Getting started with grazing
Beginning farmers have opportunities to utilize grazing systems to harvest high quality forages at a lower cost and with lower capital investment as compared to mechanical harvesting systems.
Recently Michigan State University Extension conducted a webinar catering to beginning farmers. The program, “Getting Started with Grazing”, covered the basics of implementing a Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) system.
Jerry Lindquist, grazing educator with MSU Extension, covered the plant side of MIG. Lindquist discussed the growth and maturity of plants and the importance of rest and harvest at peak nutritive value. Grazing plants at the proper stage of maturity allows for optimum harvest of nutrients. Grasses should be grazed between the boot and heading stage while legumes should be harvested between the pre-bud and bud stage. Grazing plants down to a height of one half of the original height leaves enough leaf material to continue growth from energy generated by photosynthesis. Thus the take half, leave half philosophy. Plants that are harvested all the way to the ground are stunted and will require up to two weeks recovery before regrowth begins. On the take half, leave half philosophy; they begin to regrow almost immediately. Management Intensive Grazing allows plants to rest until reaching the proper growth stage before harvesting again. Rest allows for stronger, healthier plants that regrow faster for higher yield of nutrients for the animals and increased longevity of the stand.
Frank Wardynski, MSU Extension ruminant educator, discussed animal management topics of animal performance, paddock design and water systems. Water is the most important nutrient for any livestock. Limiting water intake directly limits dry matter feed intake. Ensuring that livestock have access to sufficient quantities of high quality water is essential to achieving high animal performance. Supplying water to the many paddocks of a MIG system is a challenge that must be addressed.
Implementing MIG is both beneficial to the plant, and also provides high quality nutrition to the animals. Livestock grazing high quality forage through the summer months allows animals to gain weight or body condition rapidly. Grazing forages in this manner also increases the quantity of nutrients harvested per acre and distributes the waste from the grazing animals more uniformly.