March 23, 2012 10:35
Nadia Mori, MSc, PAg, Regional Forage Specialist
Watrous Regional Services Office
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Managing pastures for maximum productivity sounds easy in theory but once weather fluctuations, insect or wildlife damage, and other unforeseen circumstances enter the equation, pasture management quickly turns into a complex balancing act. Grazing management mistakes are bound to happen when dealing with the complexity of a pasture ecosystem. Learning from these mistakes is a good preparation for future unforeseen circumstances and better risk management in your grazing system.
1. Looking only to the past to determine stocking rates.
Using the same stocking rates year after year often results in pasture degradation. What may have worked in the past may not be appropriate in the present. Most grazing animals have increased in frame size, thereby increasing forage demand for a single animal. Each year will also present a different moisture situation and therefore different amounts of available forage. Properly balancing your forage supply and animal demand based on weather patterns and herd requirements is recommended.
2. Thinking that more animals grazed means higher profits.
As stocking rates go above what a pasture can carry sustainably, animal performance and animal health will start to decline. As forage supply becomes inadequate, animals are also more likely to graze harmful and toxic plants. In addition to compromised animal performance, the grazing pressure on your desirable forage plants can lead to reduced pasture health. Long periods of rest may be necessary to restore pasture productivity. Reduced pasture productivity can be costly if additional feed needs to be purchased to meet animal nutritional requirements. All these factors reduce your profit.
3. Thinking that leaving forage behind is a waste of feed.
Drought is always a matter of when, not if it occurs in Saskatchewan. Keeping stocking rates conservative is the best drought insurance policy. Well rested, vigorous forage plants with a well developed root system will stand a much better chance of survival than an overgrazed, stressed plant with a compromised root system. Forage not used in above-average rainfall years can provide carry-over feed for periods of moisture shortfalls. Left-over forage material also turns into litter which helps protect the soil surface from soil erosion and keeps soils cooler and moister during the heat of the summer.
4. Following the same pasture rotation year after year.
Grazing during rapid spring growth can be stressful to forage plants. Using the same pasture for spring turnout or during rapid spring growth, is taxing on forage plants. Desired plants are often selectively and repeatedly grazed during this rapid growth stage, which may give weedy or undesirable plants an opportunity to take over. Deferring grazing during critical plant growth periods, using pastures at different seasons of the year, and rotating through pastures in different sequences from year to year will help in maintaining good pasture health.
For more information, please contact:
Watrous Regional Services Office (306-946-3220);
Agriculture Knowledge Centre (1-866-457-2377); or
Visit our website at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca.