The Evolution of a Multi-Species Grazing Operation

The Evolution of a Multi-Species Grazing Operation

The Goal of Big Spring Farm:

 “An easily managed, low input grazing operation that improves production and the environment while being consistently profitable” Greg Brann.

 

Brief History of Big Spring Farm 2005:  The Big Spring Farm is named for a boiling cold spring that is estimated to have an output of 30,000 gallons per minute.  The farm was purchased by my dad in 1964 for cow-calf and trout production, unfortunately, the trout enterprise never materialized.  The farm increased in size due to land purchases and land rentals to 1200+ acres of pasture and hay.  Over the years, tobacco, Christmas trees, corn, and soybeans have all been produced but it has always been predominantly a cow-calf operation.  The largest number of cattle was 300+ cows and 270 backgrounding stocker calves.  Dads’ famous sayings were “good pasture is the best fence” and “don’t fix it too good they can’t get back in” and while he did pretty well at maintaining some single wire electric cross fence, the perimeter fence steadily rusted away.  At 88,  my brother and I are slowly taking over the running of the operation.  Currently, my brother and I have divided up the operation and entered some land in CREP, a state form of CRP, leaving my operation with 210 acres of pasture.

 

Fencing: My brother and I decided we had to have a good perimeter fence above all so that became a priority.  With all the blackberry briars, buckbrush, and assorted browse, goats seemed to be a choice species for us.  Since we always preferred high tensile fence, what is the big deal about adding an extra wire or two to run goats too?  We didn’t know much about goats but I knew it was accepted knowledge that a producer can run 1-2 goats for every cow and not impact the cows grazing.  Later we found it actually improved grazing for the cattle.  After about one year my brother decided he had had enough of goats dying (Listeria and various other adaptation disorders) and wrestling to de-worm them and trim feet, so I bought him out and continued the goat enterprise.  Thankfully, he didn’t charge me any rent since he knew that running them on the correct pastures would control weeds.  Later we divided up the land and now he and his sons run stocker cattle and I run a multi-species grazing operation. 

With any new enterprise, you go through an adaptation trough phase for 3 to 5 years before you reach a new plateau for the enterprise.  Initially, we just fenced the perimeter of one area and used electro-net fencing to control graze about an acre at a time with a stock density of 7,000 lb/ac.  This worked pretty well.  We would set up two paddocks at a time and when they moved into the second paddock we would move three sides of the first paddock and set up a third paddock hopscotching across the field.  Other areas we fenced were the boundary of fields allowing the goats access to the whole field while cattle were control-grazed.

The ideal fence and water layout are parallel fences about 435’ apart with water hookups located 435’ apart in every other fence line.  This allows maximum flexibility.  I like 435’ because a 100’ length equals one acre.  Three rolls of electro-net 164’ each will more than span this width and if you are using single polywire with a post spacing of 40’ you can easily carry 8 to 10 posts.  When I run a high single polywire for cattle (48” high) I space post up to 100’ apart.  In the end, when terrain, woods, soil type, and vegetation are all considered spacing between parallel fences may need to vary considerably. Any distance you are willing to walk and install temporary fence is just fine.  Initially, you may want to install every other fence with the ultimate goal of installing others later.  Not every fence needs to be worthy of controlling all species.  When wire is closer to the ground try to target 7” with post spacing needs to be closer usually 40’ works even in rolling terrain.  In one year, counting all of the temporary fences built, we have over 50 paddocks.

Creep grazing: Now we run one herd consisting of cows, calves, sheep, lambs, does, kids, a donkey, and five guardian dogs.  It’s rather entertaining to watch the herd dynamics. I have eleven permanent paddocks to control all animals and we run a high single polywire holding the cows back and allowing the calves, sheep, and goats to creep graze, and in winter creep hay.  This allows creeped animal’s access to more choice thereby increasing nutrition.  At other times, I run another low polywire which restricts calves and allowing sheep and goat to graze.  This is only necessary when sheep and goats need higher nutrition, such as at breeding or birthing time.  It’s also used to keep cows and calves out of sericea hay or high dollar sheep mineral.

