Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management, Multipaddock Rotational Grazing, and the Story of the Regrazed Grass Plant

In this month’s The Thinking Grazier, we’re looking at some research that might challenge some of our preconceived notions. I’ve included questions we can ask ourselves as we consider what to do with this information. You can also download the paper with the link to the right. Preventing animals from taking that “second bite” or regrazing an individual plant before it has time to recover is a basic tenet of managed grazing. It’s the reason many use adaptive, multipaddock grazing both to prevent regrazing and to increase production of grasses that might be harmed most by that second bite. But what if our assumptions about regrazing and how rotational grazing prevents it are wrong? That’s the question that stakeholders asked researchers to explore as part of the Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment (CARM). The unexpected result might have you rethinking how you manage your own pastures. What makes this experiment different? The Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management Experiment (CARM) is different because it tests real management practices, at a ranch scale. Eleven stakeholders, including ranchers, researchers, state and federal land managers, and staff from environmental conservation organizations set goals and objectives and make decisions to manage grazing for healthy vegetation and wildlife habitat as well as profit

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8 thoughts on “Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management, Multipaddock Rotational Grazing, and the Story of the Regrazed Grass Plant

  1. Great article! Thanks for publishing. I’m curious how this would pan out in areas where there there are mostly cool season grasses (not cool and warm) and limited opportunities for regrowth within the growing season. Also the “tiller net” sounds cool – I’d like to learn from such a network.

  2. The concern I have with this research is the comfort level the authors have with the idea of “In contrast, season-long rest is “built-in” for ranches stocked at light-to-moderate rates, regardless of grazing system.”

    This paradigm accepts the revenue flow limitation of low-moderate stocking rates. Most ranches cannot afford that restrictive stocking rate strategy simply due to the tiny profit margin of conventional ranching. To be profitable, most ranches need greater animal yield per acre. Increasing stocking rate is how we accomplish that. Mitigating the impact of increased stocking rate on the range is accomplished through reducing the grazing period duration. (i.e. increased stock density)

    I look at the graphs for non-grazed tillers in both the CARM & TRM pastures and my reading is that they are grossly understocked. My grazing management objective even on semi-arid rangeland is to get a bite off every tiller and then provide adequate recovery time following that bite.

    The only way to accomplish that strategy is to shorten the grazing period to increase stock density. In the CARM study, the grazing periods were far too long to accomplish a meaningful change in plant response. I am generally advocating 3-5 day grazing periods on semi-arid range.

    I have seen far too many ranches completely rejuvenate their rangelands with a shift to short-duration grazing periods and extended recovery to worry about whether or not academic research supports or disputes the notion.

  3. Hi,
    An interesting article, my observation is that it focuses on only one species of grass, we are in Australia and don’t have this species. We have been practicing planned grazing for 20 years and have observed a radical increase in the diversity of plants, be they grasses, herbs forbs or wildflowers. Our Stocking rate and density have increased dramatically as well.

    Whilst TRM appears to have no influence on the overgrazing of Wheatgrass, my concern is for the diminution of the other species and an oversimplification of my sward. I am constantly seeking further complexity in my diversity and find that grasslands that have been managed traditionally here have simplified to only 2 or 3 species of lower successional grasses.

    I would welcome any comments and further enlightenmnet.

    1. In this grassland, western wheat was the species that producers wanted to increase because it is subdominant to the shortgrasses. We are monitoring all grass species (about about 8 of which are common). Plus many forbspecies. With 8 years of treatments we have not yet seen any notable divergence in the two treatments in terms of diversity.

  4. Should we be looking at stocking rate or stocking density? Stocking rate is basically number of animals and doesn’t differentiate between different animal classes. Stocking density looks at body weight and pounds per acre, totally different

  5. Hello Friends,

    Based on all the comments I’ve gotten on this piece so far, I believe there is possible miscommunication on my part and misunderstanding on readers’ parts. So let me clarify.

    The ranching stakeholders in this collaborative group believe that adaptive rotational grazing is better than traditional season-long grazing for a number of reasons. One is that it would preventing regrazing of a species of grass they would like to have more of in their pastures.

    So – the question was, does this kind of management make a difference to regrazing? We’ve always believed it does. But as far as I know, this is the first study to actually do the tedious work of marking and monitoring grass tillers to see what was happening. What the stakeholders learned is that there was very little regrazing of Western wheatgrass, whether in the adaptively managed pastures or in the traditionally grazed pastures.

    This is not a take down of adaptive management. The authors point out that it is a valuable tool to reach many goals. This is simply new information about whether or not it is the tool we should use to prevent regrazing. Their data show that stocking rate is actually the major driver of regrazing.

    There are lots of ideas about what adaptive managed grazing looks like, but that’s not what this paper or article is about. If that’s what you addressed in your comment, you won’t see it appear below. I’d like to keep the discussion on topic. The CARM stakeholders have given us some input that helps us think about what we know about how the grasses in our own pastures grow, what prevents regrazing, and what we might do with these new ideas. We’ve learned something about how things work on the shortgrass prairie, but they could be different elsewhere. In fact, when I talked to Dr. Porensky, she was so excited to learn more that she hopes for a “Tiller Net” where other studies in other places add to our understanding.

    I hope that helps clarify things and constructively guides our conversation. If you have questions, drop me an email. kathy@onpasture.com

  6. I read the paper, and I wonder what difference it would have made if the TRM herd were not divided equally between the 10 TRM paddocks. It seems like this structure mitigated some of the effects of a herd’s tendency to prefer certain areas of a ranch and avoid others. Their model forced some grazing distribution across the whole of the ranch (although not within each of the TRM pastures). Under a pure continuous grazing model, there would be one herd with access to the entire ranch. With a pure continuous grazing model, I would expect some areas of the ranch to be heavily utilized, and other areas to be unutilized. The “whole ranch” data might not be much different, but specific areas within the ranch might be very different.

    1. That is a good point. We stil need to better understand how the size of seasonlong pastures affects grazing distribution and regrazing. My experience is that many ranchers still avoid significant regrazing of individual plants in much larger seasonlong paddocks (which are common in this region) as long as they have multiple welldistributed water sources.

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