A High Intensity Rotational Grazing Year

“Ultimately, the only wealth that can sustain any community, economy or nation is derived from the photosynthetic process – green plants growing on regenerating soil.”

Allan Savory

With ten days of sunshine and temperatures in the 50s we are beginning to see shy little blushes of green on the southern slopes and under heavy standing forage. . .

Many of you have expressed interest in the portion of the Open Gate herd that is managed under High Intensity Rotational Grazing. There are plenty of myths and misconceptions that accompany the concept, so we thought we would walk you through a full year and even answer questions as we go. I will add to this post, and re-position it at the top whenever there is new content so that you can join us on the rounds!

Mid-March (Worm Moon)

Late winter has cattle nearly mad for green grass: we save back all of our very best hay for this last 6 weeks before the rotation starts, to keep them content and give the calves plenty of opportunity to begin rumen building. Paddock choices are made according to where there is open water, and where we left standing forage the previous fall as a nursery environment for earliest growth.

Late April (Egg Moon)

Called the Egg Moon in Northern European agricultural tradition because the soil is beginning to awaken and many soil dwelling critters along with it: I am seeing beetles, centipedes, ants and lots of worm activity, all of which makes an excellent stimulus for the poultry and other avian species to begin accelerated laying and nesting . . . signs of the soil warming to active levels.

So April is the month I take walk-about. It is an excellent time to survey every paddock and pasture, review my notes about the previous year’s grazing cycle, and survey what is happening. So many things affect the start-up of my forages that I need to be mindful from year to year of the impacts of previous decisions or challenges in order to learn from my mistakes, and also harness the successes.

This paddock was grazed hard in early winter; we were laying down some extra fertility by bunching up the mob on standing forage. The trade off was less cover, less snow catch, and less reserves in the root system going into dormancy.
So it will need extra time to break dormancy and begin to re-establish a good root mass. I’ll push off the first grazing until full recovery is reached.
Here is a paddock on similar soil and with a similar forage base, but with good cover left over winter. It went into dormancy with excellent reserves and the old forage provides a nursery environment to preserve moisture and mitigate cold nights. It may not look like a great deal now, but an extra week or two of good root development will translate to explosive growth once the conditions are optimal. I know already this will be ready to graze early.

Many of the observations I make on the pasture tours are simple common sense – but by taking the time to inventory what I see, and ask myself some key questions, a logical plan soon comes together.

  • site situation (south slope? better soil? better irrigation? more snow catch?)
  • management decisions (overgrazed? undergrazed? rest periods too short?)
  • improvement opportunity (poor plant population? monospecies? too far from water? fencing issues?)
  • what are this paddock’s strengths? weaknesses? am I missing an opportunity to think outside the box?

Take some time, over a couple of evenings, to sketch out a simple map of all your pastures, including the notes made on your tour, and you will be well positioned to draft a very sensible plan for beginning rotation. 🤓

“Not making a choice IS a choice and not making a decision IS making a decision.”

Jim Gerrish

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