As a cattle producer, one of your goals is probably being able to run more cows on the same amount of grass, but you don’t want to kill your pastures to get there. That is why many farmers and ranchers are turning to Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) to increase stocking densities while still keeping pastures in prime condition.
What is Management Intensive Grazing? Put simply in an article by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, MIG “refers to several grazing systems wherein animals are allowed to graze only a small, individual paddock while other paddocks are rested and allowed to recover.
By rationing the pasture in a MIG system, Georgia farmers can make more efficient use of their land than if they continually keep animals in one large pasture (i.e., continuous stocking). Grazing systems, of which there are many variations, can increase the yield of animal products per acre and, in most cases, net profit per farm.
Using MIG practices might mean changing your way of thinking about grazing livestock. First, you will need to remove continuous grazing from your management tool belt. You will need to create smaller sections of pasture – the actual size of your smaller sections will depend on your region, water availability to that section, current height of the grass, and the dry matter (DM) requirements for your herd (beef cows require 3 percent of their body weight). Electric fencing or netting is often used to quickly and efficiently create smaller pasture sections.
Cattle should be left in the smaller sections to graze for one to three days. Depending on the size of the section being grazed, this is an adequate amount of time for all the plants in the pasture to be utilized for grazing, but not so long that the forages are overgrazed. A general rule of thumb is to leave two-thirds of the height of the forage intact when the cattle leave the pasture. For example, if the grass was 6-inches tall when the cattle entered the pasture, there should be about 4-inches of forage left when they leave.
Joel Salatin, nationally-known grazier from Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va., refers to this two-thirds as the “second bite.” Allowing the cows to eat down that “second bite” damages the health of the plants, but when the “second bite” remains untouched, it generates better photosynthesis in the plants, leading to thicker forage growth and a deeper root base for when the cows come back around.
What are other benefits of putting MIG practices into place. There are less inputs on your part, for starters – by frequently moving your herd from pasture to pasture, you are letting them do the fertilizing for you. Plus, with the combination of evenly applied manure with the “second bite” of forages left behind, you are also increasing the level of organic matter in fields, which leads to better soil aeration and aerobic activity, better water holding capacity, higher levels of Cation Exchange Capacity, and the addition of more nutrients to the soil.
Using MIG will also encourage better utilization of forages – being in a smaller area, the cows will need to eat all their greens, so pasture waste will be reduced drastically. By using MIG to foster the health of your pastures, you also reduce the risk of drought stress on your forages. The grasses will form a deeper, more extensive root base if they are not stressed from overgrazing and putting all their energy into reproducing more leaves. This will eventually lead to an extended grazing season.


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