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Here’s What Reducing Pasture Recovery Periods Can Cost You

By   /  June 4, 2018  /  3 Comments

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We all know that giving our pastures enough time to recover before grazing them again is critical to our success. But what may be news is how big the impact of just a few days less of recovery can turn into a problem that costs us forage and money.

Dave Pratt, CEO of Ranch Management Consultants, specializes in helping ranchers look at their operations so they can make more profitable choices. In this video he talks about the cost of not giving forage enough time to recover, and how you might slide into a vicious cycle by paying attention when your cows say, “MOOOOVE US!”

In this case, his example is a rancher moving one herd among 15-16 paddocks. That’s more than enough paddocks to stop overgrazing, just the right number to have good animal performance, but not quite what you’d want if your goal is rapid range improvement. The rancher’s plan was to give each paddock 90 days rest. But that’s not what was actually happening.

The first step in understanding the situation is to figure out how many days the herd should graze in each pasture. To do that, we divide 90 (the number of days of rest we want) by the number of paddocks. This tells us that the graze period is 6 days.

90 ÷ 15 = 6

But the cows had other ideas. On day four, they said, “MOOOOVE US!” and the rancher, looking at the pasture they were in and the pasture they were headed to decided he better listen to the cows and move them. That reduced the recovery period to 88 days.

As Dave says, two days doesn’t seem like a lot. But if you do the math, things don’t look so good. Slow regrowth is about 10 pounds per acre, so that 2 days equals 20 pounds of lost forage. If you multiply that over his 1,000 acres, that comes to a loss of 20,000 pounds of forage. Translated into hay at $100 a ton, that rancher just lost $1,000.

But the problem doesn’t end there. The rancher who succumbed to “Impatient Cow Syndrome” one time, is likely to do it again and again. The result, as you’ll see in the video is a vicious cycle that speeds up moves from pasture to pasture. The rest period gets shorter and shorter as does the grass in the pastures. By the time Dave visited this ranch, they were on their second cycle through the pastures, and could only spend 2 days in each pasture thanks to grass that hadn’t regrown. What started as a 90 day rest cycle turned into 37 days.

What Caused the Problem?

Like the Ranching For Profit students, you might answer, “Overstocking.” According to Dave, that wasn’t the cause at the beginning of the season, though it It became a problem as the rancher moved further into the grazing season. The real cause was recovery periods that were too short to allow the grass to recover by the time he needed to move the herd into the next pasture. He needed to spend more time in each pasture so that his recovery periods were long enough to grow more grass.

The Solution? Controlling How Much Cows Eat

The rule of thumb, that a cow will eat 2 to 3% of her body weight on a dry matter basis, doesn’t show the whole picture. She’ll eat a lot more if you let her. If you look at her consumption during the graze period, you’ll see that the first day she eats about 6% of her body weight, the next day about 4 %  and by day four, when she’s down to about 2% of her body weight, she’s looking at what’s left and thinking she might starve on day 5.

How do you change this? Consider controlling how much food the cow has on her plate by grazing smaller pastures. Daily moves give the cow everything she needs, though she might not get fat. If daily moves don’t work for you, how about every 3 days?

As Dave says:

“Cell grazing can increase carrying capacity, improve pasture health, support good animal performance and increase profit. But you have to understand the principles of recovery period, graze period, stock density, herd effect and herd size, and stocking rate.”

Interested in learning more about Ranching For Profit Schools? Click here!

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

3 Comments

  1. John Marble says:

    This is a great discussion, but I think the (my) reality is even more complex. My rest periods vary seasonally: a couple of months at 30 days, a few more at 60-90, and a lengthy period of no grazing during the winter. Also, during each of those different season I am trying to accomplish different goals with plants and animals. Bottom line, I think it is imperative that I am conscious of forage conditions in not just the next paddock, but in all of my paddocks. I think the most important grazing work I do is attempting to put eyes and feet on the ground in every paddock on a weekly basis. Currently, I am managing about a hundred permanent paddocks, so taking weekly inventory is really hard. But making grazing residence time decisions (which greatly impacts rest time) requires that I be looking ahead many, many moves into the future.

  2. Rob Havard says:

    This is what Andre Voisin called untoward acceleration in the 50’s.

    Other options would be to subdivide those pastures further. That $1000 of hay saving would buy you what you needed to do that.

    If they are set on six day moves in the summer then give them more and leave a bigger residual and then the regrowth should be quicker requiring a shorter rest period and increasing stocking rate.

  3. Patrick Tobola says:

    Assuming that the only problem that this rancher had was that his cattle would cut way back on consumption after four days of grazing and would start bawling for him to come move them, I feel there is a better solution to the problem than subdividing the paddocks if the rancher really wants to stay with moving the animals only every six days.

    Richard and Tina at Hand ‘n Hand Livestock solutions have come up with a helpful list of behaviors that indicate that the animals need to be driven because their minds are not quite right. One of these is the animals will start bawling when they see you. Their recommendation is to work with them by properly driving them as often as it takes to change these behaviors. Of course you will need to invest some time in learning how to properly drive your animals, but you will be able to save time in the future by not needing to subdivide the paddocks and also there will be an added benefit of better animal performance when you start to handle your animals this way.

    I have a situation where my animals are periodically moved from a large pasture to a small paddock and in the past the animals would start bawling and quit eating after a short time. I’m not very good at driving my animals yet, but just by working with them a little bit, they would calm down and start to graze again. I have done this a few times over the last year and the animals are getting better every time they go into a small paddock and the animals are staying satisfied and full for the duration of the planned graze period which can be as long as seven days.

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