Rob Cook, chair of the National Grazing Lands Coalition, outlined what he called the “tools, techniques and strategies to improve grazing” earlier this year at CattleCon.

Cook, who is also the director for business development for Bamert Seed Company in Muleshoe, Texas, said that his work has him focusing on key strategies when it comes to maximizing farmers’ grazing lands.

“I tell farmers it’s important to promote the value of healthy grazing lands, communicate the message of stewardship, advocate for the needs of grazing land managers and develop national and state partnerships,” he stated.

Goals are important, and so is writing them down.

“It’s important to put our goals on paper to keep ourselves accountable,” Cook said. “Our research shows that when a farmer writes down his goals, he’s 42% more likely to meet those goals.”

Whether the goals are grand or modest, listing them out makes farmers feel more accountable and it will encourage their follow-through. “Whether it’s calving in a certain pasture, weaning in a certain pasture, improving pastures or providing for wildlife, don’t just talk about it,” he said. “Write it down, hang it up, have it staring you right in the face. It will help.”

Range sticks are a huge help.

Also called grazing monitoring sticks, range sticks can be a quick and user-friendly way for measuring and monitoring utilization of pasture and rangeland. Utilization measures the percent of the plant that has been removed by grazing animals. Monitoring utilization of grass can determine livestock removal dates and prevent overgrazing.

“Just five to 10 measurements in a representative area can really help farmers identify any number of things, including forage height measurements, when to start and/or stop grazing, when livestock should be moved to a new pasture, average pasture growth rates, rotation and rest period lengths and estimates of amount of available dry matter,” Cook said. “It’s a great tool.”

Tools, techniques and more to improve grazing

Rob Cook is the chair of the National Grazing Lands Coalition. Photo courtesy of Rob Cook

Precipitation records tell your story.

“We all keep track of rain – it’s what farmers do. But what rain is effective?” Cook asked. “If we get an event with five inches of rain, how much of that is effective rainfall? We need to look back year after year and understand how our rain came and when it came. We can make connections of when the precipitation came and when we saw height in and height out.”

He explained that one precipitation event with six inches of rain will not affect grazing pastures the same way three separate two-inch precipitation events will. Keeping detailed precipitation records will help a farmer plan how to maximize their grazing options.

Photo points point the way.

“I can’t stress how important photo points are,” said Cook. He noted there are a number of free apps that farmers can download that will help them track their pastures’ progress. A photo point app allows a farmer to take photos at various times throughout the year in the exact same spot, facing the exact same direction. The app logs the date, time and direction.

“We think we remember our pastures really well. We tend to remember the really highs and the really lows. But our memories are never as good as we think they are. And much like detailed precipitation records, exact photographic data of the exact same view of our fields at different times throughout the seasons can really help us understand our cycle and progress,” he said.

Understand your grazable acres.

“Just because you’ve got 100 acres you want to dedicate to grazing doesn’t mean you’ve got 100 acres for grazing,” he stated. “We don’t want to overestimate our grazable acres and find ourselves overstocked.”

Some acres will have limited production because of brush canopy or species composition. Other acreage may not be accessible to grazing animals due to topography.

“And remember,” Cook cautioned, “that surface water and especially roads take up more acreage than we think. The average road is 20 feet wide. Every mile of road on your land takes up 2.4 acres.”

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by Enrico Villamaino