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Strategies for developing grazing plans, management goals shared

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

During a Feb.10 BeefResearch webinar, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Forage and Grazing Specialist Christine O’Reilly, B-C Ranches Holistic Producer Bluesette Campbell and Professional Agrologist Jeremy Brown consider the importance of developing a grazing plan. 

During the webinar, the speakers share insightful information on how to develop a grazing plan, fundamentals of planned grazing and basic grazing results. 

Developing a grazing plan 

“When we talk about planning, it’s about thinking ahead,” shares O’Reilly. “It’s thinking about what hasn’t happened yet and how producers might deal with those situations.” 

There are three practices O’Reilly recommends in order to create a successful grazing plan, including setting goals; establishing guidelines for common management decisions; and developing a framework for managing uncommon situations such as adverse weather, emergencies, etc. 

O’Reilly notes producers can set goals a number of ways, though a common method is the “SMART” goal setting method, which promotes specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals. 

“Each of these words is there to help provide more detail and structure to producers’ goals, because, with all of this information built into a goal and plan, producers are more likely to achieve their goals,” says O’Reilly. “When we talk about specific goals, it’s often answering the who, what, where and when questions.” 

She shares having measurable goals is essential in knowing and understanding if the plan is working. In addition, outlining steps involved, ensuring goals align with the overall farm goals and having the plan meet a deadline are all important factors to consider when creating a grazing plan. 

O’Reilly encourages producers to set at least one goal, but limit themselves to no more than three to five goals in a plan. This will be important in order to create an achievable plan.

The second component of developing a grazing plan is considering common management decisions. 

“If you can answer the questions: When is it time to move cattle out of a paddock? When will cattle be taken to their wintering location? Should a paddock be cut for hay or baleage instead of grazed? or When is a paddock is ready to be grazed? These are things likely to come up during a grazing season,” explains O’Reilly. 

The third category is planning for emergencies, adverse weather or uncommon events producers should consider. Disasters are not something producers expect to deal with every year, she explains.

One piece of advice O’Reilly provides is to plan for scenarios in the future, and the idea of this planning is to make sure it occurs when the operation is experiencing a stressful event and producers can objectively work through the “what if situations.”

“By planning scenarios out calmly and objectively – when producers are not in the middle of a stressful event – producers can feel a little more confident when it comes time to making a decision during a difficult situation,” she concludes. 

Fundamentals of planned grazing 

Campbell discusses two transformational concepts producers should consider when thinking about a grazing plan. 

The first fundamental grazing concept was time as a concept in overgrazing and recovery.  

“Overgrazing as a concept of time has more to do with the rate or amount of time a plant is allowed to rest in between grazing,” explains Campbell. 

“Recovery has more to do with stage of the plant and the observations of the plant and less with a magic number of time, as recovery will vary by location and growing season conditions,” shares Campbell. “It is possible to have overgrazed and undergrazed plants in the same pasture, and this is when invasive plants can take over.”  

Another fundamental of a grazing plan is the pasture ecosystem. Campbell suggests the ecosystem is a very important piece to consider when thinking about grazing. 

According to Campbell, there are four principles to an ecosystem processes: energy flow or the ability to capture solar energy; water cycle or the ability to double effective rainfall; mineral cycle or the ability to recycle minerals quickly; and community dynamics or the natural progression of plant succession. 

Campbell notes producers should stop overgrazing, and this is a factor of time. Also, producers should work to cover bare ground. These are simple things producers can do right away and make serious improvements, she concludes. 

Grazing plan and results 

“A grazing plan is simply a conscious decision of how many animals are going to be where, for how long and at what time of the year,” Brown says. “The term “plan” suggests these are decisions producers are making ahead of time, not during stressful events.” 

It’s really important for producers to take a whole-farm approach when developing a grazing plan and consider how each part of the operation works together, suggests Brown. 

“There is no one size fits all or prescriptive grazing plan which works best in every situation,” continues Brown. “A plan must be developed for the land, people and animals involved in the situation.” 

A grazing plan can be simple or detailed depending on goals and resources, as well as the tools manipulating grazing. 

Tools may include a written plan, maps and records, water development, fencing, salt placement and annual forage development, explains Brown. 

“There’s not one plan to fit everyone, but what producers do have in common is grazing principles,” Brown notes. 

These principles include an appropriate stocking rate or a balanced forage supply with animal demands; distributing grazing evenly; avoiding grazing during sensitive periods; and allowing for effective recovery between grazing events.” 

“Pasture size shouldn’t be designed based on an arbitrary size of acres, but rather be planned based on controlling the timing of grazing,” Brown continues. “Resources and forage types will be some determining factors when putting a grazing plan together.”  

When determining how many pastures to use in a grazing plan, producers can use the following formula: recovery period or the average time it takes for a pasture to fully recover from a grazed event divided by the grazing period or the maximum number of days in a pasture, plus one, continues Brown. 

Grazing charts can also be a helpful tool for producers. In reality, it will be important to adjust the plan as producers go through the summer. The grazing plan needs to be regularly updated in order to be useful. He shares, aerial maps can provide visuals of the land to see progress of the land. 

Drought can be an unexpected issue producers face in a grazing plan. Several alternative options producers can plan for may include grazing healthier pastures, finding alternate forage and water sources and destocking, shares Brown. 

At the end of the day, the results of having a grazing plan in place will support better decisions, more abundant and healthier forages and livestock, better land utilization, peace of mind, profitability and more fun, he adds.

“Every year is different, and the more tools producers can have available to adjust to changes in the growing season the easier things will go,” concludes Brown. 

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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