Submitted by Andrew Wertz, NRCS District Conservationist, and Tokina McHarry, JRSCD
What do you think of when you hear the term grazing management? Well, do you have issues with bare ground and compacted soil in your pastures? How about slow forage growth or low-quality species? Is there a lot of standing water after a rainfall? Weeds? Areas your animals won’t graze? If you answered yes to any of those, then grazing management should sound like a no-nonsense solution to improve the environment and your bottom line.
Why manage? Many pasture problems, such as slow growth, weed invasions, and bare ground, are caused by the pasture management methods being used. Good management is the key to healthy, productive pastures, and healthy, productive pastures are the key to healthy, productive animals.
Management methods used will vary from farm to farm based on the pasture characteristics and individual goals. When you are setting goals for your pasture think of yourself as a grass farmer, not a livestock producer. Think of your livestock as a way to harvest and sell the grass.
A good, overall goal is to produce enough high-quality forage to feed your livestock by grazing as much of the year as possible. Grazing is the least expensive way to harvest forage. You can lower your input costs by optimizing the use of your pasture.
Production goals should be based on the economic return per acre not the production per animal. Compare the pounds produced per acre or per dollar invested instead of animal weight gain or milk production per animal. This type of comparison will show your profit more clearly.
Once your goals are set, consider the different methods of grazing. Continuous season long grazing is when livestock are left to graze one area season long. Simple rotational grazing has a few pastures that livestock are rotated through to give forage some rest between grazings. Intensive rotational grazing is when livestock graze on small areas of pasture, or paddocks, for a very short period of time, rotating frequently from one to another to maximize forage regrowth.
Each of the systems produces different benefits and challenges, see the chart below for side-by-side comparisons.
Now that you’ve learned a bit more about your options, you need to decide which system to use and how to design it. Your local NRCS office offers FREE technical assistance and also cost-share options to help get your management system off to a great start.
Reminder: The USDA Service Center (SCD, NRCS, and FSA) is in Phase 0; staff will be limited in the office for the time being, but most employees are available via email while teleworking.
Dates to remember:
March 10 - SCD Board Meeting – 1 pm, teleconference, contact office for call-in info
For more information contact the James River Soil Conservation District and Ellendale NRCS office at 349-3653, ext. 3. Our field office is in Ellendale at 51 N. 1st Street. Also, remember to visit the James River Soil Conservation District Facebook page and our websites for more information –http://www.jamesriverscd.org/ and http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/nd/home/. The NRCS is an equal opportunity employer, provider and lender.