Late last year, the folks with Ranching for Profit , Western Sustainability Exchange, and Crazy Mountain Stockgrowers hosted an informational session on ranch profitability and cell grazing. At this interesting event, we picked up a handful of “rules of thumb” worth sharing.
The focus on cell grazing was presented from the angle of being a “grassman” before being a more traditional “cattleman”. The management technique of cell grazing aims to increase carrying capacity, which goes hand-in-hand with overcoming the effects of more traditional overgrazing practices that result from improving production at the cost of capacity.
Overgrazing is strictly a function of time. Often overgrazing results from keeping animals in a paddock too long or bringing them back to a parcel of land too soon. Cell grazing can help address and correct over grazing, but the number of paddocks utilized is key in determining the outcomes of the approach. As a rule of thumb:
If less than eight (8) - ten (10) paddocks, the herd can be rotational, but will be overgrazing.
With about eight (8) - to ten (10) pastures, the plants can receive enough rest to no longer be overgrazed.
With 14 - 16 paddocks, the rotation can be good for animal performance, but not yet ideal for range improvement.
With more than 25 pastures, cell grazing promotes rapid range improvement.
Though there are various rules of thumb in the number of pastures utilized, ultimately cell grazing requires going where the resource (grass) says you go. Beyond the number of paddocks, there are various levers that can be adjusted in cell grazing including:
Recovery period - rest depends on growth rate of grass
Graze period - short graze period increases animal productivity
Fast growth = short periods
Slow growth = long periods
Stock density - high density allows for more uniform utilization
Match stocking rate to the carrying capacity
Herd size - number of animals in a group
All of these factors give an operator options and control.