By DOUG WARNOCK
For the Capital Press
The success of a livestock grazing operation can be measured in several ways, but most graziers focus on actual profit.
Financial profit is one of the three components of sustainability. A sustainable enterprise must have economic viability along with environmental soundness and social acceptability. An enterprise must have some level of profitability or it cannot survive on its own.
Most graziers want to improve their profitability, which can be done by increasing income or decreasing costs.
Dense and short
One of the first things to consider in improving production or income is to evaluate the grazing management scheme. The two important factors here are the length of time the forage plants are exposed to the grazing animal and the length of time the plants have to recover following grazing. Plant exposure time needs to be as short as possible in order that the animals don't have the opportunity to bite a plant a second time. Recovery time needs to be long enough so that the plants have adequate time to grow and rebuild their stores of energy in preparation for another grazing. This may be referred to as high-density, short-term grazing or planned grazed.
This approach is best done by having a number of pasture divisions or paddocks with the animals spending a minimal amount of time on each during a grazing cycle. High-density, short-term grazing is usually achieved by using fencing to divide the pasture area into a number of paddocks. Many graziers have found this can be most economically achieved by having permanent border fences and portable electric fences for cross fencing.
This type of grazing management tends to foster the productivity and longevity of the more productive perennial forages, stimulates plant health and enhances the effectiveness of the water and mineral cycles on the pastures. The resulting healthy, productive ecosystem represents biological profit.
We have seen a number of examples where the change to planned grazing has significantly improved production, resulting in greater profit. One example occurred on an irrigated ranch in Central Washington. A $16.25-per-acre investment in fencing and the application of high-density, short-term grazing resulted in an 250 percent increase in forage production. This amounted to an increase of $102 per acre in income, or a net return of $85.75 per acre.
Biological profit and the health of the pasture ecosystem is best assessed through some type of monitoring. We must evaluate what is taking place in order to determine how effective the management is and what changes may be needed to make it better. The monitoring will indicate how well the grazing plan is working to achieve the desired goal and will give us the earliest possible warning when there is a need to make a change and keep us on target.
The most important input into any grazing enterprise is the management. The effort of the manager in developing the grazing plan, putting the plan into effect, monitoring the outcome and making necessary adjustments along the way is the most important component of a successful and profitable grazing enterprise.
Doug Warnock, a retired extension agent with Washington State University, consults and writes on ranch and farm management.