What’s the Key to Grazing Success? Rest!

We first ran this article in September of 2017. As I reviewed it before sharing it again this week, I was struck by how well this rancher understands his ecosystem and how he changed his management to fit. His emphasis on rest highlights the most important thing we can do: provide adequate time for plants to recover. In arid environments, like this one, that could start at as much as 250 days. In wetter environments it will be less. That’s the challenge – figuring out how to provide the rest our pastures and rangelands need. I hope Grady Grissom inspires you to think about how you fit in your landscape. 

“Ranchers are not outside the ecosystem managing it,” says Grady Grissom. “They’re in the ecosystem trying to survive. And if you make successively bad decisions on a piece of land, you will go away. Your genes will no longer be in the gene pool and you won’t be part of the generational ranching population.” That’s part of Grissom’s conservation philosophy: people are part of the environment.

Grissom runs what he calls a “small ranch” in southern Colorado. The Rancho Largo Cattle Company is about 14,000 acres of short grass prairie. With only 11 to 12 inches of annual precipitation, some years he needs as much as 120 acres per cow. Other years he may only need forty. That means building flexibility into his stocking rate, so he moved from a full time cow calf operation to a sparsely stocked cow calf base with the ability to keep calves, buy calves or graze other peoples’ cattle.

An EQIP contract with the Natural Resources Conservation Service helped him turn his 9 pastures into 36 fenced pastures. Typical graze periods are 10 days, though that can vary greatly, with a recovery period of an average of 250 days, and up to a year and a half to two years through drought. This kind of grazing management has helped him meet one of his primary goals: a healthy ecosystem as measured in plant and wildlife diversity.

You can hear more about Rancho Largo’s management and Grissom’s thoughts about conservation vs. environmentalism in this 4:49 video celebrating the ranch receiving the 2017 Leopold Conservation Award. Enjoy!

What Can You Do With This?

First, take Grady’s example and contact your local Natural Resources office to see how they can work with you on conservation planning and the financial assistance programs to get started. Click to find your closest office.

Next, think about rest and how long it takes for forage to recover. What does recovery look like in your environment? How many days of rest do you plan for? How do you adjust your stocking rate to match changes in precipitation and growth rate?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on this topic. It will help me find the information you need to be a successful part of your ecosystem.


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natglc-logo-1Thanks 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.

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