This question is certainly a good one because it’s the same one I pondered after receiving a free 12”x24” Holistic Management International ™ grazing plan & control chart back in 2010 at an Ian-Mitchell Innes workshop. Being a simple kind of man, I approached all the columns, grazing management and animal performance targets with plenty of trepidation.
Not to piss in the Wheaties of Allan Savory or Sam Bingham, I just wasn’t ready, or stubborn, or didn’t have enough training in how I should use this awesome tool as it was laid out for my farm. So I did what most red-blooded, independent farmers would do – – – I adapted it to my own situation. Funny thing was, many of my Northeast grazing friends were thinking and doing the same thing. So we put together a NESARE (Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) Professional Development Project called “Utilizing Holistic Planned Grazing as a Regenerative Engine for Sustainable Agriculture.”
As professionals and farmers we were seeing the weak link of real, practical, in-your-face grazing management planning and monitoring tools, so we (Phillip Metzger, Kim Totten, Nancy Glazier, Jenn Colby, Jim Weaver, our Madison County Graziers Group and I) came up with a larger barn/office chart patterned after what I saw at Greg & Jan Judy’s Farm. What we asked most often of our customers was what will you actually use? The answer, “Something simple. . .”
So we went back to the basics so farmers could actually go forward in the planning and implementation of their grazing systems. Our farmer-led brainstorming sessions yielded glaring issues, at least to me. Most did not have a workable whole farm map with identifiable, consistent or delineated field numbers and corresponding acreages. They were inconsistent in with their daily record-keeping of animal needs, paddock moves, recovery periods, precipitation data and management decisions and so, like me, they forgot stuff that would be relevant to making financial and personal gains.
It wasn’t like they weren’t keeping track of stuff. It was that the information was buried in a 3 ring binder agency plan, or a pocket calendar, or on the dash of a truck somewhere. It seems farmers get really busy (duh) and just lose track even though they’re well-intentioned. The grazing record-keeping personalities varied from expert to “whatever”. This range forced us to provide a template that could be customized to each farm and make it much more personal and relevant.
Since most of us didn’t use a computer to do grazing planning and monitoring like HMI’s electronic version, or Jim Gerrish’s grazing wedge, or other fee-based web applications, we all agreed a barn/office paper chart that we walk by every day and see, would provide a good opportunity for better management.
Here’s what we wanted as a basic template:
• Something big enough to see and mark on and that could be expanded or shrunk depending on the size of the operation,
• Covering 10 to 12 months with a calendar in the heading to track the date and day of the week since most folks wanted to plan around Sundays,
• Enough blank spaces to keep track of whatever you want, including a larger heading area for writing down events and management decisions.
Essentially it became a big piece of lined paper bringing us to where we (you) are now, at the start.
What do you need to begin filling in the blanks?
I will assume that many of you have a grazing plan developed with help from a conservation professional so you would have many of the things I would consider to start building a grazing chart. I can also assume that many do not, especially folks just starting out in grazing. The government shut-down actually points to how important it is to develop your own skills and tools to become your own grazing specialist. It’s something I have done with decent success, mostly out of necessity. In this series of articles, I’m going to take you through putting together all the things you need, so you can be self-sufficient too!
Your short and long term financial, environmental and family goals or mission will drive your decisions and what you want to keep track of. You’re right, thinking about these things isn’t always the top of our list, but I’ll show you how to put together something that makes sense for you in as painless a way as possible.
2. A Map of Your Farm
This isn’t just any map…it’s one that will show you your paddocks so you can keep track of where you’ve been and where you’re going.
3. Soils information
What you grow, and how it responds to grazing will depend on your soils. So we’ll look at tools that you can use to tell you what’s under the surface.
Once you’ve got that together, we’ll look at figuring animal needs, land capabilities, and charting a course forward. I’ll show you examples from my own experience and the Bishopp Family Farm, so you can see the process in action. And we’ll talk about how you can adapt what we’re doing here to your own operation. So Stay Tuned!
Editors Note: Want to learn more about The Grass Whisperer? Check out his website here!