Grazing Charts are an Essential Planning Tool For any Grazing Business
A grazing chart is simply the visual representation of animals moving through the property over time. Days on the x axis and groups of paddocks on the y-axis, colors per animal group per day per graze.
Take out the mystic rural affinity and a grazing business is like any other, it’s a sausage machine that has to produce something… and we all agree it can be challenging. to convert an unpredictable outcome of weather (i.e, rain) into a perishable ingredient (dry matter in forage) via a wildly variable substrate (soil) to make products with variable quality into a market with significant volatility. Trying to explain this to a mechanical Engineer with 2% tolerance for variation makes it obvious how many vagaries there are in grazing versus most other production businesses.
“The job of a Grazier is to convert precipitation into grass and grass into production, everything else is noise, culture, habit, love for animals and machinery.” Bart Davidson.
Every business is about supply and demand, and a grazing enterprise is no different. Yes, in a grazing business it can be difficult to know future grass Supply, but we can all learn to guesstimate current feed available and current Demand, i.e the daily feed demand for all the mouths we have on at the moment. It is very unlikely we will learn where we are at with grass supply and demand without a feedback loop of some kind to learn from.
- very intuitive observers of grass, animals, time, season and land type, able to carry around in their heads an accumulation of numbers and changes that the other 95% of us simply cannot; or
- they use a grazing chart. Many do both simply to make it easier.
The Power of a Grazing Chart to Unlock the Information in your property
Running a grazing chart is like opening a whole new folder full of information about your property you didn’t know existed.
- Paddock yield, in a graze, a month, a season or a year… very important to decision making!
- In the past how did you come up with prioritizing where to fertilize and what the return from that was,
- What method was used to compare the performance of different soil or feed types,
- how to track change in trend over time and get a sense of progress or decline.
How on earth can you make those decisions without knowing the monthly or annual yield of the primary ingredient consumed in your production system, aka grass? Kind of frightening when you consider the amount of money invested in seed, fertilizer, chemical, sub-division etc to do with property development and improvement… as compared to cropping where it is well known.
Stop and think about the primary difference between cropping and grazing and why croppers will know the yield per area per crop.
It is because it is how they get paid, whereas in grazing we get paid from the conversion of dry matter into animal production, with the result graziers don’t know the forage yield per paddock nor how well it was converted into beef or wool etc by the animal and hence the efficiency of this animal type or that pasture type.
Running a grazing chart can resolve this and it is so easy to do the benefits far out weigh the time cost and the time will be recouped by making better decisions so you spend less time keeping busy fixing problems. So it’s a win win as they say.
Tracking yield is as simple as tracking animal movements when the math is done for you in a digital grazing chart
How on earth can we run a grazing business (worth a small fortune in land and livestock asset values)… without knowing or having some vague idea about the actual ongoing Yield per paddock and whether what we are doing is working.
1 mob or 50, how do you balance the competing needs of individual animals for daily nutrition needs… versus pasture needs for recovery and regrazing to optimize regrowth
Most graziers would tell you they don’t know grass yield because they are still working out livestock inventory, let alone grass inventory and yield per graze. They will say it’s too hard and ignore it.
The old chestnut ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ applies here and what’s even better is that livestock measure it for you. We don’t have to measure yield, our collection of four-legged two stomach one mouth mobile harvesting unit does it for us!
All we have to do is keep track of:
- where they are now,
- when we move them to fresh pasture, and
- when their feed demand changes as stock class changes with weight gain, lactation etc.
But only if we are using a Grazing Chart.
Irrespective the style of grazing we want to use, techno high density down to set stocking, a grazing chart gives value.
Let’s get a few things straight
- using a grazing chart does not mean you graze in any particular way. It will, however, tend to result in greater awareness of and consideration for allowing recovery into your thinking, among many benefits.
- whether you graze in a set stocking pattern for some or all animals or vice versa with short duration high impact rotational grazing, any anything in between, it can be recorded in a grazing chart because the style does not affect the data record being kept. It will presumably have different impact in the paddock, but that is the point… having yield records for these differences actually makes it easy to compare actual yield within and between paddocks over time to discern these differences and impact on production.
- grazing is harvesting, it is not passive, so lowering the stocking rate per paddock does not change the amount an animal needs to eat, it is just less obvious.
- if we know the graze, we know the yield harvested, each day if we want or per graze, per month or per year time period.
- a grazing chart that is just used to record the past will not result in better decisions.
Best we regroup for a moment and remind ourselves of what we are trying to achieve in grazing.
Our goal is to:
- Make better decisions… about how much to graze, how long is enough recovery, how many stock, when to pass through lightly versus increase graze density, which paddock sequence to follow;
- Balance supply and demand not just today with one Mob but making sure I have enough feed for all animals for the next 100-150+ days, because I can ‘see’ who is getting what, across the farm, and over months into the future;
- Get the right feed into the right animal, we don’t feed our growing teenagers what we feed grandpa without any teeth do we? Animal performance matters and that means who we give what feed at what stage of the year matters;
- Learn and optimise pasture recovery periods and graze density
- Keep it practical and manageable for the people doing the doing and recording it so everyone is happy with the result. Not everyone gets the same kick out of doing a move on Sunday afternoons!
Reading up on the RCS 6 Regenerative Grazing Principles is highly recommended as a reference for grazing principles.
Remind me of the Benefit
Grazing is a dance between the weather, the soil that converts rain to grass and the animals we use to convert that grass to a product. That’s hard enough for anyone so without a grazing chart you will NOT carry around with you in your head the numbers that allow you to do it better.
Using a grazing chart gives us:
- a feedback loop. It becomes clear as day when we go back into a pasture too soon or leave it too long, could have increased the head count per area or used a different class of stock to improve weight gain and on and on the feedback, loop goes constantly
- a measure of soil and pasture species performance to get return on investment from interventions with cost, such as fencing subdivisions, adding water points, switching seed, using or changing fertiliser …
- the patterns of grazing we forget or are not aware of become clear in the results of a grazing chart, that we can then correlate to any change in ground cover, species diversity, root depth, water infiltration, etc …
- learning the individual rhythm each paddock and land area on a farm has and their different capacity to recover from grazing becomes clearer when we can see it on the chart…
- as important as anything else, as people, we go from flat out ‘hoping’ for rain or some heavenly intervention to being in control, dealing with what is in front of us
- grass as an inventory we can allocate out over time, which puts it on the farm balance sheet where it belongs instead of an assumed intangible that arrives in time (or not)
- strengthens the relationship between people (the eyes in the paddock), livestock and pasture, since it is after all a 3-way deal. All three need to be fed and rewarded for doing well
- a reference to learn from and refine. Be brilliant at the basics and the complicated becomes simple!
- a digital grazing chart overcomes the need for manual calculations that make paper charts too time consuming for some, so it removes the pain of using a calculator every graze.
If you are using MaiaGrazingLITE then you have not yet seen the MaiaGrazing Chart and probably should. If you are using paper grazing charts and want to go digital to share it with the team on their phone or tablet, take a look at MaiaGrazingPRO.
To get going with a grazing chart is not laborious, just start recording moves as they happen and MaiaGrazing will do the rest… then we can talk about planning, analytics and forecasting to leverage the data in future articles.