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                                                                         News Feature                                                           4/12/2011


By:  Mark Hayek NRCS Grazing Specialist

What thought processes go into moving your animals from paddock to paddock? Do you move animals based on time (such as calendar dates, or at your convenience); or, perhaps, do you move animals based on measurables (such as grass height or climactic conditions)? What is your most important objective in moving animals from paddock to paddock?

Allow me to provide you with some thoughts to consider for this upcoming grazing season. The main point I would like to address is to help you decide when to move your animals from paddock to paddock. Do not rely solely on calendar dates; instead rely heavily on grass heights, forage residues, and growing conditions. The amount of forage residue you leave behind in a paddock is just as important as selecting paddocks to graze with adequate forage availability. There are two things to consider: 1. how much residue to leave behind, and 2. how much forage availability is offered in the next paddock?

How much residue should you leave behind? The cookie cutter NRCS answer is 4-6 inches, but I am going to say the more the better. Four to six inches may not be enough, and I will be honest to say I will be looking into this so we can come up with a better answer for NW MN. The bottom line is the more forage residues you leave the more vigorous and healthy your forages become. If there are no paddocks with adequate available forage for grazing then you should begin emergency feeding within a sacrificial area.

How much available forage should be in a paddock before rotating livestock in? According to studies done in Missouri forage availability is more important than quality (to a point). Limiting the animal’s intake (by managing forages too short) will drive up time spent grazing. Providing adequate available forage (even with marginal forage quality) will yield better animal performance. Try to provide as much available forage as possible when moving livestock into a new paddock and try to manage for a minimum of 2,000 lbs of dry matter forage when moving animals into a fresh paddock.

I realize not all farms fit a cookie cutter mode, and some situations need to deviate from these suggestions. In order to improve your pastures and grazing system we need to become cognizant of the condition of the forages that our livestock are being moved from and are being moved on to. Jim Gerrish once offered this rule of thumb, “if you can't see the eyes of a cow that has just been turned in to paddock, then low forage quality is probably limiting intake because the animals will have to take a second, lower-quality bite to reach the target residual. One the other end of the scale, forage intake is also likely being limited when the tops of the nostrils are visible while grazing (except for a very dense stand of a low-growing species).”

Note: If you wish to learn more about rotational grazing and USDA farm programs please contact your local NRCS office.

Mark Hayek
MN NRCS NW Regional Grazing Specialist
2038 State Highway #1
Thief River Falls, MN 56701
218-681-6600 ext108

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