Managed grazing takes some work, but good decisions yield excellent results as measured by animal performance, increased soil biome, desirable grazing plant species, and good ground cover to protect the soil from heat and erosion. Little to no improvement happens in any of these areas if the land is allowed to lie idle. In fact, if animal impact is removed from the land, the negative effects may increase the opportunity for desertification.
Below are some random photos i took today which tell a little bit of the story and my grazing plans (which change with the weather and time of year).
The recent grazing history for this paddock #23 is 3 days of grazing in early June 2019, 5 days of grazing mid July 2019, and 7 days of grazing late December 2019. They are just now returning to this paddock for the first time since December 24, 2019. That doesn’t tell you the whole story of course – how many cows/calves/bulls were there? (i do have that information), but my point here is to illustrate the importance of plant recovery and every year and every paddock will respond differently to varying amounts of grazing pressure. Observation is key.
This is a patch of the paddock i spent a lot of money renovating it. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not it was worth it. The forages now are much more desirable (before it was 90-95% toxic endophyte fescue) and now there is an amazing array of diverse species. However, overall production of forage is about the same as measured in cow days per acres.
This native warm season grass is proliferating all over my farm more and more each year. Slow to recover the first 10 years, but now, like other natives, coming on more quickly. Only by allowing the forages to recover by managing where the animals loaf and graze will this happen. This yummy Eastern Gamma Grass is called the ice cream of warm season grasses.
Close up of seeds of the Eastern Gamma Grass starting to form.
Red clover in the foreground. The smaller purple flower is alfalfa. I’ve never planted alfalfa on my farm.
See the small green plant in the foreground with tiny leaves growing close to the ground? that is lespedeza – livestock and wildlife graze that in the fall and will get fat!!
This is the same paddock where you see lush forage growing. Not all the severely eroded spots have mended. May never heal in my lifetime, but i will keep trying with the managed grazing. My farm was heavily farmed for years in its earlier life and it is far too steep to have ever had a plough put to it, but it was and there is very little top soil left.
Setting up a polywire with step in posts in super tall and thick forage in 90 degree heat with high humidity is not my cup of tea, but i will do it a few time for the good of the land. Here you see the polywire, which is electrified and keeps the cows where i want them. They have grazed and laid down the unpalatable stuff so that soil microbes will now have ready access to nutrients they need to build more soil.
This is just another view of the laid down forage though you can see here they did more grazing before trampling what they didn’t want to graze. More dunging here will hasten the breakdown.
For fun, here you can see how i stripped off smaller segments of larger paddocks. This was to facilitate better utilization of the forage, whether by grazing or trampling. The cows were in the paddock strip defined by hwy Y and the blue strip first. They had access to the timber to the north for shade and walked to water in the ditch or to the pond to the north (not shown). They were allowed access to each subsequent paddock going to the left (west) without a back fence since they had to go back to timber for shade. If i didn’t have time to do this, i wouldn’t, but this management scheme increases days of grazing without being detrimental to the land or animal performance. Today, they were given access to the strip between the orange line and lime green line. No long having access to timber because there is plenty of trees in this temporary paddock and there is a water tank below the large pond to the upper left. For an idea of scale, the lime green division fence is 1/4 of a mile. The perimeter of the two paddocks (red line) encompasses 38 acres. Most of my paddocks hover in the 20 acre range.