Graze for 365 days
One of the greatest advantages of Management-intensive Grazing, or MiG, is summer grazing in order to give producers the opportunity to grow more forages for winter grazing, says Jim Gerrish, a nationally recognized grazing specialist. Winter grazing can save money and time, allowing farmers and ranchers to graze standing forages and stalks instead of feeding hay.
“Our goal is 365 days of grazing,” Gerrish told a group of producers recently at a workshop in O’Neill as part of an eight-stop speaking tour around the state.
Gerrish, who has 22 years of research experience, including work at the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center, now works as a grazing consultant at May, Idaho. He told the group that producers don’t always achieve year-around grazing.
“But we need to have a target out there to achieve it,” he said. “At first, maybe you only reach your goal one in every four years. You’ll at least get close.
“You have to make a plan,” he said. “Start planning before the first blade of grass shows up in the spring. In your grazing plan, stock the ranch to your winter grazing capacity, not the summer-grazing capacity.”
He advises, “Know your forage supply. Know not only what it is, but what it could be.”
Gerrish said it’s important to work up a calendar of seasonal forage availability that includes cool- and warm-season grasses, winter annual forages and forage legumes, looking at when each forage type peaks in productivity. “You need to know how much, when it’s available and how the quality matches up to the needs of the livestock,” he said.
Producers need to calve at the appropriate time, so there is fresh forage available when cows need it for their nursing calves. It helps to have functional cows in the herd that thrive without excessively high nutritional demands.
Gerrish said that producers should visually assess their pasture and forage inventory regularly, taking note of what they have available for grazing immediately, and what will be available in the coming days and weeks. “You’ll have paddocks at all different stages” during the growing season, he said.
During the growing season, the inventory tells producers the average forage availability for that day, the availability for the future, whether the forage availability is increasing or decreasing, and how management affects the inventory.
Gerrish said that strip-grazing winter forages, even cornstalks, provides up to 30% to 40% more utilization. Balancing forage supply with livestock demand helps producers make adjustments when needed. “You can’t manage things if you can’t measure it,” he said.
This article published in the February, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.