Goats to Sheep:  Compared to cattle, goats are quite inexpensive, and improving genetics is more difficult when the initial cost of the animal is higher and the gestation period is longer.

Once you are fenced for goats you can run pretty much any species.  I monitor forage and pressure continuously for recovery needed to improve forage management.  So, I constantly adjust the number of cattle, sheep, and goats relative to what is best for the pasture and animals.    Goat numbers at Big Spring Farm fluctuated from 70 to 300 back down to 70, up to 130, and has now settled at around  50 does (Kiko/Spanish nannies).  My reasoning for the downsizing is that, even though the goats are extremely prolific and easy to keep, I found the goats compete with the sheep (Katahdin) for forage.  

In my experience, sheep compete more with cattle for forage but they are also more productive than goats and cattle and easier to handle. The bottom line for me is that adult ewes over one-year-old rarely need deworming, Katahdin sheep can be bred at 10 months of age and have lambs unassisted after just five months of gestation.  Sheep have a higher twining percentage of 1.7 lambs per ewe, whereas the goats only average 1.4 kids per doe. I’ve found that sheep typically don’t eat much hay till all the grazing is over, which is a good thing, but, be careful, they will overgraze if not rotated often.

Cattle to sheep:  I’ve been decreasing the cow herd since I’ve found sheep to be so much more productive per female.  I don’t know of any other animal that can wean more than their weight in 10 months.  Cattle are doing well if they wean 45% of their weight but sheep will wean 100% or more of their weight.  The sheep and goats naturally wean their lambs, which creates much less stress for me and the animals.  In the past, we had the most problems during weaning lambs and kids. Most of the issues have disappeared now that we allow them to self-wean, eliminating stress for us all.  If I was lambing more frequently  I would certainly need to wean to maintain ewe condition.   If I have one ewe that doesn’t maintain condition due to longer lactation I will likely cull her since she doesn’t fit the herd management.

Due to the stress involved, I am trying to not wean calves either but since cattle lactate longer it makes it much harder. We are selecting for natural weaning cows but still wanting to see the calf weigh at least 45% or more of the cow’s weight when it is ten months of age.

One group versus separate groups: Although I  have run the goats and sheep together without incident, I’ve resisted combining the sheep with the cattle due to the inconclusive information regarding the tolerance of Katahdin sheep to copper.  After visiting with several sheep producers who have fed beef mineral to Katahdin sheep for 5 years or more I decided to take the chance.  It is important to note that wool sheep seem to be more sensitive to copper toxicity than hair sheep.

One huge advantage of running separate groups is you can target graze certain plants.  However, the benefits of running one group far outweigh the advantage of target grazing.  Target grazing can still be done but you must consider the impact on other animals in the herd. Some call it a flerd; part flock, part herd. 

Longer rest periods for pasture (which reduces internal parasite load), being able to feed guardian dogs at one location, hay feeding in one location, more power on less fence,  less fence to check, higher stock density for shorter periods of time are all benefits of the flerd system.

Separate herds: In the past, I always maintained a “sell lot” for anything that was not performing up to the standard of the herd.  Since we don’t want any births occurring in mid-December through mid-February the rams and bucks are pulled July 24 through September 24. Bulls are just left in with the herd and I  pregnancy test in November or December and sell all cows not bred or bred out of sync with the group.  The target is a 60 day calving period.   Calves are kept till 24 months old and sold as grass-finished cattle. Heifers that don’t breed are still worth a premium as finished cattle.  

Watering Facilities: Water is the most important nutrient and is a major draw for the location of cattle.  Sheep and goats don’t tend to hang around water the same as cattle do.  The tendency is for the pasture around the water point to be overgrazed, partially due to allowing back grazing for more than 4 days. 

