• Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Grass energy

 
Justin Koenig
Posts: 49
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
When grazing cattle and towards the finishing phase, what kind of pasture do you gravitate towards? Do you look for pasture with good mix of grass with seed heads, or in other words do you look for grasses for the cattle to graze the top third( energy ) of plant to pack the pounds? When do you need energy of plant and when do you need lower parts of the plant (which I think is higher in protein)? Also do you open the stock density so the cattle can really choose all the ice cream plants they want to get poundage or is it better to graze the pasture in higher density in order to make the pasture better or ready for the next grazing.
 
Julius Ruechel
Author
Posts: 28
13
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Justin - great set of questions!

Do you look for pasture with good mix of grass with seed heads, or in other words do you look for grasses for the cattle to graze the top third( energy ) of plant to pack the pounds? When do you need energy of plant and when do you need lower parts of the plant (which I think is higher in protein)?

Ideally you want to graze plants BEFORE they go to seed - because once the plant starts forming a seedhead, it begins drawing nutrients out of the stalk and leaves in order to start creating seeds. Notice in the diagram what happens to the plant nutritiousness once grass goes to seed:
Obviously the nutrients are not completely lost - they have just been redirected into the seed head, but seeds do very little for the cattle's nutrition as they just pass straight through and out the other end. That is why when farmers feed grains, they have to roll, crush, or crack them so that the digestive enzymes in the cow's stomach can make use of them.

When grazing pasture - your most efficient pasture use comes from grazing just before the grass begins going to seed - but NOT grazing it right down, but rather leaving at least 6" to 10" of residual behind (or more - see below) so that the roots don't die back too much and so a nice protective shade remains to reduce soil moisture evaporation. This keeps grass growing at its fastest - thus maximizing pasture productivity. Notice the grass growth rate curve in the image below - maximizing pasture production means keeping grass growth rates in the steepest part of the curve - anywhere taller than 6-10 inches up to the start of seed formation.


At times you will leave considerably more residue behind in order to speed up the pasture rotation to keep up with the grass maturing further down the line of the grazing rotation. Have a look at the pasture rotation article, which explains this concept in detail, and contrast it with the winter grazing strategy, which is very different once the growing season is over.

With this strategy, in combination with DAILY pasture moves, the cattle get fresh grass every day, and that grass ideally has not gone to head so you are maximizing nutritional quality from the grass - this maximizes your pasture gains.

The goal is simple - use the cattle as the tool to keep grass going to seed, and always leave behind a tall grazing residual so growth can resume quickly and the soil is protected.

When grazing cattle and towards the finishing phase, what kind of pasture do you gravitate towards?

The strategy described above is equally relevant to grazing any age-group of cattle, including grass finishing. In reality, the exact same pasture rotation can continue for the grass finishing process - you just have to be aware of more details to make sure that the nutrition is consistent from day to day and that you slaughter at the correct time - see my grass finishing article list for on all the little details that you watch out for as you operate your pasture rotation during the grass-finishing phase.

Also do you open the stock density so the cattle can really choose all the ice cream plants they want to get poundage or is it better to graze the pasture in higher density in order to make the pasture better or ready for the next grazing.

There are other strategies - like the low stock density strategy you describe - that can theoretically maximize nutrition per animal even more than simply continuing the daily grazing rotation, but at the cost of disrupting your high density pasture rotation.

These alternate strategies are just not worth all the extra time, effort, and management complexity. For one thing they will immediately reduce the overall productivity of the land because you can no longer keep grass growth within those ideal curves shown in the diagram above.

Furthermore, over time the uneven grazing impact of low-density grazing means that choice plants will be overgrazed, lousy plants will be undergrazed / ignored by the grass finishing group, and over time your pasture productivity will decrease still further - it is not sustainable and will require mechanical intervention to rejuvenate pastures. In dry extensive rangelands where mechanical intervention is not possible, this strategy will slowly turn your land to desert, whereas if you had just stuck to your daily pasture rotation, you land would have continued to improve and grow more productive.

