How to Graze During the Dormant Season (Summer or Fall)

Whether it’s fair or not, people seem to believe that northwest corner of America is a fairly unique place. Folks like to rave about the extraordinary degree of “greenness” in this country, while also whining and moaning about our soggy winters. I always find this entertaining. The truth is, we do have a long, gray winter. We also have pretty glorious spring and fall seasons too. But as a grazier, it is the summer months that present the most challenges. Our permanent pastures begin waking up in late February, and typically we are ready to begin grazing in late March. What follows is like a multi-month chess game. I run around checking on grazing conditions on around 100 paddocks, constantly making decisions about what group of cattle needs to be moved to what paddock, when, and how long until they should be moving again. The grass grows very rapidly, calves are born, the cattle inventory changes quickly with animals coming and going. The alley way stays busy with cattle being processed, cattle arriving, cattle departing. During this entire spring season, my underlying focus is on one thing: trying to keep the forage plants from getting to the reproductive stage. If I get the correct number of animals onto a paddock at the proper time and leave them there for the correct graze period, the sward will be reduced and the maturity of the grass will be retarded. In the spring, when the grass is growing fast, rotation of the cattle must be rapid. Pretty exciting times f

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3 thoughts on “How to Graze During the Dormant Season (Summer or Fall)

  1. You are spot on John! (In my humble opinion.) Your explanation of how critical spring grazing is to setting up dormant season grazing is probably the best description I have ever read. It is a point that often gets missed when it may be the most important piece to effective year round grazing. One point I would like to add, in my experience, not having a back fence allows animals to graze the thatch layer that is required to store moisture & protect the soil. Earlier this fall I toured a ranch that had large tracts of land with 2-3″ of thatch. There had not been any rain for three weeks and the daily temperature had been 30-34C (86-93F). When I dug down, the thatch was moist and I could make mud balls with the soil. In 20 years of grazing I had never seen anything like it! It certainly opened my eyes to what is possible. The one time I came close to this type of ground cover (bucking horses grazed 55ac of alfalfa in July-September), the cattle removed all the thatch in November/December because they had to walk through the paddock for water. The thatch could have been saved with an alley through the paddock.

  2. John,

    Really enjoy the articles. I too live in western OR. Would love to meet you in person and see your operation. Maybe we can discuss you being a “mentor”. 😬🤠 Thanks!

    Dennis

  3. What about winter rye? On smaller pastures, seeding it in isn’t a challenge, and it thrives in cool weather and even with little rain. Gabe Brown, S. Dakota, seeds it in a cocktail on fields for a cover and grazes it all winter.

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