What are your grazing plans for 2015?

Each year after the first of January many people ask us what our plans are for the upcoming year.  What do we want to accomplish?  For many of this may mean writing down some goals for our lives and include items like losing 10 pounds, eating healthier, finally taking that trip to Paris, or maybe finishing the basement remodeling project we have been working on sporadically for the last 5 years.  January is an excellent time to do this, but did you know that January is also an excellent time to also look at our livestock management and planned grazing for the next year as well?  The winds are howling, temperatures are in the single digits, and ice and snow have made the roads into town treacherous.  What better time is there than to sit in front of a warm fire and look at how you will manage your grass for the upcoming year.

Snowy rangelands wait for grazing livestock in Northeast Wyoming.  (Photo: Ashley Garrelts)

Snowy rangelands wait for grazing livestock in Northeast Wyoming. (Photo: Ashley Garrelts)

 

Many of you may be asking what types of grazing practices or prescribed grazing systems are actually out there and what do they all mean.  Should I rotate my animals really fast through a lot of little paddocks, can I leave my livestock in one big pasture for the entire year, or is there something in between that would work best for me, are all questions you may be asking.  Before I answer those questions lets first define planned or prescribed grazing.  Prescribed grazing practices are planned efforts used by producers that help them accomplish operating goals. They are used to improve pasture conditions, increase forage use, and enhance livestock production. There are many grazing systems available that allow producers to successfully reach their goals, and each has their advantages and disadvantages. The three most common systems include, continuous grazing, simple rotational grazing, and intensive rotational grazing.

Multiple paddocks radiate out from a central location in this rotational grazing system (Photo NRCS).

Multiple paddocks radiate out from a central location in this rotational grazing system (Photo NRCS).

 

Continuous or season long grazing is a one pasture system where livestock have unrestricted access throughout the grazing season. It requires the least amount of management, but has the most disadvantages in terms of rangeland and livestock production and ecosystem structure and function. Typically with continuous grazing producers experience lower forage quality and yields, lower stocking rates, uneven pasture use, uneven distribution of animal manure, increased incidence of weeds, and increased erosion. However continuous grazing systems require the least amount of time and energy.

Continuous season long grazing can cause overgrazing if not done properly.  This rangeland here has the ability to be e more productive if a grazing plan was put into practice (Photo: Ashley Garrelts).

Continuous season long grazing can cause overgrazing if not done properly. This rangeland here has the ability to be e more productive if a grazing plan was put into practice (Photo: Ashley Garrelts).

 

Simple rotational grazing is a system with more than one pasture which livestock are moved to allow for periods of grazing and rest for forages. Examples of this system include deferred rotation and rest rotation grazing. Both of these systems use a small number of pastures, typically under 5, and up to three livestock herds. Advantages of a simple rotational grazing system include increased forage production, improved pasture condition, longer grazing season, and better distribution of manure. Disadvantages are fencing costs, water system costs, and more intensive labor than with continuous grazing systems.

Fencing is an integral part of a rotational grazing plan (Photo: NRCS).

Fencing is an integral part of a rotational grazing plan (Photo: NRCS).

 

Intensive rotational grazing is a system with many pastures and livestock are moved frequently from pasture to pasture based on forage growth and utilization. An example of this system includes short-duration grazing, where the grazing area is divided into many small pastures (greater than 5), each of which may receive more than one period of non use and grazing during a single growing season. The number of non use and grazing periods depends on the rate and amount of forage produced within each pasture. Advantages of this system include highest forage production and use per acre, increased stocking rates, weeds are typically controlled, provides more grazing options, and reduces the need for harvested forages. Disadvantages include careful monitoring of forage supply, initial costs are high for fencing and water distribution systems, intensive management needs, and large labor resources.

Vegetation monitoring can be done using a forage/grass stick as seen here (Photo: NRCS).

Vegetation monitoring can be done using a forage/grass stick as seen here (Photo: NRCS).

