Management opportunities increase grazing benefitsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
“Unconventional grazing systems are, in some ways, a matter of perspective. What is normal in some parts of the United States may be really unusual in different parts,” noted Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) National Partnership Liaison Jess Jackson in a Nov. 17 webinar.
Herding animals is more common in the West than in the East, for example, and invisible fencing is a new technology that is becoming more popular in some areas.
Producers considering unconventional methods may explore resource-matching avenues, management abilities or the opportunities presented by the landscape.
Drivers for change
“Most people are driven by the profit motive. All of us need to pay the bills,” commented Jackson.
Managing resources may also promote change, such as in areas with weeds that are palatable to some species of livestock but not others.
“We can also use different kinds of grazing animals for brush management,” he added. “In some cases, it’s just the opportunity to diversify the operation.”
Because different kinds of livestock have different diets, using unconventional grazing methods can create opportunities to increase production on a given piece of property.
“If we’re trying to get more animals, the normal response is that livestock producers want to add more of what they already have,” he remarked. “In my experience in Iowa, for example, we could add about one goat per cow and not see any difference in the vegetation and forage because there is so much difference in their diets.”
Increasing saleable products may also motivate producers to change grazing management to allow for a new diversity of products, such as meat and milk, meat and hair or wool, or for hunting rights.
“We don’t often think about the recreational or tourism aspects of grazing systems,” Jackson noted. “Also, with the growing concern about pollinators like honeybees, there may be some opportunities there. We need to think outside the box and look for creative opportunities.”
Although there may be many advantages to unconventional grazing systems, it is also important to be aware of the risks.
“It takes awhile to learn the process,” Jackson mentioned, adding that changes require commitment, expertise and managers who are willing to embrace the changes.
“One of the things I tell producers is that the coffee shop mafia will make fun of them. Almost anytime something is new, there is resistance to that change. But, as producers make more trips to deposit checks at the bank and as they are grazing instead of feeding hay, the neighbors in the coffee shop mafia tend to quiet down,” he added.
Big changes may require help as well, and producers can reach out to other experts to gain experience and advice. For example, producers who have already implemented similar management may be able to help determine what techniques might be successful on another place.
Asking for help
“At NRCS, we have state and national center specialists and national discipline leaders,” Jackson commented.
Land-grant universities and research personnel may be helpful, and other state or federal agencies often have experts as well.
“I learn from other folks in other agencies all the time,” he continued.
Well-managed grazing systems provide significant ecological benefits, including good water quality, soil health, wildlife and more.
“As we look at the future of agriculture in the United States, it makes good sense to help guide producers into considering unconventional grazing opportunities,” Jackson said.