In Part 1 of this series, Dave Pratt of Ranch talked about pasture recovery periods, focusing on what happens when forages are severely grazed. Here, he applies his principle of “leaving more leaves” to show how this works as forages change through the growing season.
The biggest mistake people make in grazing management is providing too short a recovery period for plants after grazing. How long recovery takes depends on a number of things including the type of plants we have, on our goals – like stockpiling to extend the grazing season or other management objectives – and how severely the plants were grazed in the past.
The recovery time needed also depends on the season. In late summer or in the dormant season when plants are growing slowly we need longer recovery periods than we need in the spring when we have rapid growth. (There are exceptions. In some drier environments the fast growth period is so short that by the time we recognize it’s happening, it’s over. In those places producers may opt for relatively long recovery periods year-round.) In this 3:14 video, I talk about how the growing season affects recovery rates, and what we can do to adapt our management plan based on what we see happening. (Complete transcripts of this video are included as part of the Grazing 101 ebook. Head to the home page for a free download.)
Identify Your Growth Phase and Growth Speed
Last week I introduced the “sigmoidal” or “S” curve that describes the growth rate of grasses in pasture. Having sacrificed roots and leaves after being grazed, at first regrowth is very slow. We call this Phase 1. Once the roots have started to recover and we have me more solar panels, more leaves to support rapid growth, we enter Phase 2. This is the fastest growth we’re going to get. If we let things go too long, photosynthesis becomes less efficient, and growth slows. This is Phase 3.
Phase 2 is the sweet spot, where we’d like to stay, but that’s not so easy because the slope of the growth curve changes through the growing season. The curve on the left shows the curve during the spring growth season. The curve on the right shows growth rates in the late summer when recovery is much slower.
As you see here, the amount of rest the pasture needs depends on the rate of growth of the plants.
This is the foundation of the first rule of cell grazing:
The recovery that we need to give our pastures is based on the growth rate of plants.
Slow Growth = Longer Rest Periods
Fast Growth = Shorter Rest Periods
How Long is Long and How Short is Short?
It’s pretty rare, even in areas with really fast growth, to find a place where the minimum recovery period wouldn’t be at least 4 to 5 weeks. There are exceptions, but, if you’re giving your pastures less time to recover than that, you’re not doing your pastures or yourself any favors. And how long is long? It could be several months in some areas, and if the pasture as severely grazed, it could be as long as a year.
How Can You Tell What’s Happening? Take a Walk in Your Pastures!
Unfortunately, there is no formula for calculating what the rest period ought to be. There is no recipe that says, “Graze 2-days, add water and minerals to taste, rest for 60 days. Repeat.” There is as much art as there is science to knowing when a pasture has recovered and is ready for grazing. Recovery has as much to do with root regrowth as it does the regrowth of leaves. You can’t go digging up your pasture to see how the roots are doing…although digging up one or two plants might be a good idea.
Your only recourse is to make an educated guess. Here’s how to do that: look at your pastures to see how things are growing. Check the paddock you planned to move the herd into BEFORE checking the paddock that the herd is in. I also encourage you to make one other stop. Before you check either the paddock the herd is in or the one you plan to move them into, take a look at a paddock that was grazed 3 or 4 weeks ago. Ask yourself, “Is this pasture recovering as rapidly as I thought it would?” If there’s less growth than you anticipated, you need to lengthen the rest period. If there’s more than you anticipated, you can move the animals a little sooner. When in doubt, give pastures a little more rest.
Do you appreciate Dave’s teaching style? Then check out his books and DVD for lots more great information and profit tips. He provides excellent resources that will change how you look at your operation and what you can do to increase profit, improve the health of the land, improve the relationships in your business and increase your satisfaction with your ranch.
We have a strong mid-May to July growth. My cows are in their third grazing on the best paddocks right now. One thing that I do later in the summer is let some of the paddocks grow long enough so that the red clover sets seed. So even though it could support another grazing, I’d rather let the clover seed itself and give everything else a rest, too.
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