Question re: pasture management versus rain slow downs

Nao57

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So I was listening to a video on Youtube entitled; 'Raising Hens with No grain. Some thoughts by Richard Perkins.

It was quite interesting.

At any rate, when I'm listening to this there's this spot where he says that his pasture was like shoulder high and still green while the other people in his area had pasturage that was all yellow and too short.

!

The light went on.

It seems like this means that you could compensate for drought/low rain/low water seasons by letting the grass get extra long before this hits by using your historical rainfall data in your area. This way the plants would help with moisture retention when you have an area that has lower rainfall in certain parts of the year.

At least that's the way it seems. I'm in the Southwest and typically we have to practice water conservation and irrigation very carefully.

Well any way these were the thoughts I had. Can you confirm? What do you think? I want to spot any flaws in this.

And even if it did work, which I'm not sure of, I'm not sure how you would know how much to let the pasturage have as extra fluff, to help hold in more water? How would you decide this?

Thanks and its exciting to learn from y'all and others. The end game is we can all prosper. And the more self sufficiency we have the more we can all try to avoid captivity.
 

Cotton*wood

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I know this post was a long time ago, but I don't think it quite works that way. There's more to drought resilience than just letting the grass grow tall. Something else is happening in the soil that both keeps it green and allows it to grow so tall. Most likely he has tons of organic matter in his soil, and has been building his soil health through regenerative practices such as managed intensive grazing. Evidently the results can be stunning. I'm only beginning my pasture journey, but I did notice yesterday that there are a lot of new grasses in one of my weediest pastures.
 

Baymule

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And by letting the grass grow tall, after grazing, the animals have trampled some, which goes back into the soil as organic matter. Mow the rest to even it up and more organic matter goes into the soil.
 

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But also... if you let it grow really tall... often livestock will not eat it (depending on what kinds of animals), and keeping pasture short-ish is a better use of resources.

It boils down to the fact that you HAVE to walk your pastures and be able to identify at least the top 10 most favorite plants out there.

Take off animals at the right times.

If you have a drought, before the animals permanently damage your land, dry lot them.

If you can have one managed pasture that you can irrigate and fertilize that would be great. Or, some people keep one pasture in native range that is specifically earmarked for drought years.
 

Cotton*wood

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I was wondering about what to do in droughts, or natural pasture slow-downs, like now, in late October. Greg Judy says when the grass is growing fast, move them fast, and when the grass is going slow, move them slow, but if they're spending more time in a single paddock, they're eating it down a whole lot lower than it probably should be eaten down. I guess that's the sacrifice--compromising the health of that one area while letting the whole rest of the pastures recover.

In one of his videos, it was stunning to see the difference between one of his pastures that had left a lot of the grass still on (only grazing off the top) vs a neighbor that had let his cattle eat it down to the ground. When a rain finally came two months later, his grass, with all its biomass, grew like gangbusters, and the short-cropped grass barely did at all.

But the sheep have to eat SOMETHING!

I've been mowing down some of my tall clumps too, because the sheep don't eat it, but what Judy says about that tall grass that the livestock won't eat, is that's what gets trampled. I have one particular pasture where I mowed half of it after the sheep had been through (lots of clumps of tall fescue), and the other half I left unmowed (and very trampled). Mostly I did that because the first part, I figured there would be enough time in the fall for the grass to regrow before it went dormant and the other part I thought perhaps might not (though given how warm it's been, it probably would have), but it will be interesting to see how those two parts look next spring, in comparison.

Another thing that Greg Judy talks about is not letting your livestock out on your spring pastures when the grass first starts growing, because if it starts out 4 inches tall, and they eat it down to 2 inches, then that's not a whole lot of plant above ground to photosynthesize and fuel more growth. But if you wait until it's 8 inches tall, they'll eat it down to 6, or 4, and there will be plenty of blade length left for photosynthesis and more growth.

That might be hard to do. I only have 6 - 8 acres of pasture, and in the not-quite-a-year I've had sheep, they've made the rounds once per season. But I do have some hay for winter. We'll see. Already our next-to-worst pasture is looking a whole lot better than it was.
 

Alaskan

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when the grass is growing fast, move them fast, and when the grass is going slow, move them slow, but if they're spending more time in a single paddock, they're eating it down a whole lot lower than it probably should be eaten down
Uh... that is too simplistic.

Ok, plants are characterized into decreasers, increasers, and invaders.

The decreasers are the plants that are most preferred by your animals. The sheep will search them out first and eat them hardest.

As the sheep keep seeking out and eating the decreasers, they will lose vigor and the increasers will increase in number and size.

If you continue grazing pressure the decreasers will no longer exist.

Then, as the grazing pressure continues the increasers will decrease in number and vigor and the invaders show up.

Invaders are usually all of those nasty weeds that nothing will eat.

