Man­aged Pas­tures Pay Dol­lar Re­turns

McDonald County Press - - COUNTY - Duane Dai­ley

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.

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