The grazier’s report card; when D’s are good

What kind of grades would you get for managing your grazing system if there were report cards for graziers?

Would you be satisfied with “D’s”?

At a recent Athens Area grazing council meeting, host Curt Cline talked about a grazier’s report card. According to Curt, D’s are what graziers should strive for in grading their grazing management.

In this case, those D’s stand for: Dedication, Decisions, Divisions, Density and Diversity. Let’s examine each of these D’s a little closer.

Dedication

In our Pastures for Profit grazing schools, we talk about management intensive grazing as opposed to intensive grazing. The emphasis is on management.

Specifically, a change is required in the way pasture management and livestock production is approached. It is a shift in thinking.

The grazier will not get the maximum benefit from this approach to grazing and livestock production without dedication to this system. This system is based on low production costs, matching animal genetics to grazing, minimizing stored feed, forsaking iron (machinery) and high individual animal performance bragging rights.

If you try to keep a foot in the high-input cost, high-animal production world and a foot in the management intensive grazing world, you are likely to be frustrated.

Have you committed yourself to the grazing course? Are you dedicated to learning and perfecting this type of management?

Decisions

Management intensive grazing is about making decisions. These decisions include determining where livestock will graze, how long they will graze in a specified area, the amount of plant residual that will be left behind, the rest period that any paddock will receive before another grazing pass occurs and the stocking density that will be used to graze a pasture paddock.

Decisions could be broken down into categories such as livestock based or pasture plant based. They might be weather related: How do management decisions change in wet, muddy times versus in times of drought?

The point is that management intensive grazing is not passive, but active. A good manager recognizes that decisions have consequences. The goal of intensive grazing management is that those consequences will have positive effects that outweigh any negative effects.

Divisions

This refers to paddock divisions or the capability of a grazing system to be able to create divisions within pastures. Divisions are necessary to make the decisions required in management intensive grazing.

Without pasture divisions, the manager is handcuffed. The opportunity to make timely decisions regarding plant residual, the “take half, leave half” grazing principle, and to provide plant rest periods depends upon having an adequate number of pasture divisions or paddocks.

Without the capability to create more pasture divisions, the manager is limited in what can be done with stocking density. Pasture divisions allow a manager to make decisions that reflect or express the extent of management knowledge and ability.

In grazing schools, we talk about eight to 10 paddocks as a minimum number needed to manage pastures to protect and build plant health. Most experienced graziers have more paddocks than this.

I have yet to hear an experienced grazier say that they regret having more pasture divisions. Pasture divisions multiply the productiveness of a pasture.

Density

This is a measure of plant density. The goal of management intensive grazing is to build a denser, more productive and resilient sod base. As plant density increases, less soil is exposed and more sunlight is captured by plant leaves.

Dense pasture swards produce more dry matter per inch of pasture height, and correspondingly, more dry matter per acre as compared to less dense pasture swards. A dense pasture sward permits more grazing days and produces more milk, meat, or fiber per acre compared to less dense swards.

Diversity

Diverse plant species is a positive attribute of a grazing system. In nature, diversity provides flexibility and risk management.

When the topic of pasture species and seeding pastures is covered in our beginning level grazing schools, we teach that if pastures are going to be managed at a low level with only a few divisions and infrequent livestock moves, then consider a mix of two to three plant species.

As management level intensifies and divisions are added and animal moves are made more frequently, pasture mixes increase in complexity and may include nine or more different species of plants.

Management intensive grazing promotes species diversity because pastures are managed with an eye towards plant health. Leaf residual is maintained by not overgrazing and adequate rest periods that allow plants to recover before grazing again are provided. A pasture with a wide range of diverse plant species is able to maintain some productivity across a range of moisture and temperature conditions.

When all the D’s of pasture management are working together, pastures are resilient, healthy and productive. So, what’s the status of your grazing report card? Is it filled with D’s?

About the Author

Rory Lewandowski is an Ohio State University Extension educator at Wayne County Extension. More Stories by Rory Lewandowski

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