Managed Pastures Pay Dollar Returns
COLUMBIA — Pastures grow green for farmers. When managed well, pastures add dollars to farms. University of Missouri economists report an added output of $125 million per year from using skills taught for management-intensive grazing (MiG) at grazing schools.
“That’s annual impact, not cumulative,” says Craig Roberts, MU Extension forage specialist.
Payoffs come in extra milk or added beef gain. That adds value of $40 to $60 per acre.
The extra farm income circulates through local towns.
MiG started here 30 years ago. The value grows as the idea spreads. The latest ag census shows more than one in four Missouri beef farmers use rotational grazing. That’s nearly 12,000 farms.
MiG ideas spread to other states across the country.
In simple terms, managed grazing requires dividing large pastures into grazing paddocks. A pasture divided into eight paddocks that are grazed for three days each allows a return to the first paddock in 24 days. Resting paddocks grow more feed.
Moving cattle isn’t on set calendar days. Moves are made when grass is used but not grazed into the ground. That separates managed grazing from intensive grazing. Management, not grazing, intensifies. Continuous grazing of undivided pastures gives no rest periods.
Moving cattle to the next paddock that is ready to graze allows faster regrowth in the system. Improved pasture growth creates about one-third more gains. Or, a third more cows can be grazed on the same farm acres. That adds profits.
There is more: Soil and water conservation increases. Fertilizer use drops when cows spread manure evenly on paddocks. And forage quality goes up.
At first, farmers objected to cost of extra fencing. However, one-wire electric fences greatly cut costs and add flexibility. Temporary fences can be installed quickly.
Jim Gerrish, MiG founder at the MU Forage Systems Research Center in Linneus used to show in a quick trip across a paddock that he could divide the area with temporary step-in posts and rolls of wire.
Cows learn to respect a hot wire and stay in confined areas.
Restriction improves the efficiency of grazing. All forage, not just the best, is consumed. A move to the next paddock offers taller grass grown for almost a month. That gives easier grazing to cows.
Farmers foresaw much labor in moving cows. But cows learn that moving offers new feed. They rush to move, without herding.
Farmers learn cow herds are gentler with frequent moves. Gerrish showed this allows easier counting and checking of cows.
Over time, other public agencies joined in promoting MiG. It boosts the economy and improves conservation. Incentive grants are given for adding fencing and water systems.
Missouri grazing dairies upped intensive management. Dairy cows move to fresh paddocks after each milking. The extra effort pays in more milk in the bulk tank.
Daily gains are not easily seen on beef-calf growth from cows giving more milk to calves. At sale time, extra weight shows up.
The impact report shows that 18,300 Missourians attended a grazing school since 1990. Original schools were held at the MU FSRC. Now, regional schools are held across the state. The report was prepared by Ryan Milhollin, Joe Horner and Hannah McClure of MU Extension.
Managed grazing helps make Missouri, at 1.7 million cows, the No. 2 cow state in the U.S. Missouri hills are suited for grass growth and cows.
In summary, the report shows added value from more than 2,000 more jobs in the state.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offers expense cost-share. Those include water sources, water pipelines and tanks, fencing, liming, interseeding legumes in grass, and preventing soil erosion. Largest shares go to water systems, followed by fencing.
Local Soil and Water Conservation Districts provide technical assistance.
Grazing schools are taught by staff from NRCS and MU Extension. Sign up at MU Extension centers, SWCD or NRCS.