plants to produce new leaves which collect energy, transform it into sugars, and store these sugars so that more leaves can be produced following the next grazing cycle. Not only is regrowth potential improved, but root depth and stand life are improved as well. As the season changes, so do our grazing intervals. Be mindful of warm and cool season grasses, because forage species and time of year affect forage growth and grazing times. Remember, grass grows grass!
Grazing sticks look like a simple measuring device, but are really a measurement system. They include a ruler for measurement, grazing guidelines, and conversion formulas for making immediate pasture management decisions. Grazing sticks are handy tools that simplify measuring pasture yield, allocating pasture to animals, and tracking productivity changes.
According to recommendations listed on the grazing stick, the grazing height is 3” for tall fescue, and 2” for bermudagrass. Other minimum grazing heights are: bahiagrass 2”, ryegrass and small grains 3”. Keep in mind these are minimum heights. Grazing can be stopped at higher residuals which can lead to even quicker recovery. As a rule of thumb, a 2-4 day rotation with a 24-30 day rest period, when feasible, works best for most beef operations.
In addition to good rotational practices, the key to good grazing management is matching the stock rate to the grass growth rate. To maintain forage growth within the desired limits, vary the stocking rate by adding or removing animals from a pasture or by reducing the area available for grazing.
For questions on various forage species management systems, rotational practices, stocking rates, or if you are just getting starting or looking to improve your current system, contact your local county extension agent.