Intensive Grazing --
The Least Cost Ration for Animals

If you're tired of working long hours all year long and ending up with little cash in your pocket or having to work a full time job off the ranch or farm just to make ends meet, it's time to make some changes. If you are planning to rent, lease or buy a place in the country, the more information you have available, the better your chances are for success.

Begin by looking at alternative methods available to you for raising the various type of animals that may be all or part of your operation. Methods that utilize assets already available to you that do not increase your debt load can actually help you pay off your long term loans. If you rent or lease land over time, should you desire, you will have made sufficient money for a good size down payment on your own place and an income stream to pay it off.

Your most valuable resource is your pasture or rangeland. It all comes down to what can the land do for you and what you can do for the land. Take care of your land and it will take care of you. It will reward you by maximizing your profits while reducing costs.

There are a number of different successful grazing methods in use today with each having the same basic goal: Regenerate and take care of the land. All of these different methods started with either the Savory grazing method or the Voisin method tailored to the individual rancher's or farmer's needs.

No matter what type of operation you have, whether it's raising cattle, hogs, chickens, have a dairy, or a combination of various animals in confinement, you're probably working too hard and spending too much money. If you're running cattle, dairy cows, sheep, goats or hogs on pasture or rangeland using the conventional grazing method, you don't realize it but chances are you are losing money. I don't mean you're operating in the red but rather that you're probably not using your pasture land or rangeland to its full potential.

With proper management, you can increase your stocking rate two to three times the current level and/or become more diversified while increasing your income by reducing or eliminating your supplemental feeding cost, including labor.

In ignorance, I believed I was using rotational grazing to its fullest potential by running hogs behind my cattle and rotating them from pasture to pasture on a set schedule. I believed I was getting the maximum from my pastures and wouldn't become over grazed.

What I didn't realize was that I was doing more harm than good. I ended up with some areas not grazed, other areas over grazed and a constant battle with weeds. My pastures, when comparing them to pastures under intensive grazing management, were nothing more than large exercise areas that wouldn't carry my stock without supplemental feeding. I put these problems down as having poor pasture land. Never once did I attribute it to my lack of understanding how grazing must be correlated with many things including the land, plants and stock.

Once I began to understand controlled grazing methods, the first thing I did was to divide my pastures into ten acre parcels (paddocks). This allowed me total control over small areas. By constantly observing and comparing my pasture's rate of growth, I was able to speed up or slow down my rotation between pastures on an as needed basis. I used an electronic fence for more control within the individual paddocks when needed.

Don't be deceived into thinking that all you have to do is fence in your permanent paddocks and your stocking rate will soar! It doesn't happen. This is a long range program rather than just a quick fix. As with anything worthwhile, it takes time, a lot of work and trial and error to bring your pastures into optimum production. Don't give up-- keep persevering. It's worth it.

To make controlled grazing work in your operation you need to change your way of thinking about pastures and rangeland. Forget about rotational grazing as you know it. It's too broad a term and a general catchall for problem areas.

To succeed you must manage your pastures and/or rangeland with the same attention and care you would devote to raising crops which in reality is what your are doing since forage is a crop. If you take this a step farther, you are actually a grass farmer using animals as grass harvest machines and when you sell the animals, you are actually selling grass! To be successful you must look at this concept as intensive gazing management.

By understanding and utilizing intensive grazing management to it's fullest, you will be able to double or triple your pastures and/or rangeland stocking rates while cutting expenses and increasing your profit. You will be able to cut back or eliminate supplemental feeding which also eliminates the labor for this task. In addition, by using intensive grazing management you will also receive a major bonus, the value of your land will increase.

Many farmers have also found by utilizing intensive management they can greatly reduce their need for costly machinery. Some find they only need their truck and/or ATV to do the work and don't even own a tractor. Barns, buildings and pens absolutely necessary in daily operation now may no longer be needed and can be put to good use some other way that could bring in additional income.

There are two distinctive recognized types of intensive grazing management that you should consider. Which one or combination you can use will be determined by your type of operation.

The first recognized method of intensive grazing management is the Voisin method which is best suited for pasture management. It's strange that a man like Andre Voisin was involved in any type of grazing management as his life revolved around teaching biochemistry at the National Veterinary School of France and at the Institute of Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Paris. During his career he won many awards in his field. Therefore it is extremely lucky for all of us that his heart remained in farming and he continually worked on improving grazing methods. When not in the classroom you would find him out on his farm in Normandy, France.

While Voisin never really became known for his intensive grazing management methods, farmers from around the world adopted his methods and fine tuned them. They agree with Voisin that the needs of the plants must be correlated with the needs of animals for optimum success.

