Washburn County has nearly 40,000 acres in some form of pasture, with a majority of them in a continuous grazing system. This is where an area is fenced, the livestock remain there all season long, and they have access to the entire pasture.
Livestock are naturally selective in what they eat. They will always select the most nutritious, best tasting, and generally the easiest to eat forages. When the preferred forage begins to regrow, it will most likely be eaten again. As we know from mowing our lawns, regrowth of grasses will occur within five days. This new growth tastes better and its quality is better than the more mature forage. This is called spot grazing and over time leads to poor forage composition and low yielding pastures. Symptomatic of this situation is the low yielding; shorter growing, and often weedy, blue grass, and white clover dominated pastures.
As many farmers already know, there is a better way and this is through rotational grazing. What is rotational grazing? It simply is dividing a pasture and rotating the livestock within them. While there are benefits that can come from dividing your pasture into two parts: by making a few more subdivisions, limiting the grazing period to four days or less, and allowing the pastures to recuperate, there will be better forage composition along with a dramatic increases in forage production. When compared to continuously grazed pastures, observed yields have doubled.
Conservation groups and agencies are also getting behind rotational grazing. Healthy, lush pastures intercept and infiltrate more rainwater. This runoff water accumulates within a watershed and picks up nutrients and sediments on its way to our lakes and streams. Everyone benefits in keeping these nutrients and water in the fields and pastures instead. Taking difficult fields to farm, such as those that are rocky and or steep and converting them into rotationally grazed pastures produces considerable higher reductions. Using watershed modelling programs there can be a 90% or higher reduction in the level of phosphorous and sediment leaving these fields when converted to rotationally grazed pasture.
The County Land Conservation Department here in Washburn county as well other counties in Wisconsin are providing cost share assistance for fencing, livestock access lanes, stream crossings, watering facilities (year around, seasonal and portable to include wells, pipes and troughs), and for pasture establishment (soil amendments, tillage, seed and seeding). The cost sharing is at 70%. It also pays for in-kind labor and equipment use. Often when the landowner provides this it will meet or exceed the 30% landowner’s share.
If interested in learning more about financial and planning assistance contact the Washburn County Land and Water Conservation Department at (715) 468-4654 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perhaps an even better place to start is by contacting the NW Wisconsin Graziers Network to visit with an experienced grazier, who can help you sort out your options when considering rotational grazing. Call (715) 268-8778 to visit with a Grazing Network member, to learn more about how easy it could be to begin rotational grazing your livestock.