 

Grazing management systems are excellent ways to increase forage management and livestock production; however implementing a grazing system does not eliminate the need to observe basic principles of grazing management, such as stocking rates and season of use. Rangeland monitoring is critical to document the successes and failures of grazing systems and is essential to the maintenance of a grazing plan.  So while the snow is flying and the year is fresh with possibility take some time to explore different grazing options, but also remember that when summer rolls around it is a good time to also do some one the ground monitoring.  This monitoring of grazing and vegetation characteristics will make planning the next year’s grazing a breeze.

Plentiful forage for grazing livestock can be achieved through a proper grazing plan (Photo: NRCS).

Plentiful forage for grazing livestock can be achieved through a proper grazing plan (Photo: NRCS).

Posted in Grazing, Rangeland Management | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cows at Home on the Range for the Holidays

A Christmas snow falls gently to the frozen ground.  You know the type I am thinking of–big fluffy flakes that sparkle as they gently land on tree branches, grass blades, and the backs of the furry cows heavy with calf.  It’s the kind of snow that you can catch on your tongue and clings to your eyelashes.  This kind of snow rarely happens where I come from in the windy patch of East Central Wyoming.  Usually snow blows in sideways as tiny hard flakes that sting as they beat across the exposed skin of your face.  I relish in the quietness of the morning and listen to the quiet snorts of hungry cattle as they contentedly sift their way through the green alfalfa hay, looking for the tastiest morsels.  A few call out with low moos to their friends, sharing a holiday greeting or a gentle good morning.  It sure feels good to be home on the range for the holidays.

Cows dine on good quality hay as snow falls in Wyoming (Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Service).

Cows dine on good quality hay as snow falls in Wyoming (Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Service).

 

A plan to provide sufficient nutrition to cattle and other livestock in the winter is key to maintain healthy animals that can survive weather, calving, and rebreeding.  Animals need to go into the winter in fairly good condition and receive good maintenance throughout to ensure a successful calf crop and rebreed period in the spring/summer. The majority of cattle that do not rebreed each season is due to inadequate fall and winter nutrition.  Most nutrition plans involve adding a trace-mineral supplement to native pastures and possibly a protein supplement if native grasses become too dry.  If native grasses are not available due to drought, overgrazing, or crusted over snow cover, ranchers will need to provide other means of nutrition through harvested good quality forages.  Other times to supplement cattle, are on very cold and windy days where nutritional needs are higher due to wind chills.  During these extremely cold times, cows should be given all the hay they will clean up and access to windbreaks is very important.

A rancher supplements his cattle during periods when grasses lack nutritional value (Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Service).

A rancher supplements his cattle during periods when grasses lack nutritional value (Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Service).

 

If pastures are managed property, most cattle will not lose weight in the fall and into the winter.  Cattle actually generally gain weight, after the weaning of the calves and go into winter with fat reserves.  However these properly maintained forages can be deficient in trace minerals.  Salt should almost always be provided.  As well as fresh, clean water.  Many times the mineral deficiencies in native range forage will greatly depend on the geographic area, so know the mineral content of your grasses and plan accordingly. Native dryland pastures do hold their mineral content  through out the winter, especially when compared to cultivated or irrigated pastures and crop residues.  Another good reason to know the mineral content of your grazed forage.

Properly managed native ranges should provide mature cattle with all the nutrition they require, except in times of extremely cold or snowy weather (Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Service).

Properly managed native ranges should provide mature cattle with all the nutrition they require, except in times of extremely cold or snowy weather (Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Service).

 

Just remember it is most profitable to match the cattle or your livestock to the feed source, whether that is native dryland grasses or crop residues, than it is to try to create a feeding program for livestock that do not do well in their own environment.  Much of the west is high in elevation and cold in temperatures.  Selecting animals that are acclimated for these areas will help your winter feeding program be economical and easy to plan.

Trees heavy with frost line a creek bottom , waiting for spring (Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Service).

Trees heavy with frost line a creek bottom , waiting for spring (Photo: Natural Resource Conservation Service).

 

My black and white, spotted, dog runs through the herd, her breathing coming out in big puffs of steam.  She smells the morning air and the cattle regard her with mild interest.  In the distance frosty trees around the homestead can be seen through the falling snow.  Clouds dip low in the sky, heavy with snow and, just like the holidays, have descended onto the ranch.

Posted in Cattle, Grazing, Rangeland Management, Seasons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment