Newcomers to grazing had a lesson in the basics of getting started during the recent Columbia-Dodge Grazing Network conference at Randolph.
Kirsten Jurcek, grazing specialist with Town and Country RC&D, advised those thinking about getting into this system to start slow. "It's like a triangle. If you have good fertility but the seed isn't good it won't work. If you have good seed but the fertility isn't there it won't work either. Once you have these two things develop the fence."
Regarding fertility, she says, "Management starts with soil fertility. If your land can't grow good corn it probably won't grow a good pasture, either. The best thing is to test the soil and fertilize accordingly when you establish the pasture."
In a good managed intensive grazing system, animals are moved through the pasture in a manner that optimizes forage and animal production. This, she points out, is more efficient than a continuous grazing system for many reasons.
Manure is more evenly distributed when animals are moved from one small paddock to another more often. In a continuous system, there are areas of manure concentrations and fertility is not even. In a managed system, grasses and legumes have a resting period and come back again, resulting in more quality feed per year and a longer grazing season.
When establishing the new pasture she recommends picking grass and legume species appropriate to the soil type and pick species with similar grazing heights.
"Match the seed to each other so they will mature the same time," she suggests. "Decide what you want to be the dominant grass and make that seed the highest percentage of the mix."
The best time to establish a new pasture is Aug. 1 the previous year but the second best time is early spring.
"Seeding at a higher rate will increase the sward density, which leads to decreased weed pressure and increase in overall production," she says.
Jurcek says careful planning is important when designing the layout of the pasture. Start small and then add to it. Consider a temporary system until deciding a workable layout.
Think about a system that will work for moving the wire to provide another paddock. Paddock sizes and numbers are determined by the livestock numbers and weight, available forage within a pasture and human resources.
Regarding the establishment of the permanent perimeter fence she used her own experience to recommend things to consider.
Jurcek said, "It's been a nightmare on our farm to have our perimeter fence lines where we cannot mow. We've pulled them in so we can mow on each side."
She also suggests, "Think about how your land is in different types of weather," she advises. "Also think about how to get water to the various paddocks. Leave the lanes wide enough for equipment. Your layout needs to have variability. Be flexible so if you miss a day in moving the wire to make a new paddock you will have enough growth there."
In spring it may be necessary to make hay on a portion of the pasture because the growth will get ahead of the quantity the animals can consume. In the summer slump it may be necessary to graze a larger area. It may also be necessary to stockpile the fall vegetative growth and graze into the winter.
She also reminds those thinking about grazing to establish a sacrifice area.
The sacrifice area is an area where livestock are brought back to when conditions are not appropriate for grazing such as in the summer slump, a drought or heavy rain periods.
Jurcek states, "Don't consider a sacrifice area to be wasted land. Put in some cheap, fast-growing ryegrass. Sacrifice areas also need to be managed well."
Once a pasture has been established she says, "You will know when a pasture is ready for grazing by the roots. If you can pull any out it's not ready yet."
Livestock are generally turned into a pasture when the forage height is at 8-12 inches. Livestock are removed from the pasture when the forage is grazed to 4 inches.
Jurcek says, "The rule of thumb is take half and leave half, the opposite of what your mother taught you to do at the dinner table."
Jurcek explains, "Larger leaf areas are solar collectors and increase the plant recovery and growth rate. More shade of the plant provides soil moisture and there is decreased parasite load in vegetation being eaten."
She adds, "Taller plants also have larger roots and that makes them more drought resistant and tap more water and minerals while building the soil."