Early grazing can be a viable option for producers this spring
Most producers’ turnout dates for grazing are between May 1 and May 15. However, with some stockpiling of last year’s growth and other managerial practices, producers can utilize early grazing of their pastures and have a sooner turnout date.
“If a producer wants to run a profitable ranch, they need to graze as long as possible, and early grazing of pastures is a part of that,” says Dallas Mount, University of Wyoming’s sustainable management of rangeland resources educator.
“Almost all ranches should be able to graze year round if they match their production system to their environment, and early grazing is certainly an option for producers,” explains Mount. “The only people who would be out of year-round and early grazing are the ones who often have more than two feet of snow on the ground.”
“Producers are going to need carry over forage from previous growing years to be able to early graze,” continues Mount.
Producers should consider rotating through the early pastures fairly quickly to promote the growth of the perennial native grasses – a type of management that is referred to as flash grazing.
Mount warns, “It can be damaging to pastures when producers turn their livestock on to early graze and stay on those pastures for a long period. The most important factor is allowing those grazed plants to fully recover before another grazing occurs.”
“If a producer feels like they are in a pasture early and the plants are going to be susceptible to the pressure of early grazing, they should not be in the same pasture every spring,” warns Mount.
Early grazing in one pasture for an extended period of time can be damaging to the grasses, and the way to mitigate the damage is to rotate through pastures during spring grazing and allow complete recovery after grazing.
“The most important thing when flash grazing is to allow those plants to fully recover before they are grazed again,” says Mount. “Coming back too soon to re-graze those pastures would create a problem. Producers are going to want to allow those plants the opportunity to fully recover.”
Mount adds that moisture is a big contributing factor to the amount of regrowth and the recovery period forages incur to be ready for grazing again.
“If we have a dry spring, it might take the rest of the growing season to fully recover those plants,” states Mount. “If we have a nice wet spring, those plants might recover in 45 to 60 days and be ready for another graze.”
“Plants are very susceptible to damage when grazing earlier in the growing season than they are later,” comments Mount. “If producers have access to farm ground and some cultivated forages, they can provide some early grazing options that rangelands or native grasses will not.”
Mount adds, “However, the use of early grazing planted forages is only available to folks who want to be in the farming business, as well.”
When native perennial grasses become damaged, the likelihood of other unwanted grasses, such as cheatgrass, becomes more prevalent.
Ranchers often try to graze cheatgrass early since that is the only time the plant is palatable to livestock.
While cheatgrass grazing can be done in some cases, producers should use caution and be diligent in observing what the livestock are grazing.
“If producers are flash grazing their cheatgrass in the spring, they want to be off of that cheatgrass before those native perennials start to come on,” advises Mount. “Often times, folks stay in those pastures even just five days too long, and that will damage those native perennials and cause cheatgrass patches to expand.”
Mount mentions one of the causes for cheatgrass becoming established in pastures is due to the perennial grasses at one point became damaged, and with continuous damage to the perennial grasses, the cheatgrass problem is going to become larger, rather than reduce in size.
The amounts and the types of supplements required for livestock while early grazing depends on several factors.
Some of the these factors include the stage of pregnancy a cow is in, if they are lactating, the overall energy and protein requirements of the livestock and what the land provides in terms of energy and protein.
“As long as there is enough energy out there during grazing, the livestock should be just fine,” says Mount. “It all depends on when a producer wants their calving season to be and what the livestock need to be supplemented with.”
Mount says there is no silver bullet forage that will meet livestock needs year-round, and several systems of operation and management practices need to be considered before producers implement early grazing.
Producers should also watch out for grass tetany when their livestock are early grazing pastures and eating the lush early green grass.
Grass tetany is a metabolic disease resulting from a magnesium deficiency and is more common in lactating cows.
“Cows that are lactating and grazing lush early growth green pastures are going to need a magnesium supplement,” explains Mount. “Magnesium reduces the incidence of grass tetany from occurring in cattle and should be considered as a supplement for lactating cattle grazing early growth grass.”
Mount mentions most producers put magnesium out with their mineral, and feed stores sell a spring grass mineral supplement that has a higher concentration of magnesium to combat grass tetany issues.