 I am a big believer in a pressurized water system so that you can place the water point where you want it and not be dependent on a good pond site, gravity flow,  spring flow, or limitations of ram pump, solar pump, etc.  The ideal spot for a water trough is based on rotation, forages, and lay of the land.  In general, I want the watering point to be located on a slight slope of 3% grade near the ridge top but mainly you want your to have water throughout the property so that no water point is overgrazed 

I have ball waters, ( Richie and Mirofount), tire troughs, open goat troughs, rubber maid portable troughs, and old protein tubes plumbed.  I prefer the Gallagher brass valve for open troughs.  I like the Mirofount more than the Richie for cattle due to the visibility of balls and the option to take off covers with plumbing still covered. However, the balls are harder to push down on the Miirafount.  Balls in either trough can be taken out.  Goats and sheep don’t have the power to push balls down like cattle.  The ball troughs are lower maintenance than other troughs but more expensive.  I mainly have tire troughs throughout the farm.  They’re great for big herds but I have lost several goat kids and lambs in the open troughs due to not having the water level high enough.  The water must be within 2” of the top.  You’ll need to place blocks in water deeper than 12”. 

Forage: In general I believe in managing the forage you have and not completely reseeding the entire pasture.  A good start is taking a soil test to know the status of soil fertility.  If fertilizer dollars are limited, apply lime and fertilizer to low testing soils first.  Also, consider the most potential is productions on the best soil types. Get a soil map from the USDA/NRCS office or www.websoilsurvey.com.  

When it comes to seeding mixtures, there are so many choices; cool and warm season, annuals and perennials, grasses, legumes, brassicas, and other forbs and browse.  Ultimately its good to have about 30% of the acreage in warm-season forage.  First evaluate if your stand of grass is adequate, for cools season grass you need a plant every 6” with 3 strong tillers.  If you don’t have this you will need to seed grass as well with a no-till drill or some tillage.  The easiest and cheapest way to upgrade the pasture is by adding legumes through frost seeding.  There are many advantages to having legumes: higher quality forage, provide nitrogen, lengthening of the growing season.  The negative aspects of legumes of over 35% are that it can create voids in a drought.  Although white clover is the cheapest, only costing 7-$10/ac to seed at 2 lb/ac  I would recommend seeding 4 to 7 lb of red clover/ac. On the most droughty land seed annual lespedeza 8 or more lbs per ac. Lespedeza has concentrated tannins in them and are natural dewormers.   Annual crabgrass is an annual that can fill these voids, providing warm-season forage. Crabgrass is a reseeding annual that is a savior but the negative side is it needs disturbance from tillage or high animal traffic at least once a year to maintain vibrancy.   Native grasses have great potential but they are slow to establish (approximately 2 years) and do not tolerate close grazing.  Bermudagrass is not preferred forage of goats but is excellent around heavy use areas such as corrals or water points.  Common bermudagrass spreads by seed, rhizomes, and stolons so it spreads more than hybrid types that very few viable seeds, making the hybrid types vegetatively preferable.   Another thing to consider in the evaluation of fields is certain plants that increase due to avoidance by livestock so they are left to reach their full expression and make seed while other plants decrease due to overgrazing and excessive use.  Putting pressure on plants you want to decrease especially when emerging and when they make seed are major tools to use to improve pastures while resting or allowing full recovery of plants you want to increase can bring change your pastures quickly.

Hay: Buying hay is always a good deal since the cost of making hay is so high.  The average cost of making hay is $80/ton.  Also when you bring hay onto your farm you are bringing in nutrients.  Each ton of hay, on average, contains 45 lb N, 12 lb P2O5, and 45 lb K2O or $50/ton in nutrients.  The key is getting those nutrients deposited by the livestock well distributed over the field.  When manure is deposited in the barn, rather than directly on the pastures, the expense of equipment, time, and fuel to load and spread the manure change the economics drastically.  Also, remember that when nutrients end up near water they can cause water quality issues.

Summary:  Every time I enter a field I evaluate the impacts and improvements of management and determine what is needed to improve the economics, environment, and community dynamics of the operation.  Mostly, working with nature is rewarding and humbling.

Monthly Browse Management For Goats

Monthly Browse Management For Goats

This is a timeless, indispensable resource that I put together a few years back for  NRCS and Gallahger Fence.

