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Pasture management: size and sub-division.

Planning for your move "beyond the sidewalks" you are sitting around the kitchen table trying to determine how large a place to buy. If you guess too small, your options will be limited. Too large and you are not maximizing return on your investment. What to do?

Say you want a milk cow; about a 10 head cow/calf beef operation (don't forget the bull) to earn some extra money; and, since one of your hobbies is wool spinning and garment making, you want a 20 head sheep herd. How much pasture will you need?

If you have the general area you want to move to identified, arrange to meet with the county extension agent to find out the rule of thumb for livestock pasture requirements in that area. For example, if the area has an abundance of natural minerals, deep topsoil and good average rainfall, the rule of thumb for cattle may be two adult units per acre. On the other hand, in an arid region the rule of thumb may be 20 acres per adult unit. There should be similar local rules of thumb for other livestock as well.

Two things need to be borne in mind though.

There rules of thumb will most likely be based on the experience from one large or a few pasture subdivisions (what they mean when you read, "fenced and cross-fenced" in a realty listing). Those who have switched to intensive/rotation grazing have found they can carry significantly more animal units per acre than those who use one or just a few pasture subdivisions (instances of a doubling or more carrying ability have been reported).

The other caution is that some animals complement each other. The Old West cattle/sheep feuds were mostly out of ignorance, since cattle and sheep compliment each other with both largely eating different types of grasses. Combining them increases carrying ability per acre over separate usage. Goats added to either or both complements carrying ability further since they will go after weeds or browse not used by cattle or sheep.

Another way to determine carrying ability is through the "animal unit" (AU) concept. This is based on considering one adult cow as an animal unit. By conversion, there are five sheep units to one AU, a goat equals 0. 17 AU, a horse 1.25 AU, a bull 1.25 AU, and a weaner 0.6 AU of its parent.

In the previous example, assume the local rule of thumb is 1.6 acres for a cow and a calf per year. 1.6 acres would be required for the milk cow and her calf, 16 acres for the 10 beef cows and their calves, 1.25 acres for the bull and about nine for the sheep and their lambs for an approximate requirement of just under 28 acres of pasture. To the extent intensive/rotational/or mixed species grazing decrease this, treat it as drought insurance in bad years and hay area in very good years. Preplanned hay meadow requirements are another matter.

If you do plan to use intensive/rotational grazing, how many paddocks or pasture sub-divisions should you shoot for? That is a difficult question to answer since so many variables come into play. A book on this subject I continue to recommend is Intensive Grazing Management by Burt Smith, as well as recommending a subscription to The Stockman Grass Farmer magazine (PO Box 9607, Jackson, MS 39286-9607, $22.50 for 12 issues, sample issue on request). You can order Mr. Smith's book through that magazine for $32.95 postpaid.

One item in Intensive Grazing Management illustrates that paddock size is subject to the Laws of Diminishing Returns as can be seen in the accompanying table. Since giving paddocks rest between grazing is the crux of intensive/ rotational grazing, it doesn't make much sense in going beyond about 16. The number of permanent paddocks can be offset by the amount of temporary subdivision you are willing to do.

To illustrate this, use the following example. You have divided your pasture into fairly equal blocks in a rectangular shape, identified as P1, P2, P3 and P4. By using a temporary cross fence on days one and two you fence off one-fourth of P1. For days three and four you move the fence forward another one-fourth (the livestock is now grazing half of P1, but will concentrate on the portion just made available to them), and continue this practice one-fourth at a time. After the eighth day you move into P2 and shut off P1. In effect you have created 16 paddocks (ignoring any regrazing of previous days' allocation). Each area of the pasture gets at least 75 percent rest, with the far ends getting 93.75 percent rest (you only grazed it two days before moving to another permanent paddock). Note this assumes two days will graze the allocated area down to the desired level.

This type practice is an example of compromise. It keeps permanent fencing to a minimum (even though electric fencing is far easier to build and maintain than permanent barb or woven wire fencing), but does require moving a temporary fence every two days. Only one watering/supplemental feeding/mineral feeder point per paddock is required in the first one-fourth area and even these can be made portable. For example, buy a used boat trailer and modify it to hold an old bathtub on the front for a watering trough and a mineral feeder on the back. To move, pull the drainplug on the tub and tow it to the next paddock. If smaller animals are also in with cattle, attach some gravity-fed bowl waterers off the side. (See "Intensive Grazing and Water," Countryside 75/1:31.)

Bear in mind pasture management must be adapted to local conditions and management practices. It may take several years to work out an economical sustainable system.
Number of Percent Rest Each Total Days Grazed
Paddocks Paddock Per Year,(*) Each Paddock(**)
 1 0 365.0
 2 50.0 182.5
 4 75.0 91.3
 8 87.49 45.6
 16 93.75 22.8
 32 96.87 11.4
 64 98.43 5.7
(*) Assumes each paddock is grazed the same number of days per year.
(**) The days spent per rotation will decline as the number of paddocks increase
 since less
forage will be available per unit per cycle.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:1066
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