Pasture management plan
It’s been more than 20 years since Monticello beef producer Dave Lubben began management-intensive grazing, a phrase coined by independent grazing consultant Jim Gerrish. Known for his research at the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center near Linneus, Mo., Gerrish basically wrote the book on MiG.
Last August, Gerrish witnessed his research in action when he visited Lubben’s pastures as part of a weeklong management-intensive grazing workshop.
Cattle are selective grazers. Rotating every one to three days prevents cattle from getting into a habit of selective grazing, giving different forages a chance to flourish. “Whether it’s tall fescue, smooth brome or bermudagrass, if you have pasture dominated by a single species, that is a direct product of management choices,” Gerrish says.
When Lubben first started, his pastures consisted entirely of brome. Now, birdsfoot trefoil, timothy, orchardgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, crabgrass, barnyard grass and red clover have found their way into the mix. “It has been a real benefit to natural propagation,” he says. “You walk out and trip over things and wonder, ‘How did that get there?’ ”
MiG can bring forage diversity, extended grazing season, improve body condition.
Biggest advantages: peace of mind and quality of life for family.
Next question: How will next generation take MiG to the next level?
Extend the grazing season
With more lush grass available and different forages reaching peak production at different times, the grazing season is extended. While legumes provide more summer productivity, cool-season grasses provide more grazing in late spring and fall. “Before, we were feeding the cows in August during our summer slump when rainfall gets short,” Lubben says. “Since we went to management-intensive grazing, we don’t have to supplement the cows in August.”
With this diversity and fresh grass growth every day, body condition scores improve. “It should improve the cow reproduction cycle. Once cows are in condition, they ovulate sooner and will breed back better than on dry pasture. If a cow has more backfat, thanks to higher-quality feed, she should produce better milk and raise a healthy calf,” he says. “I’m moving the cows every day, so I don’t creep-feed. Even the calves are grazing nice, lush grass.”
MiG provides peace of mind
More residual growth aboveground means more root growth below. Grazing before grass can recover has a negative impact on the root system, hindering its ability to hold the soil. Leaving adequate residual allows the root system to thrive, building organic matter, preventing erosion and stabilizing streambanks.
However, the biggest benefit, Lubben says, has been peace of mind and quality of life for his family. “When I first started, my kids were 8 and 10 years old. They could roll up poly wire by themselves without adult supervision, as opposed to running a 12-row cultivator,” he says. “They can be part of the farm and go out and check the cows and calves without having to operate big machinery.”
A year ago, Lubben’s daughter and son-in-law, Lydia and Neal Grant, along with his niece, Allison Kelchen, graduated from Iowa State University and returned to the farm. Management-intensive grazing offered extra income.
“In many cases, especially since grain prices have declined, the potential net profit is well above what most commodity row crops are,” Gerrish says. “From the older to the younger generation, there is more net income to go toward family living and growing equity on the younger party’s side.”
“Now, Lydia, Neal and Allison are picking up where I left off with management-intensive grazing,” Lubben says. This includes improving water availability in paddocks and expanding management-intensive grazing on rented pasture acres. “What I’ll be looking for is, how do they take it to the next level? What’s the next level in improving efficiency, and what ideas do they bring to the table?”
This article published in the January, 2015 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.
Beef Herd Management