Holistic Ranching: A planned grazing Q & A

I realize this is preaching to the choir but a little review of the basics once in a while can’t possibly hurt. Besides, there just might be some lurker out there who will “see the light.”  — jtl

cattle grazing
Photo: File/Allan Dawson

Q. What is planned grazing?


A. Planned grazing was developed by Allan Savory. It is a term that describes the method used in H M to develop a grazing plan. Planned grazing is designed to stop overgrazing.

Q. What is overgrazing?


A. Overgrazing is a function of time. It can occur in two ways. The first is to stay in a pasture too long at one time (graze period). The second is by returning to the pasture for a second graze before the plants have fully recovered from the first graze (recovery period). Overgrazing is not related to the number of animals.

Traditionally overgrazing has been associated with the number of animals. Traditional grazing practices have focused on the percentage of utilization of the forage. The basic model has been to take half and leave half with the result that we overgrazed some of the plants each year. As long as we kept close to the 50 per cent theory things weren’t too bad but the long-term result has been that most pastures slowly deteriorated. We see more bare ground, an ineffective water cycle and more invasive species such as aspen, buck brush, silver willow and thistle.

Pasture rejuvenation was a major expense and over time our stocking rate declined. This is not a recipe for sustainability. Unfortunately this model is still promoted and accepted by many ranchers and range ecologists.

We now know overgrazing is a function of time. This is the main difference between traditional grazing and planned grazing. In H M we recognize we don’t overgraze a pasture but we do overgraze individual plants. This begins with the most desirable species and continues on down the line.

With planned grazing pastures improve over time. We have more desirable species, less bare ground and a more effective water cycle. Pasture rejuvenation is no longer necessary. This is a model that leads to profit in the short term and sustainability in the long term.

Q. What does the term graze period mean?


A. The graze period refers to the number of days that the cattle will be in a pasture at one time. The shorter the graze period, the better. As a guideline I suggest three to five days.

Q. What does the term recovery period mean?


A. This is the number of days between grazings. It has to be long enough to allow full recovery of the plants before they are grazed a second time. In most instances a recovery period of 60 to 90 days is required. My experience has been that as you move closer to the 90 days you will be more pleased with the results. If you live in a dry environment you might use an even longer recovery period.

Q. What does full recovery mean?


A. Full recovery occurs when the root supplies of a plant are fully replenished after the plant has been grazed. Grazing a second time at this stage of growth is beneficial to both the plant and the soil. The best indicator of full recovery is that the plant is ready to flower.

Q. How many pastures do I need to do a good job of grazing?


A. I don’t know. That can only be determined on an individual basis. With a five-day graze period and a 75-day recovery period you will need 16 pastures. The formula is recovery period (75)/graze period (5) + 1 = 16.

Q. What other information do I require?


A. It is important to have a method of determining when growth starts. Before growth starts and after growth stops you can’t overgraze, as the plants are dormant.

Overgrazing occurs in the growing season. In my area the best indicator of growth starting is the day the leaves appear on the poplar trees. There will be some growth before this date but I think it is marginal and can be overlooked. Once the leaves appear we need to implement our grazing plan to prevent overgrazing. For 10 years now at our place growth has started as early as April 20 and as late as May 18. Obviously having a set date for the start of growth will not be very effective.

Q. What does the term stocking rate refer to?


A. Stocking rate is the number of animals on a given piece of land for the growing season.

Q. Is stocking rate the same as stock density?


A. No. Stock density is the number of head per acre for a short period of time. The higher the stock density the more beneficial the grazing will be. The stock density is directly related to the graze period. For example if you planned to have a five-day graze period and then changed to a one-day graze period you would increase the stock density five times. The stocking rate would be unchanged.

Q. What does the severity of the graze mean?


A. The severity of the graze refers to how much residue is left when the cattle leave a pasture. The ideal is to leave as much grass behind as possible. However, to achieve full recovery in a variety of growing conditions we need to vary the severity of the graze depending on the growing conditions we are experiencing. You cannot manage for a set amount of residue unless you are willing to change your stocking rate during the growing season. It is important to realize that overgrazing and severe grazing are different.

Q. How do I get started?


A. You have the graze period and the recovery period selected. You now plan how you will move your animals through your pastures. You would do this before the grazing season begins. Once the growing season starts you monitor the regrowth in the first pasture grazed to see if it will be necessary to increase or decrease your recovery period. You will change the severity of the graze to change the recovery period. The result will be full recovery under all growing conditions.

Good luck. You have the information you need to stop overgrazing your pastures. The result will be healthier land, increased production, increased profit and sustainability.

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Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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One Response to Holistic Ranching: A planned grazing Q & A

  1. futuret says:

    I AM 1000% FOR HOLISTIC MEDICINE AND ALTERNATIVE HEALTH CARE IN PEOPLE; THIS SHOULD BE OUR FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE. I AM ALSO 1000% FOR HOLISTIC RANCHING, I JUST WISH THAT EVERYONE WOULD GET THE HELL OUT FROM EVERYWHERE AND STOP DESTROYING OUR PRECIOUS AND PRICELESS FOOD CHAIN. THEY ARE NOW FORMULATING ARTIFICIAL MEAT, WHICH IS NOTHING MORE THAN ANOTHER FORM OF GMO, AND MOREOVER THEY NOW CAN FORM A HUMAN EMBRYO IN A LAB, ONE IS CURRENTLY LIVING FOR TWO WEEKS NOW. WHAT IN THE HELL THEY ARE TRYING TO PROVE, THEY CAN NOT SUSTAIN ANYTHING, THEY ONLY THING THAT THEY ARE PROVING IS THAT THEY CAN DESTROY LIVESTOCK, US, AND NEEDLESS TO SAY THEMSELVES IN THE LONG RUN. EVERYBODY AND EVERYTHING, GET THE HELL OUT FROM EVERYWHERE, AND LEAVE US ALL ALONE TO LIVE NATURALLY AND AS OUR HEAVENLY CREATOR INTENDED FOR US TO LIVE. FURTHERMORE, YOU CAN NOT CREATE ANY KIND OF LIFE, THE ONLY THING YOU CAN CREATE IS SOMETHING ELSE THAT IS GOING TO EVENTUALLY DIE AND KILL YOU TOO. EPA, CORPORATIONS, LABS, ETC…LISTEN UP, THE BRAINS YOU THINK YOU HAVE IS NOT DOING A DAMNED THING, ALSO GO BACK TO YOUR UNIVERSITIES AND GET YOUR MONEY BACK!!! FIND SOMETHING ELSE, AND HOPEFULLY SOMETHING THAT MAKE A LICK OF SENSE!!!

    Like

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