Adaptive Grazing Pays Dividends

At the root of raising beef are truly the roots that provide nutrients through grazing to cattle.

During the Cattlemen's College held at the Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, Tenn. attendees learned about grazing practices on rangeland in the western U.S. and improved pasture in the East.

Johnny Rogers, a beef producer from North Carolina, runs a grazing operation that incorporates cattle, sheep and hogs on 350 acres of leased land. He markets grass raised beef, lamb and pork to consumers in the Raleigh-Durham area, and also sells registered Red Angus bulls. In addition to being a farmer he works as a coordinator for North Carolina State University Extension's Amazing Grazing program.

"Soil is the foundation of our farms and it will respond to management," Rogers says.

At Rogers Cattle Company "adaptive grazing management" is utilized to optimize forage consumption. Adapted grazing principles include:

  • Having a grazing plan
  • Utilizing stocking rates and stocking density
  • Setting grazing periods
  • Residual forage grazing
  • Implementing rest periods
  • Rotational grazing
  • Observing and monitoring forage

Forage stockpiling, cover crops and electric fencing are also employed at the farm to maximize forage.

Rogers likes to refer to rest periods as "the glue to build soil structure."

By using rest periods it will build better soil structure through increased leaf area that captures more solar energy. Root growth improves and it allows for additional rainfall collection.

"Healthy soils will increase water infiltration and retention," Rogers says. "Grazing management is the key to improved pasture soil health."

In California, water has been a limiting factor the past few years for forage growth.

Much of grazing is adaptive management, especially when it comes to drought, says Ken Tate, rangeland watershed specialist with the University of California-Davis.

"If you are going to survive out on the rangeland you've got to be adaptive on a year-to-year basis and sometimes daily," Tate adds.

Grazing management is an art and science to efficiently utilize forage to achieve goals like:

  • Income and livelihood
  • Sustainable forage, and in turn livestock production capacity
  • Social benefits by creating stronger local economies and environments

Grazing management can range from intensive, rotational cell grazing to season long grazing on one range. In some situations these systems could be used on the same ranch. Grazing methods depend on various infrastructure factors like access to water sites, fencing, herding capabilities and supplemental feeding availability.

Tate points out a 2015 research survey that was sent to 765 ranches in Wyoming and California to the various types of grazing systems used.

  • Rotational grazing was employed by 67% of the ranches
  • 95% of the rotational grazers utilized extensive growing season rotation (moderate grazing periods, with moderate livestock densities)
  • 5% of rotational grazers used intensive growing season rotation (short grazing period, high livestock densities)

"With grazing preferences a lot of variables come into play," Tate says.

Some producers might be more risk adverse so they have lower stocking rates, while others are willing to gamble by running more cattle and rotating through pastures quicker. Owning land or renting can also impact the way a grazing operation is ran, too.


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