Tips to revitalize your grasslands

Pastures can become unproductive after successive years of continuous grazing with little to no rest or recovery time, but they can also be rejuvenated through grazing management, specialists say.

Animals will tend to selectively graze the most palatable species, but left unrestricted, they will graze those plants down, leading to bare patches welcoming to invasive, less nutritious plant species and even grasshoppers.

"Overgrazing is the biggest thing leading to moving in of invader species - species that tolerate a lot of grazing and are very competitive - that can out-compete productive species for nutrients and moisture," says Bart Lardner, beef production research scientist at the University of Saskatchewan.

If the plant community suffers, so too will livestock, which aren't receiving their energy, protein, fibre, vitamin and mineral needs.

"It's a balance between the needs of your plant community and your objectives for animal performance," Lardner says.

Rest and management

The first priority for an overgrazed pasture is to provide it rest, says agronomist and Canadian Forage and Grassland Association executive director Cedric MacLeod.

Unproductive pastures due to overgrazing need a rest from livestock in order to revive. Tweet this

Cross-fencing can provide that, splitting a pasture into paddocks.

"The more paddocks you have, the longer those get to rest," says Lardner.

University of Guelph plant scientist Ralph Martin favours a system of grazing at high density for as little as a day, to help control weeds and restore conditions for desirable grasses and legumes.

"The best way to restore pastures is to graze them, i.e., with high density for short periods and then allow enough recovery time before grazing that paddock again," Martin says.

Utilize the biomass down to a certain stubble height, leaving, approximately half to 40 per cent, Lardner says.

"And with that high stock rate, you get the effect of manure nutrient cycling, you get the effect of hoof impaction, so you're speeding up the recycling, decomposition process," Lardner says.

Then give it one to two months or even longer if necessary to allow those grazed plants time to recover, he says.

Low adoption

Rotational grazing is not a new concept but the message still needs to get out there as the farming community hasn’t yet widely embraced it, MacLeod says. In many cases after a long winter of feeding livestock, farmers are eager to get their animals out to pasture as soon as possible.

Martin adds that too few farmers have enough paddocks with accessible water in order to move cattle at least once per day.

But for producers to manage an invaluable resource like their pastures and soil, implementing a grazing system is crucial, Lardner says.

Bottom line

Continuous grazing can lead to unproductive plant growth and decreased nutritional benefits to livestock. Moving livestock to another paddock, working to establish high density grazing and rotational grazing are some ways to help revive the pasture plant life.

Article by: Richard Kamchen