Broccoli and Candy - Overgrazing
Picture this: For a week, you are given the option to eat your favorite sweet treat or broccoli (without any thought of which is healthier). When there is a steady supply of that sweet treat that you love, why would you choose the broccoli if you didn’t have to?
This is a way to imagine the life of a cow in a set stocked pasture. When given free-rein to a large area, the first thing that cattle will eat is the most succulent, digestible grass they can find. This includes young and mid-maturity grasses. They will leave behind any roughage that is more mature and less palatable. What is grazed first will come back again highly palatable and digestible, so that is what the cattle will go for right away again. This cycle leaves room for problems...
Overgrazing of the individual grass plant induces a detrimental chain of events...
Young succulent plant is grazed very low to the ground – very little leaf surface area is left for the grass to photosynthesize and regrow – plant is forced to pull from any root reserves it may have to spark above ground growth – new root growth is put on hold because of this – above ground growth increases enough for cow to notice again – young succulent plant is grazed very low to the ground
This cycle is extremely hard on the plant. All of the stressors combined make the plant vulnerable to disease, drought, and pests. Eventually, this all ends with the tragic death of the plant, which leads to the next point!
The death of these species that cattle overgraze, lessens the diversity throughout that pasture. Surely you don’t want the diverse mix that you seeded to go from a 7-way blend to a 2-way blend. Diversity in a pasture is important not only for forage quality, but also soil health. Varying root and growth types improve the soil, increasing the longevity of your pastures.
Where there is a will, there is a way for weeds. Overgrazed pastures that become less diverse create a thin stand that makes weeds’ job easy. Thin stands leave room for bare soil. With the addition of moisture and heat, that bare soil will quickly fill in with weeds from the seed bank that have been patiently waiting for their time in the spotlight. These undesirable species can be difficult to rid from your pastures and take up space that could be producing valuable forage.
Aside from the detriments to the pasture itself, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the ding to forage quality for the cattle’s diet, but that is a different topic in itself... So, what is the solution for this unproductive cycle? A grazing rotation that fits your operation. This can look different for many, but see the tips for getting started here!