And, what is also not accounted for by these alternate grazing strategies is that as soon as the high-density cattle grazing is disrupted, the cattle stop grazing as a mob, - they stop competing with each other - and so they stop overeating. Competition at the dinner table (just like at thanksgiving) is completely subconscious, but causes cattle to eat more when grazing as a mob - thus making up for any theoretical short-term benefit of using low-density grass-finishing strategies.

Number one rule - keep it simple! There are a lot of details that go into planning a daily pasture rotation, but once it is up and running, it is EXTREMELY simple to operate.

A simple pasture rotation makes farm management much easier - the consistency of the pasture rotation routine makes it MUCH easier to gauge how much grass you have left for your cattle (other techniques make this a nightmare).

Furthermore, in a daily pasture rotation, all animals can continue to be grazed as a single large group - by contrast, separating grass finishing animals from the rest of the cow herd becomes very complicated, requires more fences, more water sites, and more labor.

And by continuing to use the daily pasture rotation for the grass finishing phase, the cattle don't experience any stress from disrupting their grazing routine (which keeps them gaining efficiently, and keeps their meat tender).

And when it comes time to sort cattle out of the herd for slaughter, the cattle are so accustomed to daily pasture moves that it is much easier for even a single lone farmer to do all the cattle moving (low stock density methods mean the cattle rapidly spread out all over so it take MUCH more time, effort, and stress to round up and sort out cattle).

Have a look at the farm plan example (summer plan, winter plan, special considerations (including grass finishing)) on my website to see how all this translates into a very simple grazing strategy on a map.
 
Justin Koenig
Posts: 49
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you so much for answering my questions I look forward to reading your articles and book. I love the idea of keeping it simple but at first glance it all seems so complicated but it seems simple principles can eliminate much of the bewilderment. Thanks again.
 
Julius Ruechel
Author
Posts: 28
13
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Justin,

at first glance it all seems so complicated but it seems simple principles can eliminate much of the bewilderment.

Agreed - like so many things in life, in order to create something really simple and effective, it takes that much more time and planning beforehand to make it that simple.

Start putting your plan together on paper throughout the learning process - plan, plan, plan, without doing ANYTHING on your land, and only when the plan is complete, then execute the plan - step-by-step. A large part of the learning happens simply by starting to put pen to paper, because it focuses the mind on the right questions to ask.

Once you understand all these different building blocks (grazing, health, nutrition, calving, grass finishing, breeding, soil management, etc, etc), it becomes possible to weave them together into a really simple cattle farming strategy - a pasture assembly line.

At first glance it would seem simpler to focus only on individual building blocks of cattle farming - "do this for fly control", "use that product when you have disease," "here's how you help a cow when she has calving problems" - but it is actually a huge amount of work to farm this way as you rush from emergency to emergency and your production costs pile up - and teaching from that perspective doesn't actually help anyone learn how to build a comprehensive farm strategy.

Real success is in designing a comprehensive strategy that ELIMINATES many of these issues and automatically addresses many others without having to actually think about them on a day-to-day basis, and without having to use tractors, sweat, diesel fuel and your credit card. You are replacing effort (and expenses) with pre-planning.

You've designed a good system when your grazing rotation eliminates the need for a fly control method, when your combination of genetic selection, calving date, and pasture management eliminates your calving problems even as you are released of the need to check your cows every night during calving season, and by shifting your calving date and learning how to continue your daily pasture rotation right through the entire calving season, you suddenly find that you've stopped seeing any scours, pneumonia, and other newborn calf diseases on your farm, which are so common elsewhere.

This holistic approach to planning a cattle production system very much fits with the permaculture philosophy of doing things - but it can also be a little overwhelming at first when you realize just how many hats you have to wear during the planning phase in order to design a robust and truly ecologically and financially sustainable system.

