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Creating Your Grazing Chart – Mapping Your Pastures

By   /  November 11, 2013  /  1 Comment

Financial advisor and television host, Suze Orman said it’s impossible to map out a route to your destination if you don’t know where you’re starting from. Kinda makes sense for implementing a grazing management plan and chart too.

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The Bishopp Family Family Farm map shows the pastures identified by number, and 2008 soil organic matter.

The Bishopp Family Family Farm map shows the pastures identified by number, and 2008 soil organic matter.

Here’s why I want a decent farm map with accurate acreages:

  • So I can make decisions about carrying capacity, field boundaries and fertility applications
  • To track field production data
  • As a guide to help family know where the cows are
  • To see and plan around unique shapes, sensitive landscape features and chart water courses while viewing the farm as it change over time
  • Because my organic certifier wants it
  • To make my grazing planning chart relevant
Here's an example of a mapping progression.  At the top is the initial google map, in the middle you see the area broken down into paddocks and numbered.  The last map includes results of soil tests so that the farmer can consider soil treatments and watch progress over time.

Here’s an example of a mapping progression. At the top is the initial google map, in the middle you see the area broken down into paddocks and numbered. The last map includes results of soil tests so that the farmer can consider soil treatments and watch progress over time.

There are conservation professionals that can help you map your farm or ranch.  The Farm Service Agency can help, but from my experience,their mapping delineates mostly cropland and leaves our hill-and-dale pasture fields unmeasured (although I think they would help if you asked).  NRCS and Conservation Districts seem much more adept at helping you map your farm from a more holistic perspective.  And since I am one of those grazing District peeps, I should know.

Here’s how the mapping process generally goes down:  I bring 2 blank pictometry, GIS or Goggle earth maps to the farm and we walk the land and record the grazing paddocks, cropfields and any other fields that would be part of the grazing plan so I can make a prettier and more accurate version back at the office.  It’s entirely possible to use a measuring wheel on the land to get similar results, but it’s time consuming and field shapes make it difficult.  There are GPS and App tools that will measure while you walk too and their data can be downloaded onto the laptop as part of creating a new map.  If you have those tools and know how to use them, go for it.

You can get your own aerial view of your property by going online to Google Maps.  Once there, type in your address and when you see your location, simply zoom in until you can see your property at a size that makes it easy for you to begin adding paddock lines.

Click on “My Places” and then on “Create a New Map” and “Edit.”  This will bring up drawing tools that allow you to draw your property boundaries or paddock/pastures.  If you haven’t done this before, we’ll be creating a short video to show you how.  Or you can simply email the URL of the map without boundary lines to a local print shop to get a large printed copy the that you can add lines to yourself.   (Editors Note:  Kathy forgot to add that in order to use this feature you need to be signed in to your google account.  If you prefer not to be signed up for Google, you can simply print out your map and draw your fence lines in by hand.)

Whatever you do, the point is to measure what you are actually managing.  Many times I see whole fields measured which is fine but when you start breaking them down into paddocks for the grazing chart you may want to re-measure.  It’s very helpful to know the acreage of the paddocks and the information is easy to get using  iMeasureMap.com.  (Note:  Google used to provide this information with it’s mapping tool.  However, now they’ve begun selling that ability as part of an upgrade.) Watch this quick video demonstration by Kathy to see how iMeasureMap works:

What I’m saying is make it what YOU want.As far as naming the fields, I’ve seen all kinds of combinations from numbers to letters to names.  Again make it flow the way you want it and so your family can grasp it too.

Jamie from the County Planning Department shows off the map she helped with for the Campbell Farm.

Jamie from the County Planning Department shows off the map she helped with for the Campbell Farm.

I like having a good sized map after I’ve done all the creating.  I work with my local county planning department gal, Jamie who sends it through her color plotter and gives me the size I want.  It’s an awesome relationship if you have it.  I also work with Soil and Water Conservation Districts, NRCS offices or sometimes I take a CD/travel drive to a print shop locally and get it printed for just a few bucks.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service has a great tool with their soil web survey (www. websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov) that will tell you all kinds of information on your land capabilities that you may want to incorporate into your plan.  I also tap my nutrient management plan for field by field fertility information and integrate that into my map and chart.  As I said, it’s up to you but I like all the info in one place so I see it every day without searching through binders for all the information.  That helps me make better decisions.

Here are some map examples from farms I’ve worked with.  Note that not all use technology.  If hand drawn maps work for you, that’s great too.  See how different maps identify resources important to the operator. (Click on the pictures for a larger view.)

Map for grazing chart 3

 

Map for grazing chart 4

 

Map for grazing chart 2

 

Map for grazing Chart 1

Here are links to all the articles in this series:

So Ya Got a Blank Grazing Chart. Now What? 10/21/2013

Setting Goals for Your Blank Grazing Chart, 10/28/2013

Creating Your Grazing Chart, Mapping Your Pastures, 11/11/2013

Your Grazing Chart – Figuring Animal Needs, 11/18/2013

Quickly Estimate Pounds of Dry Matter in Pasture, 11/25/2013

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Kathy helped Troy to build a new website to reflect his enthusiasm for grazing and all the help and information he has to offer.  We'd be tickled if you'd check it out!

Kathy helped Troy build a new website to reflect his enthusiasm for grazing and all the help and information he has to offer. We’d be tickled if you’d click here to check it out!

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About the author

contributor

Troy Bishopp, aka "The Grass Whisperer" is an accomplished professional grazier of 27 years, grasslands advocate and media guy who owns and manages Bishopp Family Farm in Deansboro, NY with his understanding wife, daughters and parents. Their certified organic custom grazing operation raises dairy heifers, grass-finished beef and backgrounds feeder cattle on 180 acres of owned and leased organic native pastures. The whisperer routinely asks customers, Is there any grass in the animal products you buy? Beef grazed on the farm has been served at President Obama's inaugural dinners, restaurants and to diners as far away as Japan. Troy also works for the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition as their regional grazing specialist and is a free-lance writer, maintaining a website presence at www.thegrasswhisperer.com

1 Comment

  1. Katie says:

    Once I’ve got the lines drawn on my map, how do I download it as a file, save it, print it, etc? Thanks!

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