New Zealand farmers are an excellent example of this and have become recognized for their expertise in understanding and applying intensive grazing management to their pastures. They will tell you the reason for their success is that they never let up. They constantly walk their pastures observing the rate of growth of the plants and making comparisons. By doing this they know two weeks in advance adjustments in their rotation plan --speeding up or slowing down-- that need to be made. With perseverance and practice you can become just as proficient with your pastures as they are.

The method used primarily by the ranchers in the U.S. southwest is called the Savory grazing method. This method was first developed in South Africa in the 50's using Voisin's work and bits and pieces developed by others. Allan Savory spent 20 years perfecting his own technique based on Voisin's work. In the 70's he came to the US and introduced his method to the livestock industry. It took much work on his part to get people to listen and even longer to find a ranch willing to implement his method and start putting in grazing cells.

Over the years more ranchers have begun implementing the Savory Method, or as it is now called "Holistic Resources Management." The Center for Holistic Resources Management, supported by ranchers and headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was formed to help ranchers better understand and implement the Savory method.

Just what is Holistic Resources Management? This system goes far beyond looking at the relationship that exists between animals and plants. According to Savory in 1988,

"In studying our ecosystem and the many creatures inhabiting it, we can not meaningfully isolate anything let alone control the variables. The earth's atmosphere; its animal, plant and human inhabitants; its oceans, plains and forests; its ecological stability; and its promise for mankind can only be graphed by observing the dynamic interrelationships that constitute its being. Isolate any part and neither what you have taken nor what you have left behind remains what it was when all was one."

If you consider what the U.S. was like when the settlers started migrating west, it is easy to see what Savory is talking about. He takes into account every single creature including bugs, insects, birds, fish and animals, from the very tiniest to the large buffalo, antelope, and deer that roamed freely in large herds grazing on the abundant plant life. Everything on the face of this earth is included, nothing is left out.

He notes that before the settlers there was never any problem with over grazing, letting the plants rest, etc. because every aspect of the ecosystem worked in perfect harmony and balance with nothing ever taken that was not replaced.

If you decide that the Holistic Resources Management program is suited to your operation, you must commit yourself totally to using planned grazing management as it is the most important part of grazing livestock on the range. If you don't make this commitment you will most likely end up working against yourself and will probably have as many problems as you currently have -- possibly more.

No matter what system or variations of systems you use, the number one key in controlled grazing is OBSERVATION and COMPARISON on you own farm or ranch -- not your neighbors. The only thing you have to work with is your own operation to achieve and maintain optimum production.

Take the time to learn as much as you possibly can about the various methods of intensive grazing. You may decide a specific method of intensive grazing is perfect for your operation or you may realize you need to incorporate various parts of different methods to give you optimum production. However you do it, the end results are what count.

Intensive grazing management is so extensive and diverse that AgriHelp's goal is to include as much information as possible on specific areas, including how to divide up your farm or ranch into cells and paddocks for optimum use, fencing, determining stocking rates, water systems, determining the nutritional value of your feed, using controlled grazing in seasonal dairying farming, poultry production, raising grass fed beef, sheep and hogs to name but a few.

Submitted by L. J. MacKenzie, MacKenzie & Associates


RESOURCES

There are many books on the market that deal with intensive grazing management.
Some excellent ones are:

"Forages, Volume I, Fifth Edition, An Introduction to Grassland Agriculture" &
"Forages, Volume II, Fifth Edition, The Science of Grassland Agriculture"

by Robert F. Barnes, Darrell A. Miller, C. Jerry Nelson,
and many expert contributing authors.
Just published by Iowa State University Press and reviewed here.

"Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence" by Bill Murphy
Devoted to better farming with Voisin management intensive grazing methods.

"Intensive Grazing Management: Forage, Animals, and Profits"
by Burt Smith, Ping Sun Leung and George Love
Goes into every aspect of controlled grazing including financial analysis,
soil and plant basics, animal basics and health, basic ecology and so on.

"Grass Farmers" by Allen Nation
Written by an expert on grassland farming, this book is very interesting and informative.
It's like taking a tour around the country from farm to farm and learning
from each grass farmer how controlled grazing works
with the various types of animals on each farm.

"Holistic Resources Management Workbook" by Sam Bingham
Explains Savory's theories in "cowboy English" and
shows you how to put them to work in your operation.



Call for information: If you have experience with intensive grazing management, how about sharing your experience -- both successes and pitfalls -- with your AgriHelp neighbors? Comments are also welcome. Send your email message now for posting in this area.



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