Wednesday, May 29, 2024
HomeGrazing ManagementDormant Grazing in the West - Focus on Performance

Dormant Grazing in the West – Focus on Performance

When I put together a collection of articles like this week’s, my friend John Marble reminds me that in the West, fall and winter grazing is a lot different thanks to the general lack of moisture through the summer months. The grass generally goes dormant through the summer, followed sometimes by limited regrowth in early fall if there’s precipitation.

John wrote about his dormant season grazing and his focus on animal performance. I think his insights could be helpful to OP readers thinking about winter grazing. So I pulled out some excerpts for you. They will give you some ideas for managing the nutritional needs of different classes of animals and how dormant forage impacts them.

The first day of summer grazing, my grazing program takes on a completely different look. For the remainder of the grazing season, (3-6 months), I switch completely from trying to control the grass to trying to manage the diet of the cattle.

In a perfect world, on the day our pastures run out of soil moisture I would have a huge stockpile of bright green, dry grass – mostly re-growth. This quality of feed might not be quite good enough for yearlings to graze on, but it would be great for cow-calf pairs. However, if I was unable to keep up with the spring grass growth and keep the grass under control, I might be looking at a sea of grass that is part green, part yellow, part brown and even some gray.

John’s challenge is a result of the nutritional value of the forages deteriorating over time.

Assuming I am running cow-calf pairs, I now get to determine just how hard I want to push the animals. I need to be conscious of the fact that the more I insist that the cattle utilize the forage, the lower animal performance will be. If I push the animals too hard, I’ll get more days of feed, but the cow’s body condition will suffer and the calves daily gain will decline also. The analysis, then, is not so simple: I need to know what my goals are. But in the end, the manager is in control of how much residual grass gets left on each paddock, how frequently the cattle move, what percentage of grass in removed, and ultimately, what the rate of gain (or loss!) is.

John strip grazes dormant grass. He doesn’t use a back fence, simply moves to a new strip and the cattle head there to find the most nutritious and palatable forage.

The manager decides how long to leave the cattle in a strip before giving them a fresh strip. The longer the graze period, the lower the quality of the diet and the lower the animal performance. All of these outcomes and decisions depend upon the volume and quality of the feed and the number and class of animals you are trying to feed. And, of course, the results you are trying to achieve.

In the end, the manager has to constantly make observations of the grass and the animals, and those observations should drive the decision-making process. And of course, those decisions are highly influenced by what the goals are. The cattle always have the same goal: eat the best feed immediately. The grazier may have vastly different goals: economic, ecological, aesthetic, etc.

For more on John’s dormant grazing tips, head over to the full article.

I hope this gives you some additional ideas as you head into your own dormant grazing season!

Thanks for reading!


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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

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