Farm Facts & Furrows

Tips for successful grazing

Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd in Alberta. He has grazed stockers for years on rented land adapting to livestock, weather and other challenges as they come along. Steve spoke recently at a grazing workshop in Spring Bay. He simplifies grazing into four concepts: graze period, rest period, stock density and animal impact. These concepts are applied to a many small field or paddock system. Graze period is the amount of time spent in a single paddock. Animals are allowed enough time to graze each stem of grass once and then on to the next paddock. A bite of the early regrowth on a stem is over grazing and weakens the plant. The rest period is the amount of time the animals are not grazing a given paddock. This allows the plant time to store energy and begin new growth before animals are back to graze. Stock density is the number of grazing many animals on one field. A high stock density has benefits. It allows for more uniform manure and urine spreading. Nutrients from grazing are recycled through the animals. This helps the nutrient buildup in the soil. Many animals in a small area chew the vegetation in a uniform manner. The tasty plants are consumed as well as the not so palatable ones. With low animal density situations, the favourite plants are nipped over and over weakening the plant. The unattractive species are avoided, mature and go to seed. Overtime the seeds germinate and grow encouraging less palatable plants that crowd out the over grazed weakened desirable plants. Animal impact refers to the actions of many hooves on the plants and the soil. This action of breaking up the soil surface and trampling grass allows water and air to infiltrate the soil, encourages plant breakdown adding organic matter, improving manure penetration into the soil and contributes to seed to soil contact. All providing an ideal environment for plant growth. A thick stand of forage is able to take energy from the sun for healthy growth and rejuvenation.