Planned multi-paddock grazing restored soil and vegetation and increased productivity and profitability, while improving the quality of life for ranchers, according to Richard Teague, Rangeland Research Scientist at Texas A&M University. Teague was the keynote speaker at a recent grazing conference held at the Washington Family Ranch near Antelope, Ore.
Teague’s research involves whole ranch units in which the managers are monitoring and adjusting in order to achieve their goals relating to the nutrition and health of soils, plants, animals and the people involved.
“Healthy agro-ecosystems are considerably more productive, stable and resilient than those in poor condition. Ranch livelihoods depend on healthy ecosystems. The value of ecosystem services is worth more to society than agricultural earnings,” Teague stated.
Teague cited grassland restoration that was accomplished over a 10-year period on the Noble Foundation’s Coffey Ranch. Animal unit days per acre, which is a measure of grassland’s livestock carrying capacity, increased to more than three times its original amount. He said this was achieved by managing for desired outcomes by:
• Matching animal numbers to available forage.
• Spreading grazing over the whole ranch.
• Defoliating plants moderately during the growing season.
• Having short grazing periods.
• Using high-density grazing, which puts more litter on the ground.
• Allowing adequate recovery before re-grazing.
• Grazing before the plants become too mature.
• Adapting as needed to allow for changing conditions.
This type of management is accomplished by having an adequate number of pasture divisions or paddocks so that plant exposure to grazing is for a short time and plants have adequate time for regrowth before being grazed again. Teague has learned:
• It takes a minimum of 10 paddocks just to stop overgrazing of plants.
• Ranchers with 8 or fewer paddocks are not rotationally grazing, but rotationally overgrazing.
• To support decent animal performance takes 14 to 16 paddocks.
• The most rapid range improvement takes 30 paddocks.
• The biggest decrease in workload and greatest improvement has been with over 50 paddocks.
Teague emphasizes the value of creating an annual grazing plan, utilizing what was learned from previous years. “At the beginning of every year consider what you would do in the event of an average precipitation year, a drier-than-average year and a wetter-than-average year. Have a plan for each of these three possibilities.”
He has found that ranch management decisions should be based on a goal; land restoration and wildlife needs are to be incorporated into the plan each year; managers should regularly assess the forage available and adjust either stock numbers or the area grazed; and grazing periods should be based on the recovery rate of the plants, which change by season during the growing year.
This grazing conference was sponsored by Country Natural Beef, the Pacific Northwest Center for Holistic Management and Washington Family Ranch.
Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he writes about and teaches grazing management. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.