This calendar helps you to prioritize your  grazing and forage management tasks for goats.  With so many components within the wholistic management schedule, having all of this information in one place will help to ensure that your  key management tasks don’t take you by surprise or, even worst, get missed for another season.

Information on how to manage grazing within transition periods, stretch forage supplies, apply different seeding mixes to different situations, determine the best hay feeding strategy for your operation, and more can be found in this calendar.

Monthly Grazing and Browse Management for Sheep and Goat

Monthly Grazing and Browse Management for Sheep and Goat

This is a timeless, indispensable resource that I put together a few years back for  NRCS and Gallahger Fence.

This calendar helps you to prioritize your  grazing and forage management tasks for sheep and goats.  With so many components within the wholistic management schedule, having all of this information in one place will help to ensure that your  key management tasks don’t take you by surprise or, even worst, get missed for another season.

Information on how to manage grazing within transition periods, stretch forage supplies, apply different seeding mixes to different situations, determine the best hay feeding strategy for your operation, and more can be found in this calendar.

Monthly Grazing Management for Cattle

Monthly Grazing Management for Cattle

This is a timeless, indispensable resource that I put together a few years back for  NRCS and Gallahger Fence.

This calendar helps you to prioritize your  grazing and forage management tasks for cattle.  With so many components within the wholistic management schedule, having all of this information in one place will help to ensure that your  key management tasks don’t take you by surprise or, even worst, get missed for another season.

Information on how to manage grazing within transition periods, stretch forage supplies, apply different seeding mixes to different situations, determine the best hay feeding strategy for your operation, and more can be found in this calendar.

Fencing for Serious Graziers

Fencing for Serious Graziers

Electric fencing offers two major advantages over other types of fencing. One is cost. The cost to install a four-strand, barbed-wire fence is about $5,000 per mile. The cost to install a typical, single-wire, electric fence is about $1,600 per mile. If necessary, additional wires can be added to an electric-fence for about 10 cents per foot. The other big advantage of electric fencing is its ease of construction, which improves forage management opportunities. Small pastures can greatly enhance harvest efficiency and increase the amount of forage produced from a grazing system because of the amount of rest that is introduced into the system.

 

To download the entire pdf click here Electric Fence

Water Points

Water Points

Water the most important nutrient! It’s the largest quantity requirement for beef and dairy cattle (e.g. 15 gal/day = 125 lb/day). Water is commonly the weakest link in grazing systems. Water placement impacts grazing (overgrazing and under utilization) and nutrient (manure and urine) distribution.  If you have excessive trailing is a sign of needing better water distribution.

 

Download the entire Water Points PDF here.

Timely Tips – June

Timely Tips – June

We are at the change of seasons.  A time to contemplate and plan for summer forage. Note in the graph above, as temperatures hit 80 degrees F. or higher cool season forage production decreases and warm seasons forages kick in high gear.  I encourage you to make warm season and drought management decisions prior to the end of the recommended seeding date for warm season forages, July 1.

 Options:

  • Stockpile cool season forage into summer
  • Graze a field hard to release the seed bank for natural regeneration
  • Seed summer annuals
  • Seed summer perennials
  • Fertilization to improve warm season production

Stockpile cool season forage into summer. 

Although I think it is wise to carry some cool season growth into summer, the quality of it will be dependent on temperature and rainfall.  It may hold all summer but if it gets hot and dry it will just be some carbon to lay down and forage quality will be very poor.  Red clover and annual lespedeza will extend growth into summer.

Graze a field hard to release the seed bank for natural regeneration

It’s a lot like rolling the dice.  Unless you know the field well you may release some warm season species you don’t want. This technique works extremely well for release of bermudagrass, crabgrass and dallisgrass.  Other plants that are also likely to grow white clover (if it is cool and moist), ragweed, lambsquarter (both test like alfalfa but stock don’t always consume them), spiny amaranth (weed due to spines other amaranths are palatable and high quality), cocklebur (bad weed, big canopy, sometimes consumed), nimblewill (terrible grass weed that looks like bermudagrass, not readily grazed). Grazing 20% of the pastures low May –June is a decent strategy.

