Have you downloaded your grazing chart? Have you started looking at the list of questions that will help you get your planning underway? Do you have estimates for forage production and for how much forage your livestock need?
With all that, are you still a little unsure of what the next steps are?
Well, never fear. Troy and John are here.
In this video, Grass Whisperer Troy Bishopp and John Suscovich of Farm Marketing Solutions spend some good tailgate time going over Troy’s process for using his grazing chart to plan out his grazing season, with some camping trips thrown in for fun. They start with a look at the map of Troy’s place, split up into paddocks with acres and organic matter listed for each. Next, Troy shows how he uses a worksheet he drafted to estimate:
• Animal forage requirements
• Forage production
• How many acres he’ll need on a daily basis to feed his animals
He uses that information to do the math for how long animals can stay in each of his paddocks. Then he shows us how he adjusts the number of days over the course of the grazing season. In early spring, when grass is just beginning to grow, he grazes for a shorter time in each paddock so he can make it around his farm quickly and manage to keep grass in its nutritious, vegetative state. As grass growth slows, he shows how the speed of the rotation slows so he can provide for adequate forage rest and recovery while still feeding his herd.
Finally, Troy reminds us why we’re doing all this:
1. Make money.
2. Grow so much grass you don’t know what to do with it.
3. Optimize the happiness and performance of your livestock.
4. Optimize your own happiness and performance by having some time off.
Take 11:43 minutes to watch this video and get on your path to happiness! Or check out the transcript below.
Don’t forget to download the worksheet that Troy uses as he’s figuring animal needs and paddock sizes. I’ve made a few changes to it so it works for folks living outside New York state, but the principles are all the same.
Grass Whisperer Troy Bishopp: The reason that this map looks the way it does is because it has wet areas, woods, pastures, and different topography so how I broke it into these 20 fields, 20 land units/paddocks, is because that’s the way we’ve been faring them and they’re in smaller bites so I can easily do calculations on cow numbers and movement and so forth. The other thing that it does is I have 20 fields and I do a soil test every three years. So number 20 is always number 20. And that’s on soil tests, its on the grazing chart. It’s all standardized.
The Worksheet for the Grazing Plan
Troy: So now we’re going to move on to a very practical exercise for you and me and other farmers and me as the agency guy, besides me being a farmer, is moving into a grazing plan. You can go and get grazing planning help and it might be more than this. Which is perfectly fine. I’ve been at this a long time…
John: I came here because I like the way you do it, and I have a lot going on…
Troy: It’s not right. It’s right for me. It may not be right for you.
Start with your class of animals – It’s easier here because we only have one class of livestock – that’s finishing beef. They weigh 800 lbs, give or take, when they come here, and when they leave they are really fat. So they’re gaining weight.
So here’s this little template I have to get started planning.
Basically we have animals weigh 800 pounds. They eat 3% of their body weight – which is wrong. They could eat 3%, they could eat 3.5, 2.5, 3.1…
John: But on average..
Troy: That’s what I figure.
So they’re going to eat 24 pounds of dry feed equivalent per day whether they’re eating grass or a bale of hay. And there’s 40 of them so that gives me a round number of about 1,000 pounds from this pasture, or I need to feed it out of the barn, or whatever.
Then I have my land resource that I say is giving me 3.5 to 4 tons of dry matter equivalent off of that land per acre, per rotation.
John: And we got that by knowing the size of the paddock, measuring the grass…
Troy: And what the soil will produce. It’s supposed to be about soil type. You know certain soil types, loamy, gravelly… some produce more. I don’t know what your soil type is, but it could be more or less than mine. I just basically have to get in the ball park.
Then I have a schedule of residency period, meaning how long they’re going to stay in each pasture. And I want to move them every day.
So you have animals that need feed, (1,000 pounds), you have a forage supply that gives you 1400 pounds, so there’s some math here that basically says I need a half an acre to an acre a day for every day that they move. So there it is!
Then in this simplistic plan, there’s how many paddocks do I need? Well that depends. It depends on how many days rest you want to build in. On my farm, I’ve got 20, 35, 45, 60 and 90 days rest to consider. In the spring it’s usually a little less in the summer and fall it’s more.
(They talk about all the things like weather, insects, pests, labor, etc. that impact the grazing rest period and create lots of variability.)
John: That’s why cows ended up in confinement in barns is because there’s a variability. And what we’re doing is embracing nature’s change and that variability and building it into the system by increasing organic matter to have more water retention to sequester that carbon through that grass regrwoth and utilize those tools to get the cows back on grass.
