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First Year Grazing Plan

 
Tyler Stowers
Posts: 13
Location: Southern Oregon
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I was wondering what advice there is for putting together a grazing plan for a piece of land that has been fallow for several years?

I imagine this is an 'it depends' kind of an answer and I have a specific piece of land in mind, so the variables that immediately come to mind include:

About 17 acres, mediterranean climate, access to seasonal creek, maybe 20-15" annual rainfall, low budget, no current animals, modest sward of mostly weeds and some grasses (several years ago, the land was a former dairy. So I imagine there is a decent seed bank of grasses).

Does it make sense to contract graze year one vs purchase animals? If purchasing critters is the decision, which kinds? Calf/cow? stockers? stocking density? stocking rate? mixed species? all together? separate?


Thanks!
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Have you looked at the work by Allan Savory on Planned Holistic Grazing. I would start by reading all you can.

Is your 17 acres subdivided, or one big paddock? Subdivisions make for easier stock rotations. If not you could start by strip grazing with electric fences.

Does your land have bare soil between grass plants, or is the ground cover good?

Do you have specific objectives in mind regarding improving the land - eg increasing the number of days the creek flows, improving soil cover, increasing soil carbon content, etc...

I visited portugal recently - old olive groves and cork plantations, grazed by cattle. The soil looked tired, bare in places, overgrazed by continuous cattle coverage with no rest periods, seasonal streams were all dry by late spring despite occassional rainfall. It was crying out for Planned Holistic Grazing.

Regarding buying your own cattle or not, I would suggest making some kind of agreement with a local farmer to graze some of their animals. This will give you a better idea of stocking rates that your lamd will take - just make sure you have an arrangement in place to return some or all of them if your stocking rates prove to be way off.

I should say, i'm not a grazier myself - just fairly well read - do your own research!

Mike
 
Renate Howard
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Location: zone 6b
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I'd say start with a modest number of cattle or even a mix of stockers and sheep and put them in paddocks and see how long it takes for them to finish grazing one paddock before they need to be moved. If you do that for a whole year you'll get an idea of grazing days per animal and any seasonal changes that affect the rotations while you tame the weeds, so you should be able to make an educated guess at how many you can stock, and I'd say don't stock it to full capacity because for one, as the animals grow they'll eat more and secondly, if there's a drought or something you'll be forced to either overgraze, feed hay, or sell some animals when the prices are low.

I chose not to use stockers just for the ethical reason that I didn't want to be inputting anything into the stockyard system. So I started right off with the breeds I was most interested in (Dexter and Highland) and just undergrazed for a year until I saw how much the pasture could support. If you take your time and only buy the animals that are the best you won't have regrets from disease brought onto your land or low-quality animals.

One good thing about the weeds, they do soil repair so they may have been hard at work restoring fertility to your overgrazed land - you might get a better grass sward than you think when you start grazing or mowing them down.

Before you have animals there to be in the way, it's a good time to do swales, ponds, and tree planting. Animals are drawn to anything new in the pasture and can be a pain in the *** when you're trying to do anything in their pasture!

If it's very weedy, consider some sheep in the mix because they eat more weeds than cattle do; also pigs eat a lot of weeds, my pig paddocks have only grass and clover while the pasture just outside of their paddocks has lots of weeds. I've read you can stock some sheep with cattle with no loss of grazing because they go for different plants.
 
Tyler Stowers
Posts: 13
Location: Southern Oregon
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Michael Cox wrote:Have you looked at the work by Allan Savory on Planned Holistic Grazing. I would start by reading all you can.

Is your 17 acres subdivided, or one big paddock? Subdivisions make for easier stock rotations. If not you could start by strip grazing with electric fences.

Does your land have bare soil between grass plants, or is the ground cover good?

Do you have specific objectives in mind regarding improving the land - eg increasing the number of days the creek flows, improving soil cover, increasing soil carbon content, etc...

I visited portugal recently - old olive groves and cork plantations, grazed by cattle. The soil looked tired, bare in places, overgrazed by continuous cattle coverage with no rest periods, seasonal streams were all dry by late spring despite occassional rainfall. It was crying out for Planned Holistic Grazing.

Regarding buying your own cattle or not, I would suggest making some kind of agreement with a local farmer to graze some of their animals. This will give you a better idea of stocking rates that your lamd will take - just make sure you have an arrangement in place to return some or all of them if your stocking rates prove to be way off.

I should say, i'm not a grazier myself - just fairly well read - do your own research!

Mike


Thank you for your reply. You seem to be echoing the penciled out plan I have in my head.

When I look back at my life, I see two parts marked by a distinct experience. One part being before I discovered Allan Savory, the other being after, and with the experience being reading Holistic Management. It truly weighed that heavy on me. Amongst all the theories and practices I've come across in agricultural literature, I feel the most well lit avenue is combines holistically managed decisions though a navigation of permaculture based techniques.

