If you’ve been reading On Pasture for any time at all, you know that I emphasize principles because remembering them is easy and can provide good results. They also work no matter where you live, whether you’re working with native grassland or tame forage, with a wide variety of plant types, or just a simple mix of a few grasses with some legume species.
Thanks to the Beef Cattle Research Council for these five principles that will help maintain forage productivity, ensure stand longevity, sustain a healthy plant community, conserve water, and protect soils.
Balance forage supply and livestock demand.
Avoid overstocking a pasture by ensuring there is adequate forage available for the number of cattle, and the length of time, the cattle will be grazing. In addition to grazing, remember to factor in trampling, and grazing by wildlife and insects. That way you won’t overgraze and damage your forage base.
We’ve written about this a lot at On Pasture. Here’s one of many articles to check out.
Distribute grazing pressure across the pasture.
When left on their own, cattle will prefer to graze moist, productive areas of a pasture and avoid dry hilltops where the forage quality may be lower. Cattle can be managed to graze a pasture in a relatively uniform manner using different methods depending on forage type, topography, and goals. Temporary or permanent fencing, placement of salt and mineral, and stock water locations can all be strategically maneuvered to effectively move cattle.
If you’re a grazier working on large landscapes, here’s an example of the effectiveness of using supplement tubs to move livestock and focus them on different parts of the pasture:
Provide rest for pasture plants during the growing season to help plants recover.
Forage plants need time to rest to allow them to replenish their energy reserves and prepare for the next grazing event. If plants don’t have adequate time to recover, pasture productivity can dwindle, and pastures can become susceptible to weed infestations, soil erosion and winterkill.
Tom Krawiec recently wrote a great piece on how to figure out recovery and grazing periods. Check it out!
Avoid grazing during sensitive times.
Grazing too early can set a pasture back for the whole season. A general rule of thumb is for every day grazing is deferred in the spring, you gain two days of grazing in the fall. Other situations such as grazing wetlands or species at risk habitat, may benefit from deferring grazing until nesting season is over or flood potential has subsided.
Protecting wildlife habitat can provide another source of income to your operation as well. Here’s an example from a ranch in Nebraska:
Manage pastures to retain adequate “litter” cover.
Litter is the dead or decaying plant residue left from previous growing seasons and it is a valuable resource in both tame and native pasture stands. Litter insulates the soil, keeping it warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. As it breaks down, litter provides nutrients to the surrounding plants, and it is a wonderful safeguard for reducing soil erosion and water loss due to evaporation.
If you’d like more, here’s an article from Jim Gerrish:
There are many different types of grazing systems promoted by groups and individual producers, including, but not limited to, rest-rotation, AMP (adaptive multi-paddock), intensive, or strip grazing. While each system has its own benefits and drawbacks, almost all systems factor in the four key principles of grazing management. That’s a great testimony to the power of principles!