Troy: Yeah! ….And make money
John: Well yeah! To make money so that I can go on vacation.:-)
Troy: So we got the last page. It’s only four pages including my map. Basically we have the paddock size that we need times the rest period/recovery period that we want, and we come up with the acres that we need to get that optimal rotation.
John: So, your chart here for your farm that shows 15 acres for 20 days rest, 22 acres to get 30 days rest, 32 acres for 45 days rest…
Troy: And you base that on the number of cows you have and all the things that you’ve planned in. And then at the end, this is all that you need. Now, let’s take the actual paddock sizes. You divide that by what you need and you get how many days are available in each of these 20 fields. That’s where this grazing chart basically comes alive.
Now, after all that maps, and the planning and the inventory and the goal setting and the hugging and all that stuff, now you have to implement it.
And that’s where the Grazing Chart comes in
Troy: The worksheet is the basis, but not the plan. This grazing chart is the live plan.
You’ve seen it online and my name’s sort of attached to it. It’s a piece of paper that basically has your paddocks/fields on one side and that has these squares that represent one day, and then at the top, there’s a date. Every square is a day.
Now based on this math, lets’ take paddock number one. It’s 4 acres and so our math says that we will have about 4 days available. Now I can look at it – in the early spring it doesn’t have 4 days available because it’s early. So right here on my chart, I’m planning 2 days. That’s the other part you have to plan around. To get around this whole farm in 20 days, you can’t keep them for the full time. You’ve got to move them quicker. Grass is growing fast and you want to get around and back to paddock 1. Otherwise you’re going to have prairie.
So we’re in optimization of animal performance and we’re also trying to build a staggered rotation. So you can see, you’ve got 2 days here in early May and early June we’re up to 3 days in paddock 1 and in July, I’m up to 4 days.
John: And you’ve got it stepped out into starting in paddock 1, the cows go through the farm and ten you start back on paddock 1 It’s sort of a sequential loop around the farm.
Troy: And you’re measuring your forage growth and you know you’re moving quick because you have a goal to get around the farm in 20 days. So you can’t spend too much time there.
So I already have all of the next rotation mapped out till Labor Day. WHAT?! Yeah! Because we know our inventory, we know what the growth rates are. What we don’t know is the future weather. What we do know is we have a good solar panel. We have good soil health. We have good lime. We’re going to have a few less cows and so I can build in more recovery time.
And by the way, we’re going on camping trips. So if you pan in here, you’ll see that the animals will stay in a paddock for a longer period, and not move. They’ll be in that big paddock for 5 days/a weekend/3 days. Turn them in, they go “Wow there’s a lot of feed here.” When you come back on Monday there’s still a lot of feed. We’ll that’s the object: to grow so much feed you don’t know even what to do with it. 🙂
Animals, then they optimize their happiness and performance to gain weight. And you optimize your happiness and performance by drinking a few beers at the campsite or playing in the pool with the kids. And you all come back on Monday and you’re super happy.
John: Happy and refreshed and there’s a freedom in that. I get told how hard farming is all the time.
Troy: Farming IS hard!
John: And I get told you must be there every single day. But planning for that time off makes it possible to establish your resources so you can leave. Sometimes those resources are people to cover the farm or sometimes its growing enough feed that the cows don’t want to get out. They’re happy just standing and doing what they’re doing.
Thinking About It
Your homework for March is not a breeze. It requires sitting down with paper and pencil, your grazing chart, your vision and goals, the questions we gave you to help think about your operation and management requirements.
Then you think. Maybe you pencil in some plans. Maybe you talk to your family about what fun things they’d like to include this summer.
Take your time, maybe try planning a week or ten days. You can add a little at a time, or fill it all in, erase what doesn’t work, and/or start all over.
Planning takes time. It’s a little messy. But don’t give up. It’s worth it!
Thanks to John Suscovich who created the original video this excerpt is taken from. John puts together lots of helpful videos. Visit his Youtube channel for more. You can find additional resources from John at his website.
Thanks also to the Upper Susquehanna River Coalition and their partners for coordinating Watershed Wednesdays webinars, where this video originally appeared. You can find additional webinars from past years, and sign up for future opportunities at the Watershed Wednesdays website.
Finally, big thanks to Troy Bishopp who continuously strives to make graziers lives better with worksheets, grazing charts, and even a video showing how to get those charts printed so you can put them on your door/wall. He’s got a great website too.