Think about it: How far ahead are you planning your grazing?


Have you ever noticed that when intensive grazing is discussed, the point always stressed is the management? My reason for it is because the management part of grazing is the hardest to teach or convey. And to be honest, some parts of it are best learned through experience.

Grazing management involves so many inputs, from your personal and business goals, land, water, financial and forage resources; to type of animals used. Actually, for all the operations each year is different and new. The fact that no answer fits every situation is part of the challenge.

In discussing the management of grazing we use “rules of thumb” to help explain it. But if pressed on specific cases we will revert to the dreaded phrase ‘It depends …’ and start asking questions. We are not trying to be evasive just to frame our response to your situation.

More thought. The management of grazing is a thinking person’s enterprise. One respondent to a grazing survey we did a few years ago wrote “Intensive grazing isn’t hard work, just different. I do a lot more thinking now.”

Most experienced graziers will agree that they take a lot more time making observations, thinking about what is happening and planning ahead. It is the planning part that sometimes we do not talk enough about.

On farm visits with experienced graziers it is common to have them tell me where they will be grazing tomorrow, next week and depending on the weather the possibilities of where the livestock will be in a month.

Several things I have noticed while working with experienced graziers is that they know what their animals require, observe what is going on in their pastures and plan what they do next accordingly.

Summer quality.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Mark Sulc wrote in this column about five things you could do to promote quality pasture during summer. I don’t know about you, but with this spring I am still working on things that should have been done a month ago, not thinking about summer pasture. I have to admit that Mark’s timing wasn’t off. Mine is.

Managing grazing involves a lot of planning. So planning for summer grazing in May is normal. Actually it has been suggested that the planning for summer grazing should happen before you start grazing in spring.

Peter Drucker, business management guru, wrote “Long-range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.” The planning is not necessarily about what you will do in the future, but what your current actions will allow you to do in the future.

For example, three weeks ago I was questioned by a cow-calf producer about applying nitrogen to some of his pastures. The goal was to provide enough growth to get through the summer slump.

In discussing the current condition of the pastures, everything had gotten ahead of him. Like many of us, he has not been able to keep all of it vegetative by grazing, clipping or making hay from the excessive growth.

Because of this situation he knew that several of his fields would probably not be in condition to supply the forage needed this summer. He was asking if nitrogen usage would make up the difference. He was also looking for an ‘insurance policy.’

As he put it “At the end of the year the weatherman always says we had an average year for rainfall. With the rain we have had this spring, getting to the average may be painful.”

Slump compensation. I am not predicting an unusual summer. My family can attest that this spring my accuracy in predicting the weather is about zero. But I do know cool-season forage growth slows in the middle of summer because of high temperatures and reduced moisture. Management involves planning how to compensate for that ‘slump’ and what you should do now to set that up.

Besides the need to plan for summer grazing, longer term planning is usually practiced. Many experienced graziers are also planning now for what they will do this winter and working toward that plan.

Use the forage. In mid-May I had several conversations with a producer who has a goal of minimizing his cows’ winter feed cost. It is his biggest single cost of keeping a cow. He wants to do this by utilizing stockpiled forages. The questions he asked were about what he should be doing in May and this summer to set the stage for winter grazing. His timing was not off. Actually it was perfect.

Why do I say that planning for winter grazing in spring is perfect timing? If you think about it, planning for winter feeding in spring is not that unusual. Traditionally, we start working in May to make hay that will not be feed until winter. Grazing in winter just requires a slightly different way to grow, store and harvest the forage.

So, how far ahead are you planning your grazing?

(Jeff McCutcheon is an OSU Extension, Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent in Knox County.)


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!