Friday, November 02, 2007

Cross Fencing and Pasture Management

I read an article last night in the Stockman Grass Farmer magazine from their "Develop Your Grazing Skills" column titled, "More on Cross Fencing." It came from the August, 2005 issue of the magazine and was a very interesting read. The article is not about how to put up cross fencing as much as it is about why we need to have cross fencing. In the first few paragraphs the author of the article asks two questions ... Why cross fence? And, what is the purpose of multiple pastures? Here are his answers:

"To create multiple pastures ... to optimize the production from your forage and the persistence of desirable plants by encouraging their health and growth."

After all of the discussion on the post about the documentary "King Corn", I thought about this article more in philsophical sense than the practical sense. In my family and in my part of the Midwest, management intensive grazing is not really the thing to do. We have around 70 to 80 acres of pasture land on our farm and 13 cows. I want to begin MIG grazing even though we have few enough animals and plenty of land just to throw them out there and let them have at it. But, it just doesn't resonate with a farmer who has grown up continually grazing during the growing months, supplementing with grain, and driving gas guzzling machinery in order to feed them year round.

In the article Mickey Steward, the author, suggests that if he were allowed only three tools to manage his pastures they would be, "a calendar, an organic matter sample, and a camera." The calendar would be his tool to record when he put animals in and out of a particular pasture, the organic matter sample would provide information about the health of the soil, and the camera would help him keep track of ground cover density. That is a very interesting list to a Midwesterner. Around these parts the list may have included a tractor and baler, chemical sprayer, a four wheeler, or even a plow/disc/harrow/planter/sprayer/combine or any combination of those so we can ditch the stinking pasture and grow a real crop ... CORN!

There are a couple of action points that I am going to take away from this article. Number one, I am going to take some pictures of our pastures. This way we can get an idea of what we are starting with and see if there are any changes once we start a MIG system. And number two, I am going to begin getting more materials to begin cross fencing when spring hits. I believe that it is important to get started on MIG even if we are doing it on a small scale with 13 little Dexters.

Here are a few practical quotes that I gleaned from the article:
  • "So, another 'rule to live by' is never let your forage get too tall. How tall is too tall? It depends where you are, but over six inches is over the optimum, and over 12 inches is a real obstacle to grazing and air flow. Air flow may not seem important, but if you are a big fat cow standing in grass up to your belly on a 100 degree day with no wind, forage height is of real concern to you."
  • "And when is the time to enter a pasture? During the growing season, it is when three solid leaves of growth have developed on most of the forage plants and after at least 21 days of rest."
  • "The single best thing I learned in Range Ecology was that your livestock will continue to look good long after your pasture has been seriously damaged by over-grazing. DO NOT use livestock condition as a pasture management tool."

1 comment:

Walter Jeffries said...

Interesting. I agree with his tools - quite useful. I have a tractor but don't really use it for pasture management. We rotate between paddocks and I log the in/out dates. I walk the paddocks as I check fencing and look at animals also checking the soil and matter. For several years almost each week I take a panoramic picture of our pastures which has been useful for comparing. The change over the years and season to season is very interesting.

Single most important tool is simple electric fencing. We use high tensile smooth wire on the perimeter and polywire/stepin posts for the divisions. Gates simply made by opening wire at the corners.

After that it's black plastic 1" water pipe. Great stuff.

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