Many of us have been caught up in discussions on social media which sometimes turn into nasty mud flinging and other nonsense. Religious issues with many gurus often offers answers which are confusing and double-minded at best. Livestock grazing, soil regeneration (regenerative is the goal; sustainable is out, and rightly so, since many of us have denigrated soil resources; sustaining that is ridiculous), wildlife enhancement, water quality, breed of cattle (or other livestock) are promoted with such fervor and worship to qualify as religions.
Yet, the reality of our fallen world and its natural processes, is so complex, that one size fits all does not work. In the words of my friend Jim Gerrish, “it depends.” And indeed it does. Sure, there are some principles, ideas, and theories which are basic and we can learn from these. However, the key must be to identify our own goals, resources, restrictions, and, as Allan Nation coined, ‘unfair advantages.’
You can search and find a myriad of experts ready to guide you on goal setting. Read through them, many will help fertilize your own thoughts. Here are a few thoughts to get you started.
Goals will involve family and friends- you don’t live in a bubble – be mindful and consider if your goals will push loved ones away.
Goals should consider the future – remember, you won’t always be 25 years old. Work hard now, but move into more investments.
Goals should include those things you want to do. You may become successful not doing this, but there may be limited satisfaction.
Goals should be written down and in a place you can reference them.
Goals should be flexible – we cannot control the world – sometimes shifting a goal is necessary to be relevant.
Grazing livestock management schemes are confusing and challenging – like a lot of fields (excuse the pun). When you throw in that one guru says do this and another says do the opposite, how is a newcomer to make decisions? It is tough, for sure, but read a lot, go to a few conferences by tried and true teachers, for example guys and gals who are or have been graziers themselves. Networking with other producers will really help, but avoid meaningless quarrels.
Just like knowing the difference between economic (is the endeavor worth doing?) and financial (can i afford to do it?) decisions, knowing the difference between goal setting and planning is essential. You may have great goals, but can actual plans be made to reach the goals? And beyond that, you must ask yourself, am i motivated enough to see it through? Don’t start a task if you don’t count the cost in advance. These costs are beyond money – they include relationships which may be lost, declining health, spiritual or mental stress.
Change is inevitable, goals change, plans change, plans change because the goals change, goals change because of many, many factors, including age, time, priorities. Don’t get bogged down with thinking you cannot change goals or plans, but keeping meaningful, timely, and accurate records is a must!
Enonkishu Conservancy, (Maa for ‘place of healthy cattle’) located in southwestern Kenya, is one of the newest Savory Hubs. Designed to demonstrate the attributes of managed grazing in a challenging environment and to encourage local community involvement. The young couple who have pulled this endeavor together to qualify as a Savory Hub and move forward with implementation have indeed set a challenging yet heartfelt mission before them.
Their stated mission:
Enonkishu Conservancy is committed to sustainable rangeland management that allows space and resources for all people, cattle, and wildlife. To achieve this it seeks a balance between conservation of the ecosystem and appropriate enterprise for the resident Maasai communities. Enonkishu is adopting a unique approach to conserving land by creating a viable livestock enterprise through a Holistic Management (HM) Approach. Through HM, Enonkishu intends to improve productivity of the livestock in the region, improve livelihoods and maintain heritage.”
The desire to improve the land, livestock, and wildlife is admirable, but no more so than the commitment to lift up the lives of the local people by finding ways for more children to seek formal education and to put more dollars in the pockets of families.
‘Regenerative’ is the new buzzword and thinking to replace ‘sustainable.’ I think it’s a good change. Why sustain something that is in decline or degraded? Regeneration of poor soils is tantamount to improved lives. From the dust of the earth was man created -Genesis 2:7.
However, offering and encouraging education in holistic management or any other ideology must be introduced with gentleness and respect into a culture and society which may push back with decades of ingrained practices and customs. Even in our rural county in Missouri, USA with one of the premier managed-grazing schools at our fingertips, there is little adoption of the regenerative practices. To form a cooperative of producers willing to allow their comingled cow herds to be managed as one mob by someone else on comingled land would not even be considered. Yet this is the simplified explanation of one component of what is happening with Enonkishu Conservancy and the Mara Training Centre. With any new organisation, family or business, there are growing and learning pains. Rookie mistakes, which should be avoided by heeding advice from those who have already made them, creep into any undertaking. One of the key elements of Allan Savory’s management courses is defining goals and testing objectives. Good, basic advice for anyone at any point in their lives.
Admittedly, i’m glad i don’t have to manage the massive number of mega wildlife that Lippa and Tarquin do – no worries about lions, leopards, elephants, zebras here in north Missouri. Wow!