Ok.... add to that, cool season and warm season plants. Some plants do their growing in the cooler parts of the year (cool season plants), and some plants do most of their growing when it is really hot (warm season plants).

So, if you have one pasture that you graze every spring... the cool season plants are actively growing then. The sheep will search them out, and eat them first. And over time the cool season plants in your spring pasture will decrease in vigor and number.

Clear?

So.... how to manage pastures.

1st. Get a soil map of your area, see if your place is one soil type or several.

Usually the soil maps of your area will also have a table of the carrying capacity of each soil type in native range and in improved pasture.

Use those numbers! If you have twice as many animals as the soil map says that your area can support, realize that you have to dry lot.

The soil maps, or your friendly neighborhood extention agent, can give you a list of the top most common decreasers, increasers, and invaders in your area.

Learn to recognize the top ten on the plant list.

Have a notebook and a pen, and go out to your pasture. Start walking across your pasture. Every time your right foot is on the ground, look at the plant the toe of your boot is pointing to. Figure out what plant it is. Write it into your notebook, along with how big it is, how healthy it looks, and if there is erosion at its base.

Keep walking like that. Every time your right boot hits ground, write down the info.

When you are first learning, it is best to walk the pasture your animals are in on a daily basis. Keep a very close eye on those decreasers. Do you want them to die out? Do you want them to hang in there? Do you want them to be robust? How soon you pull the animals from the pasture depends on how you answer those questions.

Also, decide if you want any wild animal habitat on your place, and which animals you want. If you want deer, or quail, or grouse, then what plants you want, and how things are set up change.


As to moving animals from one pasture to the next, fast or slow....

If you have a bunch of animals and put them into a small pasture so the animals hit it hard, then they are forced to eat everything out there. This means they will eat the super yummy plants and also the plants they don't like so much (including poisonous plants if you have them). But, you don't let them stay in there long. It might just be 3 days, or maybe 2 weeks at most. Then you move them to the next pasture. If you time it right, everything in the pasture got eaten down, but they were not in there long enough to permanently damage the decreasers. This however depends on what kind of decreasers you have, some can recover from a heavy grazing hit and some can't.

And that is the delicate balance of range management.

You first need to decide exactly WHAT you want out there, and what you want to support (Cattle, sheep, warblers, quail, rattle snakes).

And the step count (where you walk through the pasture with your notebook) is the best way to see how you are doing. Adjust your management according to what you find.
 

Baymule

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I dry lot mine when there is no rain or they would eat it down to the dirt. I keep a round bale in front of them.
 

Cotton*wood

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Uh... that is too simplistic.

Ok, plants are characterized into decreasers, increasers, and invaders.

The decreasers are the plants that are most preferred by your animals. The sheep will search them out first and eat them hardest.

As the sheep keep seeking out and eating the decreasers, they will lose vigor and the increasers will increase in number and size.

If you continue grazing pressure the decreasers will no longer exist.

Then, as the grazing pressure continues the increasers will decrease in number and vigor and the invaders show up.

Invaders are usually all of those nasty weeds that nothing will eat.

Ok.... add to that, cool season and warm season plants. Some plants do their growing in the cooler parts of the year (cool season plants), and some plants do most of their growing when it is really hot (warm season plants).

So, if you have one pasture that you graze every spring... the cool season plants are actively growing then. The sheep will search them out, and eat them first. And over time the cool season plants in your spring pasture will decrease in vigor and number.

Clear?

So.... how to manage pastures.

1st. Get a soil map of your area, see if your place is one soil type or several.

Usually the soil maps of your area will also have a table of the carrying capacity of each soil type in native range and in improved pasture.

Use those numbers! If you have twice as many animals as the soil map says that your area can support, realize that you have to dry lot.

The soil maps, or your friendly neighborhood extention agent, can give you a list of the top most common decreasers, increasers, and invaders in your area.

Learn to recognize the top ten on the plant list.

Have a notebook and a pen, and go out to your pasture. Start walking across your pasture. Every time your right foot is on the ground, look at the plant the toe of your boot is pointing to. Figure out what plant it is. Write it into your notebook, along with how big it is, how healthy it looks, and if there is erosion at its base.

Keep walking like that. Every time your right boot hits ground, write down the info.

When you are first learning, it is best to walk the pasture your animals are in on a daily basis. Keep a very close eye on those decreasers. Do you want them to die out? Do you want them to hang in there? Do you want them to be robust? How soon you pull the animals from the pasture depends on how you answer those questions.

Also, decide if you want any wild animal habitat on your place, and which animals you want. If you want deer, or quail, or grouse, then what plants you want, and how things are set up change.


As to moving animals from one pasture to the next, fast or slow....