There is a moment that stands out from the time when I was managing my parent's cattle ranch when all our planning and experimenting and trial-and-error started to fall into place - we had finally shifted the calving season to start on pasture, starting about a month into the growing season around the second week of June. For the first time we were calving in an ongoing pasture rotation with nearly daily pasture moves so the cattle were constantly on fresh grass. We'd reached the point where we no longer needed to tag/process calves at birth, nor treat for any post-calving disease outbreaks - and we had finally succeeding in reducing our calving herd checks to ONCE per day (on a herd of around 400 cows/calf pairs), yet our calving death losses had virtually evaporated and no more calf pulling either! It was one of those moments where all the planning and fine-tuning come together and magic starts to happen. If you can spend your calving season on the golf course instead of staring at cows' behinds at 2:00am in the morning with a flashlight, then your hard work is starting to pay off.

Take your time - make sure your system is EXTREMELY simple to operate - if there are a million rules that need to be followed on a day-to-day basis, it is too complicated and won't work. It would be lovely if the strategy could just be boiled down to a simple recipe that would work on every farm, for every farmer - do this, then this, then that - the francise idea. But even though in many ways you are creating a pasture assembly line, there are so many variables (environmental, climatic, financial, personal, etc) and so many vagaries of nature to account for, that in reality, no matter how similar two people's strategies may look, each needs a skillful orchestra conductor to plan and oversee it.

Design your plan on paper and then give your maps/plan to someone else, who has no idea about farming, and see if he or she can follow it. If they can, you've done a good job, if not, you've over-complicated it and probably you won't be able to follow it either.

Take a look at my three part example farm plan - Summer Plan - Winter Plan - Special Considerations - it's pretty simple, yet addresses all those complicated fundamental bits through a single seamless strategy.
 
Sue Miller
Posts: 47
Location: NE Oregon
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have moved onto a new piece of property and am just started to use a paddock rotation system of grazing with sheep. I have a lot to learn! The pastures have been over grazed for years and the soil is thin. I'm using mobile electric fence with daily moves and am seeding ahead of the sheep so they trample the seed into the ground for me.

There is conflicting information out that as to the best time to graze a grass plant. I've read advice that prefers each of the three stages: veg, boot and reproductive.

My question: How does one graze at the "best" time given that the pasture plants are constantly maturing as the animals move? I may start at the perfect grass stage at one end of the pasture but by the time I get to the other end 6-8 weeks later the grass will be way past its prime.
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You need to change the rate of pasture moves to be in line with the optimal grazing timing. The two illustrations at the top of this thread are great, you want to be grazing your pastures when they are at highest energy, which corresponds with maximum growth rate. This means that the window for perfect grazing is very narrow. The faster the pasture is growing, the faster your rotations should be.

The rate of moves must change through the year. 6-8 weeks rest between grazings is great in September, but it needs to be more like 3 weeks in May. This is why Alan Savory is so opposed to mechanical rotation grazing, it simple does not work harmoniously with a dynamic natural system. Our grazing management needs to adjust to the natural cycles that exist and vary with the seasons.

Graze the top third of the plants, then move the cows. Don't let a calendar dictate your moves, let the pasture dictate. It takes a few years to get good at predicting the future growth and grazing needs of your pastures, but just start paying careful attention. Remember that too long a rest is just as bad as too short, and that too heavy an overgrazing is the cardinal sin of pasture management.

hope that helps!
 
Sue Miller
Posts: 47
Location: NE Oregon
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for the reply, Adam. What is the optimal grazing stage for the grass plant? Do you practice holistic grazing ala Allan Savory?
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sue Miller wrote:Thanks for the reply, Adam. What is the optimal grazing stage for the grass plant? Do you practice holistic grazing ala Allan Savory?


The optimal stage is juste before the grass starts to flower. Big leaves of grass. Once you see seed heads, you missed it. Just learn from your grazing mistakes, everybody makes many.

Yes, I love Alan Savory's work, and follow his philosophy.

