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Dense grazing boosts profitability

Published on August 15, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on September 11, 2010 9:29PM


For the Capital Press

A survey of 14 producers showed significant improvements to their pastures as a result of ultra-high-density livestock grazing.

The survey was conducted by Terry Gompert, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Ultra-high-density, or mob grazing, is defined by Allan Savory as 300,000 pounds or more of beef per acre at any given time. Savory is the founder of holistic management and the author of several books and articles on this decision-making process.

When properly applied with good planning and allowing adequate time for plant recovery, ultra-high-density, short-duration grazing can be used to heal the land and increase producer profitability, according to Savory.

Gompert surveyed producers from Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota, Iowa and Saskatchewan who have been practicing high-density grazing. Ten of the 14 are located in "brittle" environments and four in "non-brittle" locations.

Brittleness is the rating of an area according to the relative amount of moisture available. Areas that have mostly year-round humidity and available moisture are classified as non-brittle. The most dry and arid environments are the most brittle. The benefits of ultra-high-density grazing are greatest for brittle environments.

Eighty-six percent of the respondents reported an increase in stocking rate as a direct result of ultra-high-density grazing. The amount of increase ranged from none to fivefold. The most common report was a doubling in the stocking rate.

On the average, animal performance did not change. All producers thought the land greatly benefited from high-density grazing. Most included the following benefits:

* More water infiltration.

* Increased drought tolerance.

* Land better covered.

* More plant diversity and biodiversity.

* Increased soil health and life.

* Increased net production and resiliency.

The benefit to the land was greater in the brittle environments, with more benefits to native pastures. Irrigated grass and non-brittle environments showed benefits to the land, but less than brittle areas.

Sixty-five percent of producers said that ultra-high-density has resulted in high profits, primarily because the stocking rate had increased. The other 35 percent of the producers expect increased profits as a direct result of the high-density grazing.

The experience with high-density grazing among the producers ranged from 1 to 30 years. Six of the producers had been practicing ultra-high-density grazing for five or more years.

Herd size varied from 35 to 800 standard animal units. Stock density ranged from 10,000 pounds per acre to 1.3 million pounds per acre. The frequency of moving livestock ranged from one time per day to one move per hour during daylight. Most producers did not prefer to move livestock more than two times per day.

The most common preference in high-density grazing was from 250,000 to 500,000 pounds per acre. Over and over the producers said that the higher the stock density, the better the results coming back to the land, assuming plenty of time was allowed for recovery, Gompert reported.

Doug Warnock, a retired Washington State University Extension agent, consults and writes on ranch and farm management.


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