If you have a bunch of animals and put them into a small pasture so the animals hit it hard, then they are forced to eat everything out there. This means they will eat the super yummy plants and also the plants they don't like so much (including poisonous plants if you have them). But, you don't let them stay in there long. It might just be 3 days, or maybe 2 weeks at most. Then you move them to the next pasture. If you time it right, everything in the pasture got eaten down, but they were not in there long enough to permanently damage the decreasers. This however depends on what kind of decreasers you have, some can recover from a heavy grazing hit and some can't.

And that is the delicate balance of range management.

You first need to decide exactly WHAT you want out there, and what you want to support (Cattle, sheep, warblers, quail, rattle snakes).

And the step count (where you walk through the pasture with your notebook) is the best way to see how you are doing. Adjust your management according to what you find.
Thank you so much for this reply--it is VERY helpful!!!

I do walk my pastures--every day, where the sheep are. When I move them (daily or every other day), I look at what they've eaten, what they've trampled, and what they've left). If there are any bare patches (in the places where there has been erosion on fairly steep hillsides, from when previous owners no doubt overgrazed them), I scuff seeds in. I've been learning what grows here-- Never thought of doing the "step count", though I've been doing a lot of observation, and learning to identify different grasses and forbs at various stages of their growth.

And I spend time watching the sheep just about every day. It's fascinating to watch what they choose to eat, both the first bite rounds of their current paddock and the later settle-down-and-graze periods. They ALWAYS go for the forbs over the grasses first, and tree leaves of almost all sorts (not black walnut) are #1. Ragweed at all stages including dried up with dried seeds. Brome grass over fescue in the spring when it's green and growing, but later in the summer, fescue over the mature brome. Eastern gamma grass in the spring, didn't touch it in midsummer, and are now eating it again in late fall. Johnson grass at all stages (considered a noxious weed that we could be fined if we don't eradicate it, though there is certainly plenty around on almost every property in the county). All the clovers. Etc. I guess I really do mostly know what's growing everywhere. Hadn't thought in terms of decreasers, increasers, and invaders. I'll try to get my head around that.

I've also been thinking a lot about what I want to have growing. Since we don't want to till anything up or poison what's already there (in the name of preserving the soil life), how do we encourage the "good" plants? Most of the pastures already have at least some plants that are good for pasture (mostly brome and fescue), and this summer there is clearly more big and little bluestem, Indian grass, sideoats gramma, and eastern gamma grass than there was last year. Still way way way too much of the big bunchy fescue that the sheep only like if it's been mowed down and making new growth. We have one very small field (maybe a half acre) that the previous owners of the farm plowed up for planting a huge garden, and then abandoned. It's filled with curly dock , dandelion, burdock, ragweed (both giant and common), cheat grass, and various other annual grasses that the sheep don't particularly like except in the early spring. Clover seed germinates extremely easily, so there are now a bunch of clover patches in there, but I need to figure out how to get more good grasses.

And I do try to get the sheep moved off while there's still lots of growth in the current paddock. It has taken three months to make the rounds of the farm this year, and I'm looking at what's growing. And I do have to say that every single pasture is looking better now than it did a year ago before we got the sheep.

But dry-lotting. I need to look into that. How big of a space do they need? What keeps them from picking up a ton of parasites?

We have a lot more sheep than we did when we started last December, and I don't know yet how many is too many for our farm. Yes, I know it will depend on the year--the amount of rain and temps, but I want to be prepared. Last winter, when we had just 4 pregnant ewes, and then their lambs in early February (way too early!) I only gave them hay when there was snow on the ground. We have more grass now than we did last winter, but (after Tuesday when we send our two cull ewes to the butcher shop) we'll have 10 sheep, which is more than double.

Thank you again for your REALLY helpful response!
 

Alaskan

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But dry-lotting. I need to look into that. How big of a space do they need? What keeps
You can worm them before they go to the dry lot, to try to reduce the worm load that they are bringing with them.

I think some people add lyme to the soil when the animals are moved off to help kill parasites, but I have no idea how effective that is.

With horses and goats... I wormed them before they entered my property, and would worm the horses in the fall before they were put in their winter paddock (a dry lot). My goats I wormed as-needed (depending on how pink or pale their gums were).

As to amount of space needed, depends a great deal on the personality of your animals. You need to make sure that no one can get pinned anywhere. There needs to be enough space that the lowest in rank can access feed and water and not be bullied off.

For horses we had a 30 x 20 run in barn for 3. The water was in the barn. They were fed outside (for feeding they needed more space) about 10 feet between each horse along the fence line, far away from the corners.

Their paddock was... at a total guess 60x100 or so. But horses need some room.

For goats , 3 goats, they were kept in about a 20x 20 and were fine. The goats were milk goats so were fed on the milk stand where bullying was not an issue. They didn't fight over the hay in the hay rack.

Issues with worms is also highly hereditary. If you sell the ones that insist on looking "wormy" even with good management, over time you will end up with a flock that is more resistant to worms.
 
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