I’m not sure if I can say which speaker had the most exciting information at The Expo, there were several highlights. But this was one of the top ones for me: Dr. Woody Lane’s two-hour discussion on pasture management and grass. Dr. Lane owns and operates Lane’s Livestock Services, a consulting firm. (I couldn’t find a website to which I could link…). And, everyone seems to just call him Woody. He lives in Roseburg, OR, and frequently teaches a very extensive animal nutrition course in that area.
Woody is an engaging and animated speaker, started out his talk with these fightin’ words: “Pasture rotation doesn’t work.” :-0
Since pasture rotation is “all the rage” these days, that bold statement definitely grabbed everyone’s attention! 😉 But, at the end of his talk, you see what he means, and have to agree with him in this: the pasture rotation methods you might read about in a two-page hobby farm magazine article are oversimplified and will not be very beneficial to you. You have to understand a bit more about grass and nutrition, and do some more work, to do proper pasture rotation, for maximum benefit.
Woody crystallized for me many questions I’ve been pondering as I start doing some form of pasture rotation. The simplistic methods you read about in short articles say something like this: divide your pasture into X number of squares (or rectangles), put your animals into a square until they graze the grass down to X inches, then move them to a new square, and repeat. But, I’ve noticed a few problems with this, myself:
a) outside of the growing season, what happens if you rotate through all the squares, and when you get back to the first one, the grass doesn’t look like it’s recovered enough to be ready for grazing again?
b) during the growing season, what if the number of animals I have isn’t adequate to graze the grass down to X inches in a square, because the grass is growing faster than they can eat it? And what about the other squares, where the grass is now going to seed because it’s been sitting so long?
c) how to account for the fact that different squares have different grass growth, some are dense, some are sparse, and some contain different species mixes than others?
d) how come I can leave the sheep in a square for quite a while, and still see a lot of stands of tall grass, but then also see some stands of grass that have been eaten down to a millimeter? Why aren’t they following my prescription of eating all the grass down to X inches?
e) how do I know they are not only getting enough volume to fill their bellies, but are getting enough quality nutrition for optimal growth for market?
f) why is there different advice on what the “X inches” definition is? Some say 3-4 inches, others say “really butcher it down to nothing, to simulate what the buffalo herds used to do”
g) three words: reed canary grass (if you have RCG on your farm, you know what I’m talkin’ about!)
So, yeah, there is more to pasture management than just shampoo, rinse, repeat. 😉
First, Woody reminds us of this simple fact: pasture management is all about capturing solar energy. Think of grass blades as tiny solar panels that are grabbing sunlight and converting it to stored nutrients. The #1 tonnage of food available in the world is in the form of cellulose. And, only ruminants can fully utilize it, they have the ability to digest fiber (via fermentation) and convert it into energy. So, this gives a unique perspective on the high value of sheep, goats and cattle on the planet; that they have the power to convert the world’s largest food source into products that we can eat and use.
Next: where grass and hay fall in the broad spectrum of nutritional cellulose that we feed to ruminants for growth.