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The Fast Farmer: Grazing

Grazing management is an incredibly powerful way to increase the profitability of your farm business. In fact, a study using data from the AgriProfit Business Analysis & Research Program compared the profit per acre of growing grass to the profit of growing spring wheat, barley and canola, and grazing had the highest profit per acre every single time, over a 10 year period. As a bonus, grazing management also offers your farm the following benefits:

• