Get your livestock to work for you

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cattle on pasture
Cattle on pasture in a farm in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

Grazing season is coming fast. As you look out over pasture fields and think about the amount of money and time spent feeding livestock this past winter, have you ever thought there must be a better more efficient way? Your livestock should be working for you, not the other way around.

A grazing management plan will help you increase your livestock numbers and forage availability, improve animal performance, reduce feed costs and reduce soil erosion. Regular rotation gives pastures time to rest and allows for forage regrowth. It can provide a longer grazing season and reduce the need for feeding supplemental forage.

Benefits

Rotational grazing will help evenly distribute manure throughout the pasture for better nutrient cycling. Animals remove nutrients from pastures while grazing. When pastures are grazed, many of the nutrients are returned to pastures, through urine and manure. If manure and urine are evenly distributed throughout the paddocks, fertility can almost be maintained through natural nutrient recycling, saving the producer money on fertilizer and fuel used to apply it.

Proper management will extend the grazing season and reduce daily feeding costs. It will help extend the life of the most desirable and productive plants and keep them in a vegetative state. This will improve the nutritional value available to livestock. The healthier and thicker forage will also naturally reduce unwanted vegetation.

Make a plan

The most important and cheapest way to start improving your pastures is with a soil sample. The soil sample will tell what nutrients are available in the soil. Soils with adequate nutrients and pH promote pasture growth and development. Once you know what you are working with, you can figure out a plan to get the results you are looking for.

When developing a grazing management plan, determine the number and type of livestock you want to maintain. You will also need to determine the size, shape and number of paddocks needed, the type and location of fences and how water will be provided to the livestock. Temporary fencing can reduce the size of larger pastures. Rotating livestock at the proper time to keep plants healthy and vegetative is the key.

Assessing pasture forage is a key step in planning grazing strategies. With the help of a grazing stick and some fairly simple calculations, you can estimate how many pounds of dry matter are available, stocking rates and available grazing days. It can help you calculate feed utilized and pasture growth rates. You cannot manage what you don’t measure.

Always be thinking ahead, what you do today will affect your field 6 months from now.

If you are interested in having a Grazing Management Plan developed, call your local soil and water Office or Natural Resource Conservation Service office.

Noble SWCD will be holding a series of forage management clinics this year that will deal with rotational grazing and grazing management plans. We will also discuss the importance of soil sampling and the proper use of grazing sticks. We have received a grant from the Muskingum Watershed Conservation District and have purchased two portable electric fence kits that can be rented to experiment with different temporary grazing options. Call our office for more information at 740-732-4318.

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Kirstin Roman joined the Noble Soil and Water Conservation District as the ag/natural resource technician in 2022. Kirstin is a 1992 graduate of Ohio State University/Agricultural Technical Institute. She has spent most of her career in the equine industry. Kirstin and her daughter, Sara, have also spent many years raising and showing Lamancha dairy goats.

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