Management intensive grazing is first step for increased profit

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Management intensive grazing (MIG) is a concept that is thought to be one of the best ways to maximize grazing capacity. 

The idea has been around since the 1950s, developed by the Frenchman, Andre Voisin. MIG is simply the model of allowing the animals to graze the forage and maintaining the forage at an exponential growth phase. What you are doing is taking advantage of the plant life cycle and maintaining it in a vegetative phase for as long as possible without the need for the plant to put energy into the roots or go dormant from maturity. It is at this stage when proteins and energy sugars are at high levels in the leaves and can be converted into animal protein by having it grazed at this high-quality point. 

In most cattle operations, the money that is made comes when animals are sold. This profit is then subtracted from all inputs on the farm and the farmer walks away with a net-return. When considering MIG, it comes with a cost. That input costs are typically underestimated, as far as the benefits are promoted to be. 

Costs

MIG does require structural input as well as labor input. I have seen this concept adopted by many people. What ends up happening is you increase the utilization of fields and then you obtain heavier animals with less land. This is a great thing; the animals are sold, and a profit is made. If nothing is changed, you have increased your input and kept your profit margin the same. 

If you do not increase your herd size when adopting, or increasing, the use of MIG, you have paid for more fencing and moved that fence more times without a greater return. You could have also developed more water sources, increasing your input costs as well. At this point, if you take your profits and subtracted your inputs, MIG has cost you time and money. 

Additionally, an input that you should never neglect is liming according to soil test recommendations. Liming unnecessarily or liming inadequately are ways to increase inputs without any gains in production. Soil pH, however, should always be monitored and remedied as required. Soil chemistry can easily be your production limitation no matter how well you manage if the chemistry is off kilter. 

Weighing options

I encourage you to examine your operation and see if MIG is paying off as well as it could be. MIG is one of those things that you must work “smarter and harder” to make a profit. MIG does not make sense for everyone, the more you can move the fence, the better it works, but realistically how available are you to move the fence every other day or maybe more than that? 

There are many factors that complement MIG efforts. The most important factor is high quality water; experimental data suggest that rate of gain can be increased by one pound daily with water quality improvement. Proper mineral availability, especially sodium, magnesium, and selenium also greatly affect animal performance. One last factor that should not get overlooked is flies and parasite control. Parasites can decrease gains and lower health of livestock if they are not mitigated within a herd. 

One could make the case that MIG would also allow for more ground in hay production. That argument translates to more feed as an increased revenue source. In this situation it could potentially lower feed costs for winter feeding or even increased revenue.

Which is profitable?

The question then becomes, which is more profitable? What I have learned over the years go by is that most profitable ventures come about from marketing and “value-added” interventions to agricultural commodities. Some examples are certifications, like certified angus or USDA organic; small square bales for consumers that find them easier to handle; being able to sell calves at a good weight based on seasonal fluctuations when demand is up. “Value-added” is difficult and can only be achieved through research, discussions and trial and error.

 If your goal is to make a profit utilizing MIG, you must analyze the next step. Many farmers fall short on the next step. Ironically enough, the next step is where you have the most options. Never stop improving, never stop assessing. The keys to most success stories are adaptability and flexibility.

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