Seed summer annuals. 

Crabgrass, cowpeas and lablab are the only species that UT recommend planting as late as July 1.  Forage & Field Crop Seeding Guide For Tennessee

Crabgrass Improved Variety Options Crabgrass improved variety options:

Quick and Big and Red River.

Quick and Big is fast growth and Red River has a longer growing season.  You may want to seed a blend of the two, sometimes folks add annual lespedeza to the mix.

The seeding rate of crabgrass is 3 to 5 lb/ac.  If you add annual lespedeza 8 to 10 lb/ac.  Crabgrass is a reseeding annual that responds to disturbance at least once a year.  Cowpeas, high quality drought tolerant legume which makes a good smother crop if you have an undesirable weed you are trying to control.  Even though it is a little late for millet you may want to add 10-20 lb/ac. of pearl or browntop millet with the cowpeas.  Lablab is typically grown for wildlife food plots but is good forage for ruminants too best used in a mix.

 

Seed summer perennials

Bermudagrass is the only plant UT recommends planting as late as July 1.  I usually just recommend bermudagrass on areas that are planned for heavy use areas or where nutrients are going to be high.  Bermudagrass has some issues, stem maggot (it kills the primary stem tip reducing production) which most spray an insecticide for control, grazing could be used to reduce impacts also bermudagrass does best where nutrients are high.  There are several improved bermudagrass varieties: Cheyenne II (highest producing seeded type); Laredo (Allied seed variety, blend of Mohawk , KF-194, & Rancher; Wrangler (most cold tolerant).  You can also establish bermudagrass with clippings using Vaughn’s No. 1 which is typically thought of as the Cadillac of bermudagrasses for our area. Bermudagrass can produce high tonnage, be used hard and overseeded with clovers and winter annuals the second year after establishment.

Another warm season grass option although it is too late to seed now is native warm season grass (NWSG) it’s best sown when seed are exposed to a couple of cold chills (vernalization). Now is the time to start planning for it.  I like NWSG sown on lower fertility soils so weed competition is less. On low production you are not giving up much production while the natives are establishing for a couple of years. Usually herbicides are used to establish NWSG however an option to establish it without herbicides would be to terminate existing vegetation with tillage plant a summer annual leaving most of the biomass on the soil surface then no-tilling in cereal rye.  Dormant planting NWSG in December – April into cereal rye.  Rolling down the cereal rye in early April for weed control.  Natives will emerge through the residue in the spring.

Fertilization to improve warm season production

Applying nutrients to grass May – July increases warm season production.  Nitrogen has the biggest impact on forage production, nitrogen also increases protein content in the grass.  Typically no more than 60 lb of nitrogen is recommended in one application and typically applications should be scheduled 30 or more days apart. I personally don’t like over 45 lb of nitrogen in one application because if it turns off dry, high rates of nitrogen can cause forage to accumulate nitrates.

Grazing Annual Cover Crops

Grazing Annual Cover Crops

“Can we graze cover crops?”  The answer is yes, with an “it depends” attached.  It depends on soil conditions, the growth stage of the cover cro,; the reason you planted cover crops, and whether you’re involved in a conservation plan or program that requires other criteria.  Annual cover crops can be utilized quite well by grazing livestock, and they can also be part of a cropping system that can enhance the soil resource, but if grazed then it has to be managed correctly.

The nutritional values of most cover crops will meet the needs of most grazing livestock.  The ability to utilize annuals with grazing livestock allows longer rests periods for pastures, and also the ability to grow more forage, and graze longer reducing the amount of fed feed. Utilizing livestock on a cropland field can also be advantageous for increasing biological activity because of all the added flora of the rumen.  The majority of the nutrients that run through a ruminant animal are placed right back onto the ground from where they came.  The grazing of slightly more mature material mixed with a lower carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio species can help increase soil organic matter and get the nutrients in a more available form for the next crop.

