Why consider a planned grazing system?
By Randy Moore, District Conservationist/Wildlife Biologist, USDA-NRCS
Aug 19, 2014
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Do you like feeding your livestock hay from August to March? 

Do you realize you have a choice in this matter?  Well, you do. 

Here is a step by step process which you can follow that will help you make some good decisions for managing your livestock operation so you don’t have to feed so much hay and grow close to the same amount of beef but with more profit.

Step 1:  Inventory your pasture or pastures.  Exactly what kind of forages are you growing and how much input (fertilizer, weed control, rotational grazing) are you willing to put into this operation.

Step 2:  Determine how many grazeable acres are in each pasture.  If you have a 100 acre pasture and 30 are in brush and 10 are in ponds and buildings, you have 60 acres of grazeable acres.

Step 3:  Now you are ready to determine your stocking rate.  Here are some “rules of thumb” grazing rates for the Fannin County area.

a.     High Input Improved Pastures (coastal, B-Dahl Old World Bluestem, etc.) ----3 acres per Animal Unit

b.      Low Input managed Improved Pastures ------- 6 acres per Animal Unit

c.       High Input Native Pastures (Switchgrass, Indiangrass, E. Gamagrass, Etc.) --- 6 acres per Animal Unit

d.      Low Input Native Pastures ----- 10 – 12 acres per Animal Unit

Step 4:  Now Calculate your year-long stocking rate by dividing the grazeable acres in each pasture by the appropriate management input above (a,b,c,d).  Complete this for all your pastures, add them up and you will have a stocking rate for your ranch.

Step 5:  A Grazing Plan is simply a controlled method of harvesting your forages with your livestock.  You do this in a similar way as you cut hay.  This does several things for your forages like; increased production (up to 30%), improved vigor or growth, reduced weed crop, and carry-over of forages into the dormant grazing period (November – December). A planned grazing system begins with a minimum of 2 pastures but is dramatically improved with at least 4 pastures of close to equal grazeable acres in size.  High Intensity Low Frequency (HILF) grazing systems usually start with a minimum of 6 pastures and may have as many as 16. 

With a grazing system you are trying to accomplish two things: (1) graze the forage in a high quality condition (every 21 -31 day rotation) (2) balance livestock numbers with the forage that is available.

We know from forage analysis that grasses reach can maintain good crude protein content from the time grazed or hayed for a maximum of 28 – 32 days. Following the 32 day period, crude protein drops dramatically as plant leafiness diminishes and stems increase.

Step 6:  A grazing system is best if continued year round but may end at frost.  The exception to this is if one of your pastures is cool season forage (wheat, oats, rye, and ryegrass) and then the rotation should continue.

Step 7:  The grazing system is best when all cattle are in one herd.  This will increase the number of pastures and shorten your pasture grazing days, thus improving your forage quality.

Conclusion:  Arriving at the stocking rate is critical and usually cannot be done in one season.  You also have to take into account weather conditions.  The first day of June should be used to estimate the condition of your forages.  You may need to cull cows or add more.  Hay should typically never have to be fed until January 1 unless there are heavy ice or snow days.  Always consider adding a cool season legume to your forage base.  The type of clover will vary based on your soil type.  This adds forage in the winter months and nitrogen to your perennial plants.

For more information on developing a Planned Grazing System contact the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service at 2504 North Center Street, Bonham, TX or call 903-583-9513 ext. 3.