Pasture Management For Grass Fed Beef
Here is a video where I discuss some basics on what we are doing on the grass fed paddock. We are in the process of dividing the grass areas to maximize the health of our pasture.
Most cattle are grazed permanent pasture. The cow is designed to ingest large volumes of biomass by grazing on grass, other pasture plants, and hay. A cow is not designed to eat grains in a feedlot, we mimic nature by only feeding our cows the best pasture grass.
Regardless of what you plant in your pasture, eventually, the grasses will transition to ones that are acclimated to the soils, rainfall, animal pressure, temperature/sunlight, and grazing management on that particular parcel.
The grazing itself will contribute to the health of the soil and the grass through a number of mechanisms. Perhaps most important is (1) the biting off of the grass by the cattle, which causes the plant to send chemical signals to the roots to release stored sugars into the surrounding soil.
Ultimately the pasture that results from years of good management will be a polyculture that includes many species of grasses and other pasture plants that could not grow in that place until the action of soil biology – fostered by rotational grazing – made certain soil nutrients available again.
A Cow needs an appropriate balance of protein, minerals, and energy to function optimally; any large imbalance leads to dysfunction and illness (such as acidosis from grain feeding on a feedlot). We have often observed that when cattle are offered a mix of grasses and other forage, plus a choice of mineral supplements, they are remarkably capable of choosing what their bodies need for nutrition.
If the energy in the plants is inadequate, numerous methodologies have been developed to improve the quality of the pasture, including foliar sprays and a Yeoman plow for stirring subsoil without turning over the soil.
Grazing management calls for moving animals in rotation from paddock to paddock over time, with new paddocks being created by moving flexible fencing. Eventually, the cattle are cycled back to the original paddock, ideally after the land has had sufficient rest to regrow the grass. This will foster deep roots, which are important for building topsoil and making soil minerals available to the cattle via soil microbes. The plants may be green or brown, depending on the nutritional needs of the bovine group, with grass that has gone to seed providing the most energy.
Grazing with a high density of animals per acre is recommended, as long as the animals are moved to a new paddock at appropriate intervals. While grass will begin to regrow in as little as four days, re-grazing the growing tips stunts the plant’s potential growth. Allowing adequate time for paddocks to rest and rejuvenate is more important than the frequency of the rotation.
Rotating a herd of cattle, or perhaps different groups of cattle, through numerous paddocks requires a systematic approach. A grazing plan must be developed, but the original plan will need to be modified often based on the weather, the cattle, and the rate of growth of the grass.
We highly recommend the Holistic Management approach to a grazing plan.