These reasons can be positive as long as the primary purpose of the cover crop is not compromised.  Grazing must not cause any additional compaction problems, erosion, and/or rutting, and there must be adequate live plant material left behind.  This live plant residual is needed for adequate growth for the primary purpose(s) of the cover crop such as adequate cover for erosion control, winter survival, and adequate leaf area available for termination; sufficient root growth to reduce compaction and recycle nutrients; etc.

Dry or frozen soils are the ideal conditions to graze cover crops.  The livestock should not be grazing the cover crop under wet soil conditions unless a large amount (>2 tons/acre) of mature vegetation is present.  These larger amounts are normally only accomplished from a summer planting.  The key here is to not increase compaction…at all…nor to cause pugging that will cause erosion or hinder no-till planting of the cash crop next spring.

The cover crops also need adequate growth available before any grazing is initiated.  The start grazing height will vary some according to the species, but generally you want a minimum of eight (8) inches of growth for most species and rarely do you want to graze it down any lower than four (4) inches.  Maintaining adequate live plant residual is critical in keeping the plant growing and serving the intended primary purpose.

Livestock should not be left in any one area for a very long period.  Ideally, livestock should be moved or allocated new forage every 1-2 days.  Larger allotments can be utilized, but expect slightly less efficiency.  Livestock can remove vegetation very fast; keep a keen eye on the cover crops to make sure they are not overgrazed.  The cover crop should be checked every day, whether moving the livestock or not.

The best utilization and control is achieved by strip grazing annual cover crops.  Strip grazing is allocating out a set amount of forage that you know will meet the needs of the livestock for a set time frame and still maintain the required live plant residual after removing the livestock.  This can be achieved with reels of poly-wire and step-in posts.  Generally you will want three sets (reel and sufficient posts) for the front fence, the back fence, and the fence of the next move.

If grazing highly digestible forages add some roughage to slow the passage through their rumen enabling them to absorb nutrients.  The best solution is to not select only highly digestible, high nitrogen forages for a cover crop when they may be grazed.  These highly digestible forages move quite quickly through the livestock’s digestive system when grazed alone.  Planting a mix of forages that will provide both fiber and protein in balance is ideal.  An example could be mixing a warm season annual grass with a brassica in late summer to be grazed later that fall or early winter after the warm season grass has dried off.  Grazing cover crops in the early reproductive stage is the best way to slow the rate of passage through the animal.  You can also feed some hay or soyhulls to slow down the rate of passage.

Water should be provided to the grazing livestock and moved on a regular basis to keep them from spending too much time in any one area.  Portable tanks and water lines are a good way to do this.  Having hydrants or quick couplers located along one side of the field will allow multiple connecting sites.

It is rare to have good soil conditions for grazing throughout the entire fall, winter, and early spring.  Generally, do not leave livestock on the field all winter long.  They should be moved off the site if soil conditions dictate the need to prevent degradation, even if there is available forage still present.  Have a plan to move the livestock off of the field during wet periods, such as moving them to a perennial pasture or sacrifice lot, until ground conditions are okay to continue grazing.  Do not feed the livestock any feed or hay out on the cropland field to prevent excessive gathering and trampling.  Overused sites will become compacted!

Summer idle ground could also be planted to an annual cover crop mix, then grazed either during the growing period, or stockpiled for fall or winter use.

A cover crop mix to consider for grazing and soil health is:

Species                               Pounds/AC       

               Cereal Rye                         40

               Wheat                                 26

               Crimson Clover                 4

               Turnips                               1

               Radish                                 2

                                                            73

The rate of wheat could be increased to as much as 100 lb/ac.  If you are real adventurous you can add a couple of pounds of buckwheat and one pound of sunflowers. The buckwheat and sunflowers will freeze out at first frost.  Perennials properly managed build soil better and more cost effectively than annuals it is typically only recommended to seed annuals in fields with less than 50% desirable stand of cool season perennials like tall fescue because money spent on fertilizer instead of seed would yield more return.  The best pasture to drill cool season annuals in is warm season pastures like bermudagrass, crabgrass, dallisgrass and johnsongrass pastures.