The 17 acre site is divided into about 4 main sections. Three were cleared years ago for an old dairy and the fourth is wild with various oaks and madrones dominating. I say about 4 main sections because around peripheries of the main paddocks, brambles seem to be ever encroaching--himalayan blackberry being the main perpetrator.

Ground cover looks pretty good, especially in this dormant season. So I am optimistic that the results of a holistic grazing plan will have a positive effect in the relatively short term.

Being that my budget is low combined with wanting to have the largest animal impact possible, I think contract grazing might be a good plan for the first year. There are plenty of hobby farmers/ranchers in the area that would love to postpone the burden of feeding their animals for a few months. Of course, I would be sacrificing getting a jump on good genetics adapted to my location, but it seems like a low risk option for year one.

Specific goals: This whole plan started with the mere intention to have my own bacon. But one thing led to another, and here I am trying to establishing a whole systems integrated landscape inspired by an increasing amount of headlining figures.

Earthworks setting the stage for increased water cycle and eventual water fixtures for livestock, paddocks planted with edible woodies stacked onto edible woodies on contour silvopasture-style, and mixed species of cattle, pigs, and chickens grazing the paddocks with all, if not, close to all of their food coming from the landscape.

Thats the rough, rough, outline!
 
Tyler Stowers
Posts: 13
Location: Southern Oregon
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Renate Haeckler wrote:I'd say start with a modest number of cattle or even a mix of stockers and sheep and put them in paddocks and see how long it takes for them to finish grazing one paddock before they need to be moved. If you do that for a whole year you'll get an idea of grazing days per animal and any seasonal changes that affect the rotations while you tame the weeds, so you should be able to make an educated guess at how many you can stock, and I'd say don't stock it to full capacity because for one, as the animals grow they'll eat more and secondly, if there's a drought or something you'll be forced to either overgraze, feed hay, or sell some animals when the prices are low.


A good point. I think in the beginning, under grazing has far less significant negative consequences on the animals and the pasture than over grazing. In Allan Savory's Holistic Management Handbook, he outlines an exercise for year one estimations of available food. Something like looking at a 10' x 10' piece on your pasture and asking yourself, can a critter survive here in one day? If not, step back to 11' x 11' and repeat until you have a basis from which to make estimates for your whole property. As the year goes on, observe, adjust, observe, adjust,...

I chose not to use stockers just for the ethical reason that I didn't want to be inputting anything into the stockyard system. So I started right off with the breeds I was most interested in (Dexter and Highland) and just undergrazed for a year until I saw how much the pasture could support. If you take your time and only buy the animals that are the best you won't have regrets from disease brought onto your land or low-quality animals.


I think this is the best argument against contract grazing in the first year. I totally agree and feel like even with a low stocking rate at first, achievable animal impact is possible. And with patience and planning, stocking rates can go up and up.

Before you have animals there to be in the way, it's a good time to do swales, ponds, and tree planting. Animals are drawn to anything new in the pasture and can be a pain in the *** when you're trying to do anything in their pasture!


Yes! Part of the reason why I'm trying to do as much research this summer/fall is to get earthworks in before the rainy season with trees planted before the animals arrive in the spring.

Thanks for the words!
 
Chris Stelzer
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Tyler Stowers wrote:I was wondering what advice there is for putting together a grazing plan for a piece of land that has been fallow for several years?

I imagine this is an 'it depends' kind of an answer and I have a specific piece of land in mind, so the variables that immediately come to mind include:

About 17 acres, mediterranean climate, access to seasonal creek, maybe 20-15" annual rainfall, low budget, no current animals, modest sward of mostly weeds and some grasses (several years ago, the land was a former dairy. So I imagine there is a decent seed bank of grasses).

Does it make sense to contract graze year one vs purchase animals? If purchasing critters is the decision, which kinds? Calf/cow? stockers? stocking density? stocking rate? mixed species? all together? separate?


Thanks!


Tyler, first, get the "Aide Memoire" from Holistic Management or the Savory Institute here
That walks you through grazing planning.

Since you have a such a small budget, I would not buy any livestock. You also should be very VERY conservative about how many animals you are going to run. It's easier to have too few animals than too many. You can learn and increase animal numbers as you get more experience. If you are in the US, contact your local NRCS or extension agent and ask them how many AU (animal units) can be run per acre in your area. Start with this number or a little lower.

Also make damn sure the creek runs year round. I'd also have a backup plan for water. Livestock always need access to clean water.

I would start simple. One species of livestock, preferably cattle. Why? Their easier to fence and handle and heavier so they will change the landscape more quickly. Just keep it simple and start slow, you can always add species or numbers later. I had a disaster when I first started, it was not fun and I lost $5,000+. My wife was NOT happy...hehe
 
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