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Prescribed grazing treatment on one acre.

I have been a long-time advocate of prescribed grazing: that is, if you can step back, take a close look at the health of your land and know the needs of your animals, then prescribe a grazing treatment that takes you in the direction you really want to go.

It's similar to what a medical doctor does. First, determine the overall health of the patient (your land), check closely for signs of infection (weeds), look for stress (overgrazing), and determine if the patient is on a healthy diet (mineral cycle). Once you have identified the problems -- prescribe a treatment.

Well now, I own this small piece of ground that has all the signs of a common land disease called "stagnation caused by overrest." When I walk around my ground I see bunches of old, gray, colored dead grass stems standing in the air, a buildup of too much litter starting to form a dense choking mat, and weeds like Canada thistle invading disturbed areas. Good Heavens, I'm observing land stagnation and a poor mineral cycle going on right in my own front yard!

A good land resource doctor looking at my ground would tell me that I'd better use it or I'll lose it. The land needs to be used. But my problem is, I'm gone all the time telling other folks how to fix their land, and have no time to take care of my own.

I thought about this stagnation land disease problem for a while, and out of medical bag of tricks picked the tool f fire. Fire would get rid of all that excess plant litter. But then my only home based resource would just go up in smoke. That's not a wise use of one's resource. No, I'd rather use the tool of grazing, and practice what I preach.

So I take out my trusty calculator and with a good land base resource inventory, I come up with a stocking rate of one: that is, one animal unit of 135 days.

Well now, you should know I preach that continuous grazing is not the best grazing practice for conventional pasture management. I'm always talking about short term grazing and using high animal stock density (lots of animals for a short period of time). Ten years ago, after much research, I realized that it would be healthier for the land to control the amount of time livestock spend grazing rather than the amount of forage removed.

So now it's time to put my money where my mouth is and practice what I preach. Here's what I did.

Instead of grazing one animal for 135 days, I set out to graze 135 animals for one day. I asked my neighbor bring his whole herd of cows over for lunch on my grass, as he was moving to a pasture right next to my place.

Now think of what I preach and prescribe; short grazing, more animals, and long rest is just what overrested land needs. Do you think one cow grazing for 135 days continuously would cause overgrazing? The answer is: yes -- yes --yes. For some reason most people think that one animal all by itself wouldn't hurt the land. My definition of overgrazing is the biting and re-biting of the plant's regrowth while not allowing enough time for the plant to recover between the bites. This continuous biting causes weak root systems. This continuous biting can be carried to the point that the more productive forage plants begin to disappear. This happens no matter how many animals you have in your pasture, one or one hundred. Overgrazing happens plant by plant, not area by area. Yes, one cow will eat her favorite ice cream-tasting plant over and over again and avoid bad tasting ones. This is why some plants are called decreasers (they die from overgrazing) and others are called increasers (tough competitors).

Now move on to what happened when I practiced what I preach. Last August, when it was hot and dry, my neighbor grazed 5 6 cows with 57 calves on our place for 44 hours. The photo tells the story.

Day one -- lots of happy cows

Day two (24 hours) -- still lots of happy cows

Day three (that is 44 hours from turn in) -- hungry cows go to new pasture

Day four -- lots of cow pies and trampled grass

Day five -- start irrigating pasture

Days 6-10 -- observe gobs of feeding on worms

Day 15 -- grass starting to

Day 45 -- more dark green healthier grass than my neighbor's pasture

Day 60 -- deer find out about dark green healthy grass

Day 80 -- hunter shoots a buck on our place

Day 85 -- deer completely graze all the dark green grass

Day 90 -- my neighbor asks: Why doesn't Wayne post his property?

Here is my reaction to all this. Day one, looks great, happy cows -- lots o grass. Day two, 24 hours -- maybe should move these animals but they're all happily laying around chewing their cuds. Day three, 44 hours later, these animals are wanting someone to open a gate to better grass, the standing forage is all gone, lots of mooing going on, so the neighbor moves the cows.

When I returned home on day four, my place looked like a bomb went off. No standing grass anywhere, just cow pies and dry trampled grass laying on the ground. Lots of animals cause the ground to look overgrazed. But by day 45, I had the best looking pasture grass in the neighborhood.

The prognosis of this story is: Examine your land first and be sure to look for the common disease of land stagnation or the more common disease that is overgrazing. Prescribe a treatment. Even on one acre, somehow divide the land up, park cars in a row, use old wire, try the new style electric fence, try tether grazing (animal staked on a length of rope) and move the stakes daily, or rent the neighbor's backyard. Don't let your animal turn your backyard into a corral.

Wayne Burleson is a pasture management consultant working out of RR #1 Box 2780, Absarokee, MT 59901 and writing a book The Practical Guide to Better Grazing -- How to Turn "BS" into Profit.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Burleson, Wayne
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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