Managing Pastures for Horses and Mud

Managing Pastures for Horses and Mud

Living in mud creates an unhealthy environment for a horse. Mud harbors bacteria and fungal organisms which cause diseases such as abscesses, scratches, rain scald, and thrush. Mud is also a breeding ground for insects, especially filth flies. Insects are annoying at best and at worse carry diseases, bite, and can cause allergic reactions.  If horses are fed on muddy ground they can ingest dirt or sand particles with hay. This can lead to sand colic, a very serious digestive disorder. Standing in mud can lower body temperature, causing unthriftyness and even hypothermia. In summer the temperature on unvegetated soil can be 9 degrees F hotter than vegetated land. Mud also creates a slick, unsafe footing which can cause slips and injuries for both horses and humans. Due to the weight of horses, their habits, and the closeness of grazing, paddocks can easily be overgrazed and when soils are saturated, vegetation is easily mudded out.

 

The first step in reducing mud (organic matter and water) is management of surface runoff from roofs, roads and the watershed in general. Locate structures and facilities on well drained areas away from drainage ways and sensitive areas.  Locate facilities (barns, shade, water, feed areas, etc) so runoff doesn’t directly enter any water bodies (ponds, streams, intermittent streams, wetlands, sinkholes, depression areas, well heads, etc.).  Typically guttering, dips in road, grassed waterways, and diversions, will address most runoff problems.  Tile drainage can be used for saturated soils if the area is not a “wetland”.

 

Vegetation: It is the nature of a horse to graze continuously and to graze close. Horses prefer grasses over other vegetation types. Good vegetation management begins with having an alternative place for horses off of the grass when the vegetation is vulnerable to damage. Vegetation should be grazed no closer than 3” for tall fescue and 2” for bermudagrass.  Start grazing when grass is 5” to 8” tall.  Begin grazing time gradually- too much pasture can cause serious problems.  Start grazing about an hour at a time and work up to several hours over a period of weeks. Ideally paddocks would be established in the turf grasses tall fescue and bermudagrass. Tall fescue has the longest growing season and bermudagrass is the most resilient. Generally these will be present in separate paddocks with 30% of the paddocks being bermudagrass.  Stockpile grass on some of the paddocks for use during dormant periods (drought or cold). When soils are saturated horses need to be off of the paddocks.  A stall can serve this purpose but most horse owners prefer to have horses outside for at least a couple of hours three or more times a week.

 

Heavy Use Area: A small heavy use area surfaced with rock (3/8” diameter or smaller) is recommended for exercise and protecting grass paddocks.  The recommended size of an exercise lot (heavy use area) depends on the horse’s nature, exercise, and age.  The size of the heavy use area can vary from 16’ x 16’ area to a long, narrow enclosure (20’ or 30’ wide by 100 feet) where the horse could actually trot or even gallop.    The exercise area could be used by multiple horses at different times.  The heavy use area would be best located central to all of the paddocks.  Typically it is best to have facilities such as water, mineral, shade, and feed separated for animal distribution.  In this case since the paddocks are small placing water and shade on the same heavy use area will keep the cost down and get maximum use from the heavy use area.

 

Fencing: Choose the safest fencing you can for your sacrifice area and paddocks. Horses are hard on fences however, they tend to respect electric fencing.  Best if perimeter fence of paddocks is equivalent to a 5 wire or more high tensile electric fence and interior fence is polytape.  White coated high tensile wire is more visible than high tensile wire.  Some owners report problems with high tensile wire cutting horses.  If polytape is slightly twisted it will shake less in the wind. The minimum recommended size for paddocks is 0.4 ac/horse (1.2 ac{0.4 x 3 paddocks}/horse).  A minimum of 2 gates should be installed so gates can be rested, reseeded, and etc. Locate gates for optimum use and flexibility in dividing up paddocks.  Grouping horses will reduce management and cost.

