Grazing season goals key to success

Some graziers have already begun the grazing season thanks to the above average winter temperatures we experienced. Other graziers are right there at the starting line, anticipating the spring growth of pastures.

The start of the grazing season provides an opportunity to take some time to set some grazing management goals for the year. In our Pastures for Profit grazing schools we typically teach a session on vision, mission and goals of the grazing business.

Set goals

If you are not satisfied with the progress you have made with your use of rotational grazing, perhaps it is time to set some goals. I have worked with a number of graziers in my time as an Extension educator and generally I have found that those graziers who can articulate some specific goals in their grazing operation have made more progress and advanced farther from their starting point as compared to graziers who don’t have goals.

Have you ever met someone who plans and plans but never gets anything accomplished? Do you know someone who makes grazing management decisions based on what their neighbors around them are doing? If so, it is likely that both these types of people could benefit from setting some concrete goals rooted in their own grazing operation.

In order for goals to be useful and have an impact on your grazing operation they need to meet some criteria. Goals should align with and support your mission or grazing business purpose. Goals are the standard by which you measure your business progress.

Plan

In order for goals to be these types of effective business aids, they should be written using the SMART acronym. That is, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Action-orientated, Realistic and Timed. Goals established in this manner help to move the planner into some definitive action. They move the neighbor follower into focusing on the whats and whys and hows of their own grazing operation.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the goal characteristics and end up by providing some grazing goal examples.

Goals that are specific are focused. They deal with one specific problem area or need. Measurable goals state some method by which you will be able track or quantify achievement or progress or lack thereof.

Action-orientated means that the goal includes some concrete actions that will be taken. Realistic goals take into account your farm situation, economics, starting point etc. Aim high and push yourself, but also recognize what is possible.

Timed goals include a timeline with a completion date. An open ended goal of “someday I will …” is not beneficial to making progress in your grazing operation.

Possibilities

What are some specific goals that might be set for the grazing season? Here are a couple of goals to consider. You have probably heard the saying; “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” This saying is very true when we talk about moving beyond rotational grazing to a management intensive rotational grazing. Now our emphasis is on management. With respect to grazing management the grazier should be measuring pasture growth.

The goal might be written as: “During the 2012 growing season, from April 15 to Oct. 15 I will measure at least one of my pasture paddocks on a weekly basis. To accomplish this I will use a pasture measurement stick and record pasture height and a density estimate on 25 random spots within the pasture paddock on either Monday or Tuesday of each week.

“I will use this information to determine my pasture rotation length, entering the paddock when the average measurement is 8 inches of pasture height.”

For those graziers who want to add another level of commitment and accountability to a pasture measurement goal, include a statement that you will send weekly rising plate meter pasture measurements to Jeff McCutcheon at Morrow County Extension as part of the Ohio pasture measurement project.

Advantage

Have you noticed the price of fertilizer inputs? Graziers should have an advantage over other cropping systems in requiring less fertilizer inputs since livestock return approximately 80 percent to 85 percent of the nutrients consumed back to the pasture paddock.

It is a question of distribution, therefore your grazing management goal becomes: The need for synthetic fertilizer inputs will be decreased in 2012 through better manure distribution in pasture paddocks. This will be accomplished through the removal of the shade tree in the corner of paddock number three by the beginning of May and using polywire to temporarily divide each existing paddock in half during each grazing pass.

This is a start. Adapt and adopt these goals to your farm as you see fit or develop different goals that target grazing management areas you want to improve. Spring is a good time to set grazing goals.

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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