Stockers Know Best !
We have just weaned our coming yearlings from our cowherd and they are grazing as one unit on one of our farms. This farm has been exposed to two years of high density grazing practices. We typically graze our custom grazed dry cows at stocking densities of 200,000 to 500,000 lbs per acre with multiple moves each day during the growing season. The results on our pastures that we have seen with our own eyes have been nothing short of a miracle. People have asked us how much our organic matter in our pastures have increased since switching to planned high density grazing.
I will admit that we have been lax about measuring soil organic matter before starting with our planned high density grazing system. In hindsight we should have done this, just so we could have an official measurement of the percentage increase each year. We will be taking soil samples this year to measure organic matter in each paddock. Where each soil sample is taken, we will drive a fiberglass post to mark the exact location. This will give us a target area to take our next year’s soil samples from so that we can measure % increase in organic matter.
Getting back to the grazing though, we uncovered a huge phenomenon last weekend while moving our stockers to a fresh partially re-grown paddock. We had just moved our herd of stockers onto a 4 acre paddock that had not been grazed yet this spring. The forage height was 8”, not quite fully re-grown. I was video taping the paddock move and had my tripod set up showing the whole field as the stockers entered. I had my camera set up so that I could view the entire paddock as they spread across it.
As the stockers entered the paddock, I immediately noticed that all the stockers went to the west side of the paddock and started grazing the lush grass. It was like I had an invisible hot wire that ran right down the center of the paddock. Not one stocker was grazing on the east side of the paddock. It looked like someone had sprayed molasses on the west side of the paddock the way those stockers were grazing it! Heck the grass was just as tall on the east side as it was on the west side. What the heck was going on?
I immediately remembered the past grazing history of this particular paddock from last year. Last August, I had 150 dry pregnant cows on this particular paddock. The paddock was split right down the middle with a temporary poly wire. Then each split division was further split to accommodate 300,000 lb stocking density with twice daily moves with the dry cows. I had just finished grazing the west side of this particular paddock with the planned high density grazing and the cattle owner called me up. She needed her cows back the next day to prepare them for their fall calving season. We loaded them the next day. I never got to graze the east side of this paddock during the growing season last year. I did graze it off this winter to remove the stockpiled forage with a much lighter stocking density.
After watching the stockers eat like mad on the west side of the paddock, I begin to notice other indicators that stuck out like a sore thumb as well. The grass on the west side of the paddock had a much more shiny dark green color to it. The individual leaves looked like you had taken a furniture polish to them. They absolutely shined like a mirror with the sunlight on them. The individual plants just had a very thrifty robust look to them. Upon closer inspection the plant diversity was just outstanding.
There was orchard grass, brome, bluegrass, fescue, red clover, birdsfoot trefoil, alfalfa and Japanese clover evenly dispersed throughout the paddock. The east side of the paddock was pretty much fescue and some broomsedge! There was very little legumes or other cool season grasses growing there. The east side of the paddock had very little litter accumulated on the soil surface as well (lack of high density grazing). The west paddock soil surface was covered with dead chopped up residue, keeping the soil surface mulched quite nicely. The east paddock plants did not look as happy about growing as the west side paddock plants! They just plain did not have the thrifty look to them at all.
I was bouncing off the ground by now, the stockers had very efficiently told me which grass they preferred. All I had to do was open my eyes and observe what they were telling me. I wish I could have measured the brix level from the plants of each side of the paddock. The stockers did this for me for nothing, it would have still been nice to have the hard data though. I video taped about 15 minutes of evidence in front of me and skipped back to my truck on cloud nine.
The future for planned high density grazing looks very bright at Judy farms. If we can take plain fescue pastures and turn them into diverse stocker quality pastures with just a change in grazing management, I am all for that. There is not another system or widget that we can use that will give us a bigger bang for our buck than implementing a planned high density grazing system on our farms. It is very easy to be optimistic about grazing when every day we are seeing new positive changes happening on our farms.
We have decided to hold a three day Holistic High Density grazing school with Ian Mitchell Innes from South Africa on our farm this fall, October 16-18th. Our only complaint from last years one day grazing school was that there were over 200 people, which limited the opportunity for one on one questions. We have fixed that, we are limiting class size to 30 people for the 3 day grazing school this fall. Information on our fall grazing school can be found on our website:greenpasturesfarm.net.
With fuel, fertilizer and all input prices skyrocketing out of control we must master our unfair advantage of using animals and grazing management to bring our pastures back to life. At the end of the day if it is not profitable it is not sustainable. We can take control of our future in profitable grazing, let’s go for it!