 

Paddocks:

Alternative 1 (Horses provided full feed): In addition to the stall and heavy use area it’s recommended to have a minimum of two grassed paddocks.  0.4 ac/ paddock x 2 = 0.8 ac/ horse. Example: 5 horses = two 2ac paddocks 4 acres total needed in addition to stalls and heavy use area.  .

 

Alternative 2 (Horses provided 2/3 to full feed): If no stall is used a minimum of a heavy use area is needed with three paddocks.  0.4 ac/ paddocks x 3 = 1.2 ac/horse.  Example: 5 horses = three 2ac paddocks 6 acres total needed in addition to a heavy use area.

 

Alternative 3: No stall or heavy use area (Approximately one ton of hay would need to be fed per horse): If no stall or heavy use area is used to control horse access to paddocks a minimum of 3 paddocks are needed with a minimum of 0.8 to 1.0 acres/paddock, = 2.5 to 3.0 acres/horse.  Rotate horses to maintain vegetation on the paddocks and allow fields to rest and recover after grazing.  Example: 5 horses = three 5ac paddocks.  Total acres needed = 15acres.

 

Healthier pastures mean more pasture productivity, healthier horses, and a cleaner environment.
 

Reference:

“Horses for clean water”

http://www.horsesforcleanwater.com

Cowboy Math – Acres per Paddock

Cowboy Math – Acres per Paddock

This table assumes 5 inches of growth at turn in and good to excellent forage weighing 300 pounds per acre inch.  Livestock numbers are based on 1,000-pound animals with a calf up to 300 pounds.  Consumption rate is based on an average of 2.6 percent of body weight consumed per day throughout the year. Paddock size is an estimate that is best kept within 30% of recommended size.  Recommended paddock size is based on the assumed production information in the table.

 

Rotation Frequency

3.5

7

14

Grazing Efficiency

 

65%

50%

35%

Herd/Head

 

    ———-acres—–

10

1

2.5

7

20

2

5

14

30

3

7

21

40

4

10

28

50

5

12

35

60

5.5

15

42

70

6.5

17

49

80

7.5

19

56

90

8.5

22

62

100

9.5

24

69

150

14

36

104

200

19

49

139

250

23

61

173

300

28

73

208

Acres/     = (Animal Wt.) X (Intake Rate in % Body Weight) X (Animal No.) X (Days on Paddock) Paddock                        (Inches) X (Pounds per Acre Inch) X (% Grazing Efficiency)

Example 1

Where should I locate water in a 16-acre or smaller field?  Given: 50-head cow herd weighing 1,000 pounds, turn cattle in field at 5” height on good forage, rotation is seven days.

Answer:  The best location for water would be in the middle of a fence line, because for a seven-day rotation, 12-acre paddocks are recommended.  If all fields are of similar size, water could be placed in every other fence line provided that travel distance to water is less than 800’ (water point’s 1,600’ apart3).

Grazing Efficiency2

 

Number of Paddocks

Approximate Days

on Each Paddock

Grazing Efficiency Includes

Maintaining Minimum Stubble

Continuous

——-

40% or less

or (80% over-grazed, low yield)

4 to 6 paddocks

7 to 9 days

40 to 55%

8 to 10 paddocks

4 days

55 to 65%

24 to 45 paddocks

1 day or less

70 to 80%

Hay

——-

70 to 80%

Grazing Efficiency2

 

Number of Paddocks

Approximate Days

on Each Paddock

Grazing Efficiency Includes

Maintaining Minimum Stubble

Continuous ——-

40% or less

or (80% over-grazed, low yield)

4 to 6 paddocks 7 to 9 days 40 to 55%
8 to 10 paddocks 4 days 55 to 65%
24 to 45 paddocks 1 day or less 70 to 80%
Hay ——- 70 to 80%

3 Recommended Travel Distance to Water

Lactating Dairy

400-600’

Herds water as a group if travel distance is over 800’ or lead cow travels over hill or leaves shade for water.

Beef Cows, Stockers, Horses, Sheep, or Goats

800’

1000’ flat land