We learnt so much on this wonderful expedition – not only did we meet great travel mates, hosts, servers, and leaders, but we enjoyed safari and game drives, superb meals prepared by Chef Purity and graciously served by Godfrey, guides who surely have no equal, and opportunities to enjoy local life. More on all that in future entries.
Two hours on that sort of gravel road was the last of our five hour drive from Nairobi to House In the Wild. I’ll not complain about gravel roads in Jackson Township, Linn County, Missouri, USA again!
Even though the soil is much better covered on the Enonkishu Conservancy, despite the massive amounts of wildlife (which continues to increase because of better forage), there is much work to be done. My observations are that the cows are the forward grazers and receive the more mature grasses. This, of course, challenges them to maintain body condition. I don’t know what the conception rates are. I asked about how the wildlife are managed and the comments was that oddly, the wildlife seems to follow the cattle. This is no mystery as to why they do this! The wildlife are getting that coveted second bite, the one that shouldn’t be taken until the grass has had adequate rest. This is one point that many graziers differ with Allan Savory’s grazing management. He says that the amount of time grazing is the most important, whereas many of us believe the amount of time rested is most important. The key is to move the stock before the blades can be grazed too short- often this is one bite, then move on. However, time grazing and time resting will vary with seasons and weather conditions. For example, in my operation in a typical fast growing cool season forages spring, the cows will be in a paddock no more than three days, then that paddock should rest at least 30 days. However, if the rains don’t come, this rest period could easily extend to 60 or 90 days. This would require longer stays in paddocks and possible herd reduction.
Anyway, my point is that the wildlife on Enonkishu are fat grazing the creme of the grass crop and quite likely slowing down the regenerative process. However, tourism is a huge part of the income and goals, so this must be taken into consideration and balance.
The boma is a mainstay amongst cattlemen and shepherds in conservancies of southwestern Kenya. Stock must be corralled each night for protection from serious predators like lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and other wildlife which like beef as much as we do. Bomas are designed to be easily set up and taken down and the overnight dunging by mobbed stock can improve soil structure and productivity very quickly IF the area is allowed to rest for along time after use.
The Enonkishu Conservancy as a new Savory Hub is doing a smart, yet difficult thing. Mistakes in management have been made and I hope that leaders will continue learning and talking to people who are not only ‘experts’ but also producers, those of us who put these ideas to practice. We’ve already made the mistakes and most are glad to share our failures and successes.
In the first two stories of this series we covered some terms used in managed grazing, provided their definitions, and explained why the terminology and the ideas they represent matter.
In this third and final article of our managed grazing primer, we’ll cover some important concepts that aren’t based in terminology.
Plants: Taller and deeper is better
Early in the days of managed grazing there was a huge and largely mistaken emphasis on grazing plants in Phase II, or vegetative state.
Pushed to its logical end, this resulted in what then grazing consultant Burt Smith once commented about New Zealanders: “They’re so afraid of Phase III growth they never let their plants get out of Phase I.”
Young forage is high in nitrogen/protein and low in energy, while older forage is higher in energy and better balanced in a ratio of nitrogen/protein, although it has higher indigestible content.
This older attitude foiled the greatest advantages of managed grazing. It never let the plants work with soil life to build soil. It never let the grazier build much forage reserve for winter or for drought.
Last but not least, we were told for years the quality of taller, older forages was so poor that cattle could not perform on it. That is not necessarily true of properly managed, multi-species pasture where soil health is on an increasing plane and cattle are harvesting forage for themselves. It’s all in the management.
Balance animal needs with grass management
One of the most important concepts to managing livestock well on forage is to recognize livestock production and nutritional needs and graze accordingly.
When your animals need quality for growth or lactation, you shouldn’t demand they eat deep into the plant canopy, consuming older leaves and stems.
If you have dry cows or are dry wintering cattle, you might ask them to eat more of the plants.
Remember the highest quality in mature, fully recovered forage is near the top of the plants and the outer parts of newer or longer leaves
Again depending on livestock class and forage conditions, an affordable and well-designed supplement program can let you graze more severely, also.
Erratic grazing breeds success
Nature is chaotic and constantly changing, so your grazing management needs to be also.
If you graze the same areas the same way and same time each year, you will develop plants you may not want because they will try to fill the voids you are creating and you may hurt plants you desire because they will become grazed down and weakened, perhaps at critical times.
If you move those grazing times and even change animal densities and perhaps also add other grazing species, you will create more diverse plant life and soil life.
Remember, too, that your livestock don’t need to eat everything in the pasture to do a good job grazing.
Cattle legs are for walking
Water is always a limiting factor for managed graziers, but the low-cost solution in many cases is to make cattle walk back to water.
Certainly you can eat up thousands of dollars of profit by installing excessive water systems and numerous permanent water points.
