All this week on Table Talk we will look at the theme of Grazing Management
In our last blog, we introduced three broad strategies of grazing management: continuous, rotational grazing and time-controlled grazing.
Today, we dive a little deeper into the sub-methods/common names of time-controlled grazing (as outlined in the table below).
Time Controlled Grazing, unlike rotational grazing, is not calendar based. Instead, stock moves are based on pasture growth rate and its requirement for rest. The RCS Regenerative Grazing principles guide management of both production and the ecosystem in time-controlled grazing systems. Terry McCosker, outlines these principles in plain English here. We have republished his thoughts below.
- Plan, Monitor and Manage: It’s pretty simple really – have a plan, monitor against that plan and manage/change things as you need to along the way. One of the primary tools for staying on top of this is the grazing chart. If you elect to operate a more intensive grazing system without one of these, you are flying by the seat of your pants. They are an invaluable management tool.
- Control of time is adjusted to suit the growth rates of the plant: This is all about doing our best to increase the proportion of phase 2 leaf in the paddocks. It’s about allowing them to recover after grazing and not keeping them in phase 1 with minimal yield and shallow root systems. It is also about not letting them rest too long and go to phase 3 (lignification). How people do this is very different for clients in the NT vs those in Victoria.
- Matching stocking rate to carrying capacity: It is appalling how often these two terms are interchanged as if they mean the same thing. They don’t! This would contribute to the fact that as an industry, we do a very poor job implementing this principle (with the exception of those reading this article, I’m sure). Carrying capacity is what grows up in response to moisture, temperature etc. Stocking rate is the number of LSU or DSE we are running.
- Manage livestock effectively: This one is all about animal performance. It covers animal husbandry, stock handling and education, nutrition, water quality and quantity, distance walked to water/feed, gross margins etc. This is the part where we convert plants into kgs of protein and then money.
- Maximum stock density for minimum time: This principle is the horsepower for rapid changes in a system. When used as a tool in conjunction with the first four principles, it is really powerful. If used by itself, it can cause some major issues.
- Use diversity of plants and animals to improve the ecosystem: Do you want to eat celery for breakfast, lunch and dinner? No, neither does any other organism! Diversity gives us resilience.
What is strip grazing?
This intensive system utilises a portable electric fence to give stock access to a new strip of pasture at planned times. The system can be relatively cheap, can provide for higher stocking rates and can increase production per hectare, but the labour and time component may be significant.
In this case study, South Australian croppers, David and Glenda Heinrich, introduced strip grazing to manage the small number of ewes they run. “Our neighbour here seemed to get a lot more feed out of the paddock he strip grazed — it had much better feeding value. So we decided to try it last year” – Read more here.
What is rational grazing?
Rational grazing developed by Andre Voisin in the 1950s rests on four laws that are applicable to all soil types and climates. These are explained by Daniel Suarez in Grass Fed Solutions:
First Law: The Law of Rest: In order for grass to achieve its maximum productivity, grass must be given time to recover between grazing intervals.
- This rest period is essential to give the grass time to build sufficient root reserves capable of sustaining a vigorous spurt of growth
- And this rest interval must give grass enough time to produce a “blaze of fast growth” before it is re-grazed.
Second Law: The Law of Occupation: The time spent inside any individual grazing slice should be so short that the animals do not regraze the same grass a second time before they move to the next paddock.
Third Law: The Law of Maximum Yields: We must help the cattle with the highest nutritional requirements to harvest the most quantity of the best quality grass possible.
Fourth Law: The Law of Regular Yields: If a cow is expected to produce milk and/or consistent weight gains, she should not spend more than 3 days grazing the same paddock. Milk production and weight gains will be maximized if cattle spend no more than one day in each paddock.
What is cell grazing?
Cell grazing is derived from the vision created by Voisin and is a method of employed time-controlled regenerative grazing. Small cells are grazed at a high density for short periods, following by a rest period. The number of paddocks is a key factor in this strategy. As Business Queensland noted, as the number of paddocks increase:
- the grazing period for each paddock decreases
- the ability of livestock to graze selectively decreases
- stocking pressure during grazing increases
- the rest period for each paddock increases
- the average stocking rate stays the same.
Some case studies and news articles on producers who have employed this systems can be found at:
- Cell grazing: Grass is king at Pointsfield Pastoral at Armidale NSW (The Weekly Times, 2017)
- Increased productivity with intensive rotational cell grazing and broadacre agriculture (ABC News, 2016)
- Cell grazing frees space (Farm Online, 2012)
- Cell grazing lift (Queensland Country Life, 2014)
- Cell grazing in low rainfall (AgExcellence, 2013)
- High Voltage Grazing (Central Station, 2014)
- Case Study: Extended grazing and soil health Arawata (South Gippsland Landcare Network, 2017)
- Case Study: Cell grazing in the Douglas Daly (Land Manager, 2013)
- BioAg Case Study No 5: Jamie & Virginia Bond, “Wyandra”, Tooma, NSW. (BioAg, 2015)
- Rotational grazing pays for cattle producers Miller family of Melrose at Morinish (The Weekly Times, 2015)
- Mixed farming: Amelup WA farmer Marcus Sounness eyes his bottom line (The Weekly Times, 2017)
Looking for more producer stories? Click here.
What is the Savory Grazing Method?
The Savory method, or Holistic Management (HM), is based on high intensity grazing to mimic traditional herding habits of large mobs, adapted continually through planning and monitoring. It was developed in the 1980s by biologist and livestock farmer, Allan Savory.
Holistic Management is based on “Four Key Insights” based on Savory’s work and the work of others, including Voisin. These insights are:
- The world functions in wholes, and should be managed as such
- Environments exist on a scale of brittleness, from very brittle (dry, with uneven precipitation throughout the year) to non-brittle (humid year-round);
- Brittle environments evolved with large herds of grazing animals concentrated and forced to move by pack-hunting predators, which maintains and improves the health of the land
- Overgrazing is not related to the number of animals, as traditionally thought, but to the amount of time when the land is exposed to animals and the time given for recovery.
There are huge swaths of support and evidence for time controlled grazing strategies from producers and research, but there also exists widespread disagreement about the benefits of the approaches too. In our next post, we will provide findings from research and trials, from both sides, on this topic.