Timing for Pasture Recovery– Part 1
The biggest mistake people make in grazing management is providing too short a recovery period for plants after grazing. Of course too much rest isn’t good either. In drier environments excluding animals from a pasture long after it has recovered will lead to reduced productivity, dead grass and bare soil. In wetter environments it can lead to brush encroachment.
The basic rule is: When growth is slow, we should use long recovery periods. When growth is faster, recovery periods should be shorter. This invites several questions, including: “How long is long enough?” “How long is too long?” and “How short is too short?” The only responsible answer to each of these questions is, “It depends.”
It depends on the time of year, the type of plants we have, and on our goals – like stockpiling or other management objectives.
The Rule of Thumb:
Slow Growth = Longer Rest Periods
Fast Growth = Shorter Rest Periods
It also depends on how severely the pasture was used the last time it was grazed. The more severely it was used, the longer it will take to recover. In this 3:47 video, let’s look at what happens to the amount of rest a pasture needs when it gets grazed more severely.
Leave More Leaves
Severe grazing isn’t necessarily bad provided you give plants a lot of time to recover, and they will need a lot of time to recover, at least in comparison to plants that weren’t severely grazed.
Healthy roots are what give plants the strength they need to break dormancy in the spring. After that, the speed of regrowth depends on leaf area available for photosynthesis. The growth curve also changes through the growing season, with a steeper curve in the spring, and a shallower curve in late summer. Here we see how much rest plants need to recover after grazing them.
If we graze another 25% further down, does that add another 25% to the recover period? As you can see, the answer is no. The recovery period actually increases by 50% or maybe even 75%.
In general, the more leaves we leave, the faster a pasture will recover.
Focus on Building Capacity, Not Utilization
Where we get into trouble is when we look at utilization. We might look at our pastures, see that they’re grazed down, and that we’ve gotten efficient utilization. But efficient utilization is not nearly as important as building capacity. Profit minded ranchers know that to build capacity they need to graze less severely and leave more leaves.