This can be overcome to some degree with temporary fencing back to water and using existing water sources.
In part I of this grazing primer we covered some names and principles for managed grazing, as well as stocking rate and stock density. Today we’ll continue along those lines with more terms and definitions.
Recovery time – This is the amount of time allowed by the grazing manager for plants to regrow after a grazing event. It is sometimes erroneously called “rest,” but this term doesn’t remind the grazing manager that plants actually need time to regrow adequate leaf material for photosynthesis and fully recharge the energy stored in crowns, rebuild root systems, and reconnect with underground life such as bacterial and mycorrhizal fungi. This is even more important than once understood, since plants trade carbohydrates with underground life for nutrients they may not be able to mine from the soil with their own root systems. Allowing plants to fully recover builds soil life and fertility, thereby increasing productivity. The most productive pasture plants also require the longest recovery time to thrive.
Graze period – This is vital information for grazing managers because the true definition of overgrazing, from the standpoint of plants, is being grazed or bitten off a second time or more before it can recover from the first grazing. This means grazing several times over several days is very damaging to individual plants, although repeated biting over a day or a few hours is not problematic.
Graze period also is inversely related to the number of paddocks used in a grazing operation. The higher the number of paddocks, the shorter the graze period.
AUDs, ADAs or cow days per acre – These are primarily measurements of the productivity of your resource. These measurements are a good way to track progress or regression over time, and is very important to help with grazing planning and management. This is very important to good managers who should be changing grazing patterns and herd makeup from year to year and season to season.
Animal Unit Days is based on an Animal Unit (AU), which the NRCS generally says is one mature cow of about 1,000 pounds and a calf as old as six months, or their equivalent. NRCS uses 30 pounds of air-dry forage per day as the standard forage demand for that animal unit. Animal Days per Acre is generally simpler in that the manager can choose his size of animal and simply track how many days and the number of animals were in a paddock. Cow days per acre is a variation of ADAs, based on a manager’s particular cow size.
As an example how to use this, a herd of 100 dry cows weighing 1,400 pounds (140 AU equivalent) might stay in a one-acre paddock one day, producing 140 ADAs for that grazing. Two of the same grazings would produce 280 ADAs for the year. This tells the manager if rainfall and time of recovery and time of year are similar, that paddock should allow a herd of 233 600-pound steers should be able to graze one day on the same paddock (140ADA / .6 = 233).
This comparison can be weight-adjusted most simply, or more accurately adjusted by the consumption of a class of livestock and forage type. It should also be adjusted to include calves with cows according to their average weight.
Residual forage — This is the forage left behind, usually expressed as a percentage of the forage present when cattle entered the paddock. Many managers aim to leave 50% under many circumstances. If forage is ample and animal production is more desired, leaving behind a higher percentage, such as 60-75% might be the goal, leaving a residual of 25-40%. If rationing out winter forage along with protein supplement, a consumption level of perhaps 80% with only 20% residual might be the goal.
If you really want to learn more about controlled grazing, consider taking a Ranching for Profit course or a Holistic Management course. You might also find and purchase a Holistic Management workbook. Read a lot of books. Attend field days. Above all, make friends with some managed graziers who do a good job and learn all you can from them.
Published as “Grassroots of Grazing” Jim’s regular column provides “Making Change is about Creating a New Comfort Zone” in the December 2017 issue which offers his observations about how people in the grazing/farming/ranching world accept or reject change often needed for the business to survive, or more importantly, thrive so that the next generation will be willing to be involved.
His closing comments of the article: (you’ll have to buy a back issue for Jim’s full article as well as great articles by other authors)
“I had already come to understand people were not going to change just because something made biological and economic sense. We all have to be comfortable with the idea of change before we will be willing to even consider change no matter how much empirical evidence is thrown at us supporting that change.
For many of us that comfort level is based on acceptance by our family and community.
I have found it is much easier to sell the ideas of MiG (management-intensive grazing), soil health, grassfed beef, summer calving, and a myriad of other atypical management concepts to someone who has no background at all in ranching and no tie to the local community than it is to get someone with 40 years of experience on a family ranch to change. The lifelong rancher may grudgingly agree that those ideas make sense, but the most common retort is still, “but I can’t see how we can make that work here.”
That individual is absolutely correct, until you can see that it will work here, it probably won’t. The biggest part of that “will it work here” question is how the rest of the family sees it. The better a family knows itself, the easier it is for that one rabble-rouse to make a difference. If the lines of communication are broken, the more likely it is that things will continue to operate the way they always have.
Then we are back to that sad situation so common in multi-generational agriculture: We advance one funeral at a time.”
Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant providing service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally. He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com