Why is there so much controversy when it comes to grazing systems? What’s the fuss about? Emotions seem to run high when graziers experience good or bad results, and cell grazing seems often to be at the centre of it all.
Grazing management systems such as cell grazing, rotational grazing, planned grazing, ultra- high density grazing and strip grazing all conjure up images of large mobs of cattle and sheep contained by one or two electric wires systematically moving through a number of paddocks commonly known as a ‘cell’. Unfortunately, the language used when describing this kind of livestock management creates a number of problems. The common theme is the word ‘grazing’, which in itself leads to a focus on the process of grazing the paddocks in the grazing cell instead of focusing on the management of areas ungrazed at the time. Another misnomer is the phrase ‘grazing manager’, when in fact we are ‘land managers’. The livestock are a tool that the land manager uses to either increase or decrease the ecological health of their landscape.
The great thing about the livestock tool is that it can improve the ecological health and at the same time generate a profit. However, if used incorrectly the opposite can occur where the health of the ecosystem declines and profits dry up. When a land manager focuses on the graze period it is easy to get caught up assessing the quantity and quality of feed that is in a paddock, then using that measure to determine how long the livestock can remain in that paddock to meet nutritional requirements but at the end of the graze period leave the pasture in a healthy state.
Creating a grazing plan with the focus on the graze period can lead to overgrazing and a reduction in animal performance. Overgrazing can occur when the recovery of the pasture isn’t added to the equation. If recovery isn’t assessed, the stock may return to a paddock before it is ready to be re-grazed. There will be less feed in the paddock, which leads to a shorter graze and a shorter recovery period, and the stock end up moving around the cell faster and faster. Something has to give and it is usually animal performance and pasture quantity and quality.
When managing landscapes the initial focus should be on the recovery of the pasture – that is, the time needed for the plants to return to a desirable state to be regrazed. Once the recovery period is determined the manager needs to use that as the minimum time a paddock is resting before the stock return. Once the rest period is determined other variables need to be considered before determining the graze period of each paddock in the cell.
To be continued
Ref: What’s in the name – grazing systems. Edited version
By Richard Groom who is a director of Principle Focus www.principlefocus. com.au.