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What Your Livestock Think About Your Pasture

By   /  March 23, 2015  /  3 Comments

Your animals have a lot more to do than just walk around and eat. Understanding what they’re doing ensures that you’re making it easy for them to harvest their own food with the least amount of effort so you get the best performance from them.

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Editors Note:  This is the second in a series by Darrell exploring what’s going in your pastu
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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.

3 Comments

  1. Richard Sparks says:

    The idea of maximum foraging time and efficiency for livestock tends to match my experience this winter. While windrow grazing under a center pivot, cattle were allowed new forage around 4 pm each day. No back fence allowed them to move freely back into the area under the pivot and corner fields previously grazed.

    Around 3:30 pm, the cattle moved from various locations and lined up along the pivot (a hot wire along the pivot protected stockpiled windrows). When the pivot was moved forward for 6 minutes, the cattle foraged on the new feed till dark, and again early the next morning. They then moved to areas where forage quality was much less, and loafed or grazed a little picking up forage or turnips they had missed earlier.

  2. Roger Tilkemeier says:

    How does this relate to using stockpiled standing forage for winter grazing as we have been told that standing winter forage
    is usually of higher quality than most hay– or is it another reason for keeping the stems and seed heads grazed off prior to winter?

    • Darrell L. Emmick says:

      The “Law of Least Effort” never goes away and it always extracts a price either in reduced animal performance or in the cost of providing supplemental food.

      In the case of winter grazing stockpiled forages, I think we need to keep in mind the primary reason for grazing in the first place is that there is no way in which to harvest a ton of forage cheaper than by letting the critter harvest it for itself. Thus the longer one can have animals harvesting their own food the lower the cost of production. Grazing stockpiled forages simply extends the concept.

      The questions are, are your animals harvesting food and maintaining body condition or are they just eating stuff and losing condition?

      Keep in mind, the quality of the stockpiled forage depends on the kind of plants you are stockpiling, how long it has been stockpiled before you turn your animals in, and the weather. Thus stockpiled forages may be higher in quality, lower in quality, or similar in quality to hay.

      Thus, to keep the “Law of Least Effort” from eating away your profits, I recommend that you monitor your animal’s body condition and respond as appropriate.

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