Just to be clear, stockpile grazing is nothing particularly new. In reality, I am paying homage to the countless extended graziers around the world that have inspired me to try it in my environment. Thank you all. Because of social media, I’m able to give you (>550 visitors per week) a glimpse of how the grazing “plan” is working.
This week’s installment has me grazing off paddock 9 (124 days old) and moving into paddock 7 (130 days old). Once again I am laying out strips for grazing approx. 50’ x 350’. This is still consistent with the dry matter math, the standing forage and the needs of the cows who are quite contented. I have gone to morning moves because of my work at the Madison Co. SWCD making it too difficult to get home before dark. Cows nor I like having to navigate portable fencing in the dark. I also got my ass off the 4-wheeler and started walking up on the hill to move fences and get my daily cardio exercise which my doctor applauds.
The week’s weather started pretty good but by Thursday & Friday turned snowy, cold and windy with about 4 inches of powdery snow falling. It was the first real snow since last year and the heifers seemed disgruntled. My two momma beef cows lead them to remembering how to forage in the snow and all was good. I watch for signs of stress. They have a good bit of insulation (as indicated by snow on their backs) and found the leaves next to our woods, nice to lay in. Saturday turned off sunny and beautiful for grazing and hunting deer. The cows relished the extra grass I had given them during the height of the snow and were dry and full. I did manage to pick up 2 extra grazing days because the forage was really thick on the plateau of the hill. Cumulatively, this puts my grazing plan ahead by 8 days which in my book says a lot about planning conservatively.
I’m still intrigued by how they act when they enter one of these thin paddock strips. They consistently piss me off as they walk over my hard earned forage looking for the best bite and may move back and forth 3 or 4 times before they settle in to really graze. I can really see the practice of multi-moves per day to prevent this but I don’t have the time. I can only imagine what turning them into a huge piece would be like for utilization. Ugh!
As I try to make sense of all the nuances of stockpiling, I want to throw this contrary idea out for further contemplation. What if what I’m doing is hurting my plants for next year? There is some research by Dr. Llewellyn Manske and colleagues from the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center in Dickinson, North Dakota that suggests grazing late season pasture can harm them. Here are a couple of exerts: See the whole context at www.grazinghandbook.com.
“On tillers that have overwintered, the leaf portions with intact cell walls can regreen early in the spring. The leaf portions with ruptured cell walls remain brown. The surviving leaves, with their brown tops and green bases, are most obvious soon after the snow melts. When the current year’s early leaf growth has been exposed for several hours to air temperatures below 28°F, it may have large dry portions and appear similar to overwintering leaves.” “The green portion of the overwintered leaves provides nourishment from photosynthesis that, in combination with remaining stored carbohydrates, supports the development and growth of new leaves and roots. The robustness of spring growth in plants that overwinter is dependent on the amount of surviving leaf area,” Manske says.
“Removal of the leaf area of the overwintering tillers by grazing during fall or winter deprives developing tillers of a major source of nutrients, increases the demand on low levels of carbohydrate reserves, and results in reduced leaf production,” he says. Reductions in leaf height for the major grasses during the succeeding growing season range from 17 percent to 43 percent, and the contribution of herbage weight to the ecosystem biomass is greatly reduced.
“The common assumption that grazing perennial grasses after they turn brown following a hard frost will not harm grass plants guides numerous fall grazing practices. This popular belief is not consistent with the biology of grass growth and should not be used as a foundation for grazing management decisions because of the resulting reductions in grass production and increases in pasture-forage costs the following year,” Manske stresses.
Upon consulting with Jim Gerrish and others, residual management is very important as is how you treat your swards all the rest of the year going into the late season. “In rangeland environments with annual precip less than 15-20”, grasses only have one spring flush of tillers and then a secondary flush in autumn. In a 30”+ precip environment with grasses like orchardgrass, fescue, ryegrass, etc., there is ongoing tillering throughout the growing season so the plant is much less dependent on single lead tillers for next spring’s production.” My take for now is I will monitor the results plus I’ve got to make a living, so my goals are in play too. It’s interesting stuff just when I thought I had it all figured out.
Paddock 12’s forage test came back and was a bit better than paddock 10 with 14% protein, 62NEL and RFV of 104 which is more in line with the heifer’s needs. For those who wanted to know, my daily grazing fee is 1.20/day/head. Do you know what your daily grazing is worth to ya? Generally at our place this offsets $2.00 to 2.30 worth of full hay feeding per head per day including yardage.
**Do you want to earn a free tee-shirt? The first visitor to tell me what paddock the cows will be in on December 6th for our pasture walk will win. See you next week and thanks for reading.