Paddocks require a good rest period
How much rest does grass need between grazing sessions? That depends. And that’s why graziers use prescribed grazing systems that are tailored to their specific resources and grazing needs.
That’s the kind of plan Neil Ostrand of Custer County used to help him manage grazing resources during the extremely dry 2012 growing season. Ostrand’s basic plan depends on intense grazing, followed by a resting period. He learned about this type of practice through holistic range management seminars and conferences he’s taken over the years. His son, Kory, also provided important information that he learned at Southeast Community College in Beatrice.
“I’ve learned that if I put my cattle on one large pasture, they won’t utilize the grass as well as if I confine them to a smaller paddock,” Ostrand says. “We try to control their grazing habits within that paddock to some degree by placing mineral in areas where we want them to graze more heavily. We also know they’ll graze more intensely around the paddock’s water source, so we try to vary that location so we don’t end up with overgrazed or heavily trampled forage that can result in bare ground.”
At a glance
• Producer’s grazing strategy was learned at seminars, conferences.
• The biggest hurdle was establishing fencing and watering systems.
• A rest period allows grass roots to develop more fully.
Resting grasses between grazing periods allows plant root systems to develop more fully, which means healthier, more developed plants. Ongoing decomposition of biomass also means greater moisture retention, further enhancing plant growth.
“Our biggest hurdle in setting our system up was getting fences and water systems in place,” Ostrand says. “We still have some areas where we want to fence and add water resources. We have relied on funding resources such as the Natural Resources Conservation Services EQIP [Environmental Quality Incentives Program] and other funding sources intended to help ranchers establish a grazing system.”
High-tensile electric wire is used to create Ostrand’s 40-plus paddocks, with varying sizes depending on topography and the available water setup.
“Ideally, we should move cattle every few days,” Ostrand says. “Depending on the other obligations we have on the farm, we move the cattle every week to 10 days. If grass is growing quickly, we move the cattle more often. Once growth slows down, our moving pattern slows, too.”
In addition to maximizing his forage, Ostrand also uses the paddocks during weaning, keeping calves in a more natural setting while they make the transition.
“That was especially helpful this year when feedlots have been so dusty,” Ostrand says.
Most of Ostrand’s water pipes are underground. For the most part, he uses metal tanks which on average are 11 feet in diameter.
“With this grazing system, we’ve seen the variety and quality of our grasses increase,” Ostrand says. “That’s very evident when we compare paddocks with pastures we haven’t integrated into the system yet. In our paddocks we see indiangrass, big bluestem, little bluestem and a lot of gramas.”
Ostrand relies on written and photographic records to help him track paddock conditions and changes from year to year. The information he uses can be analyzed to help him plan his grazing strategy for subsequent years.
Sorensen writes from Yankton, S.D.
KEEP ’EM MOVING:
This article published in the November, 2012 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.