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Are you GRAZING or just grazing?

By   /  June 2, 2014  /  3 Comments

Making more money from your pasture is not just about soil fertility, it’s about management. Darrell explains how much more weight his herd gained on a shorter sward, and how he managed the pasture to get from just grazing to GRAZING.

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Darrell’s son Nick with a nice steelhead, even though it’s not a brown trout My son, bes
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About the author

Darrell began his career in grassland research and management in 1980 by walking across a plowed field in the rain to ask the farm manager of Cornell University’s Mount Pleasant Research Farm for a job. Although the farm manager had no funds that particular year for hiring summer help, Darrell was informed that there was a new pasture research project getting underway at Cornell’s Teaching and Research Center in Harford, NY, and they could likely use some help from a person willing to walk across a plowed field in the rain to ask for a job. Little did Darrell know that plodding through mud and rain would lead to 34 years of researching, promoting, and helping farmers implement grazing-based livestock production systems. Along the way, Darrell earned a Master’s degree in Resource Management and Ecology, a PhD in Range Science with a concentration in the foraging behavior and diet selection of herbivores, served as the pasture research manager at the Cornell University Hillside Pasture Research and Demonstration project, and after 26 years as the state grazing land management specialist with the USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service in New York State, has retired. While Darrell can still be found walking across plowed fields in the spring rain, with a turkey call in his jacket pocket and a 12 gauge shot gun cradled in the crook of his arm, which, by the way, was exactly what he was doing those 34 years ago when a job got in the way, he does prefer to talk grass and fish.


  1. Paul Nehring says:

    The problem with this recommendation is that in WI we go from grass that is 5-6 inches and just barely ready to graze in mid-May, to grass that is 2 feet tall and headed out in two weeks. There is simply no way to keep up and graze all across the farm. While I can and do manage some of this through making hay/hayleage or baleage, if I do it across too much of the farm, I won’t have enough recovered pasture for the cattle to graze.
    Instead, I find it much better to just stockpile some of it and give the cattle more selection, which, yes, means they waste some, but thathas also improved our soil organic matter, and improved cover on the soil giving me better regrowth in the heat of July.
    Every area has a different climate and different ways to graze to make the most of the natural resources. It’s best to try different approaches and maintain good records to find out what works in your area.

    • Mort Kothmann says:

      Paul, I think that the ‘take-home’ is that each region and vegetation type needs ‘custom’ management and there is not just one best management practice. I note that Darrell found that the species composition of his pastures changed to ‘match’ his grazing system. He shifted from erect growing tall species to species with more basal growth. When the grasses are tall these species cannot thrive because there is not enough light near the ground where they grow. However, when the sward is grazed shorter, the species that produce their leaves near the ground are able to increase. Vegetation will respond to the management it receives, within it genetic abilities.

  2. Jim Gerrish says:

    Well stated, Darrell.

    Give cattle what they prefer to eat and performance is always better than when presented with what they really don’t care to eat. A couple of years ago, through poor Spring grazing management on my part, I allowed about a hundred acres to grow well beyond phase 3 grass when I began grazing it in late July. The price I paid for this was 15-20% reduction in pasture yield and 40 lbs of reduced weaning weight.

    I still advocate early aggressive Spring grazing with rapid moves followed by longer recovery periods through summer and always leaving ample residual behind.

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