This article was first published in October of 2015 to answer a question that many readers have, “How big should my paddocks/pastures be?” The answer involves some forage clipping, some weighing and some math and Dave Scott explains it all here. Enjoy!
Dave Scott and his wife own and operate Montana Highland Lamb (Home Grown & Happy) in Whitehall Montana. Dave is also a livestock specialist at ATTRA’s National Center for Appropriate Technology in Butte, Montana. Recently he created a series of videos to help folks with the ins and outs of management intensive grazing, using his own operation as a demonstration. Though he talks about is sheep, the principles he demonstrates are the same regardless of what you’re raising.
Dave manages an average of 200 ewes and 330 lambs on 30 irrigated acres. They graze from May first through September 1, and then he rests his pastures by sending them to a nearby ranch to graze down the leafy spurge there. (Dave notes that his sheep have been so good at reducing the leafy spurge that they may be grazing themselves out of a job!) When they return home, the pastures have rested enough that the sheep can graze again from October 15 through January 15.
As he describes in this video, Dave has three goals for his management.
Daily goal: Let the grass fully recover,
Seasonal goal: Control parasites and manage for good gains with a target weaning weight gain of .7 and .8 pounds per day
Ongoing goal: Sustainability. The farm hasn’t always included this idea in its goals for the 25 of the last 30 years. For the last 5 years, Dave has been working on sustainable practices that can reduce the need for fertilization and irrigation. In everything he does, he is looking for a way to create a more natural sustainable system.
In this video, Dave shows how he uses a hoop and scale to estimate the pounds of dry matter he has in his paddocks as the first step in figuring out how big to make his paddocks. He also shows you an easy way to tell if your grass has recovered from a previous grazing. (Jump right to 3:26 in the video to see it now.) He also shares the formula that let’s you convert the weight of what you collect from your hoop into Dry Matter. Then he takes you through the math for what your animals need to eat, and on to what that means for your paddock size.
The whole video is about a 10-minute long conversation with Dave that will get you started on figuring out what you’ve got in pasture and what that means for your stock and your paddock size. Grab your favorite beverage and enjoy!
P.S. Some of our readers are lucky enough to live in areas where grazing sticks have been created to make it easier to estimate how much forage you’ve got in pasture. If you’re one of those folks click on over to this article by Troy Bishopp that shows you how to use a grazing stick AND where to get your very own! Hooray!
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Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible. Click on over to see the great work they do for all of us. Thank them for supporting On Pasture by liking their facebook page.