My favorite book on grazing is Management Intensive Grazing by Jim Gerish. I also like Quality Pasture by Alan Nation. And of course, I really like what I have to say about grazing management in my book, "Dairy Farming: The Beautiful Way" (:
 
Sue Miller
Posts: 47
Location: NE Oregon
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for the book recommendations. I will check them out. The concept I can't figure out is this: One begins grazing in the spring when the grass is in the boot stage, correct? Then as you move day by day across a large area, the sections in your future are maturing beyond boot and into seed heads. The sections behind the animals are in recovery. None of it is optimal anymore. Second pass of the season x weeks later when section one recovers and is in the boot stage again, same thing repeats. What am I missing?
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sue Miller wrote:Thanks for the book recommendations. I will check them out. The concept I can't figure out is this: One begins grazing in the spring when the grass is in the boot stage, correct? Then as you move day by day across a large area, the sections in your future are maturing beyond boot and into seed heads. The sections behind the animals are in recovery. None of it is optimal anymore. Second pass of the season x weeks later when section one recovers and is in the boot stage again, same thing repeats. What am I missing?


I would start grazing much earlier, and make faster moves through larger paddocks. Let the cows just keep skimming the tops off of the pasture. Start early enough with your rotation so that the grass is in the boot stage when you get to your last paddock, not your first.

In the spring, you will need to move fast enough that the whole farm gets grazed every 12 days. By fall, your rotation might be up to 60 days. The rate you move the cows is matched with the rate of pasture growth. The, consider that faster moves means larger paddocks (thus no simple 'rotational grazing', which Alan Savory opposes vehemently).

hope that helps!
 
Sue Miller
Posts: 47
Location: NE Oregon
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
ah... it's starting to make sense. I thought that the plants wouldn't have the energy to withstand any grazing while still in the vegetative state but if one moves fast enough that would reduce the stress?

Are details like this explained in more depth in your book or the others you mentioned?

If executed perfectly will the grass in all sections mainly be in the boot phase for the second pass?

It's sheep and kunekune pigs (grazers not rooters) that I am raising if that makes any difference. The pastures I am using are new to me and in terrible shape. Thin grass and thinner soil. I'm hoping to improve them through proper grazing.

I very much appreciate you taking the time to set me on a path that is understandable. I do know some people deep in the holistic management field locally but for some reason they won't come right out and make recommendations that are simple and useable.

I've been watching Greg Judy videos but I suppose he is different enough from Savory that there would be disagreement?
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sue Miller wrote:
Are details like this explained in more depth in your book or the others you mentioned?

Yes, grazing is more of an art than a science. Like the pros say, you have to train your 'grazer's eye'

Sue Miller wrote:If executed perfectly will the grass in all sections mainly be in the boot phase for the second pass?

Probably not, nothing is perfect, aiming for the boot stage is too precise, the window is too short. Just focus on fast rotations that don't graze the pasture down more than a third.

Sue Miller wrote:It's sheep and kunekune pigs (grazers not rooters) that I am raising if that makes any difference. The pastures I am using are new to me and in terrible shape. Thin grass and thinner soil. I'm hoping to improve them through proper grazing.

Yes!!! Sheep graze down much tighter to the ground, so the dangers of overgrazing are much, much greater than with cows. All the more reason to keep the animals moving.

In the spring, for example, when you need to do an 18 day rotation, divide your entire pasture area into 18 areas, and give the sheep 24 hours per area, then move them on. As you get later into the season, your rotation will increase in days to say 30 days, which then makes for 30 paddocks on a 24 hour rotation. You can see how portable electric fence is essential to good grazing management!

Sue Miller wrote:I very much appreciate you taking the time to set me on a path that is understandable. I do know some people deep in the holistic management field locally but for some reason they won't come right out and make recommendations that are simple and useable.

I've been watching Greg Judy videos but I suppose he is different enough from Savory that there would be disagreement?


Clear and simple advice is only possible through deep and thorough understanding. Lots of people are into things, but few really understand them well.

Greg Judy is great, so is Savory. They both work in different contexts with different objectives, so their methods and philosophy varies. Not to say that one is better than the other, just that they have different emphasis.
 
Sue Miller
Posts: 47
Location: NE Oregon
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Adam Klaus wrote:

Greg Judy is great, so is Savory. They both work in different contexts with different objectives, so their methods and philosophy varies. Not to say that one is better than the other, just that they have different emphasis.


What would you say the difference in objectives and emphasis is between the two?
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
  • Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic