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Reducing Pasture Rest Days Is Expensive

By   /  May 25, 2020  /  1 Comment

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From June of 2018, the breakdown of how much just a couple days less rest could cost.

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! Tell them On Pasture sent you.

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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.

1 Comment

  1. Dave Scott says:

    Excellent article, Kathy.
    It all boils down to the three rules of profitable, long term grazing success and soil health improvement: long rest periods allowing at least full plant recovery, grazing with high stock density created by moving daily, and take half, leave half.
    They all work together and facilitate one another. As mentioned here, shorter paddock grazing periods will increase rest. So will taking half, and leaving half, however nonsensical that seems. We have tried it and it works.
    These truths are simply stated, but it takes an artful, committed grazier to accomplish the desired end.

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