Plan A Local Pasture Walk - Promote Sustainable Grazing Management
by Dean R. Oswald
Animal Systems Educator
University of Illinois Extension
Pasture walks are one method used by Extension Educators, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, or industry reps to showcase operations, highlight approved practices, products or just as a platform to promote forage and pasture grazing management. Pasture walks give the farm operator and agency personnel an occasion to communicate ideas or thoughts on a variety of forage and pasture management topics. These "show and tell" opportunities allow shared expertise that that can speed up the learning curve for successful planning, planting and implementation of grazing management systems. Experiences and ideas that have worked as well as those that have failed provide great insight and Knowledge to attendees. Participants (neophytes or veterans) can ask questions at their own level that they can relate to a particular farm operation. Innovations or novel ideas of grazers are often spread through these casual exchanges.
Basic system development might be a topic for farm location that has constructed infrastructure like perimeter fencing, paddock fencing or water systems necessary for animal control, movement and management. Finding a producer who has just completed an Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) project through NRCS might be the place to start. These operators have a good handle on current costs and can answer questions related to program participation. Permanent perimeter and semi-permanent or portable paddock fencing always stimulates interesting conversations. Many material options are available for fences. Different wire types, posts, electrified vs. non-electric, gadgets, and gizmos are offered for purchase. This is an opportunity to discuss the costs, durability and use of various products.
After fencing for animal control, water systems may be the key factor to consider for making a managed grazing systems work. Research has shown that water availability within 800 feet of grazing improves forage harvest efficiency and uniformity, reduces animal movement as a group and spreads manure nutrients more evenly throughout the pasture. Various water sources can be part of a total system. Streams, creeks, springs, wells or cisterns are all considerations. Pasture walks highlighting the use and development of available water resources can be a useful aid to producers. Stream crossings, pond water and spring developments can show restricted animal access points to supply clean water and reduce pollution. Some producers are fortunate to have ponds or springs that can be developed and gravity fed to several paddocks or locations throughout a grazing system. This can be an energy saving source of water that does not use additional electric energy for pumping. Wells or other water systems may use pumps to supply water. Nose pumps, ram pumps, submersible pumps and others bring many questions to the event. Daily per animal or herd water needs stimulates questions on tank size, floats, pipe diameter to name a few.
Forage species may be the focus of another pasture walk. How grass and legume species relate to a managed grazing program. Producers and experts can discuss the pros and cons or why and why not related to various kinds of livestock. This is a good opportunity to discuss forage species characteristics related to establishment, persistence, nutritional quality, animal treading, productivity, palatability and fertility. Beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, goats, horses or even poultry can be emphasized in a pasture grazing program. This can show how producers can meet the nutritional needs of animals in different stages of growth or production. Multiple species grazing can highlight the use of browsing vs. grazing and improved utilization of available forages.
Seasonal pasture walks allow targeted BMP's or showcase methods or crops to extend the grazing season at different times of the year. Spring pasture walks can demonstrate new plantings, how and when to start grazing in the spring, or target spring brassicas or other crops. Summer pasture walks may focus on annual crops like sudan grasses, millets, berseem clover, or grazing standing corn. This would also be the time to start stockpiling forages for fall and winter grazing. Fall pasture walks can show grazing crop residues, dormant hay crop grazing or grazing fall turnips and oats. Winter pasture walks can show managing and using stockpiled forage like tall fescue, crop residues or standing corn. Winter feeding stations or watering systems can be exhibited.
Plan to coordinate or host pasture walk in your local area. Put together a committee to discuss and plan the various options you might have for 2011. Include grazers, agency personnel, industry representatives and media sources. You may be surprised the impact you can have on promoting sustainable grazing management. You might be amazed at the life-long friends you meet walking through a pasture!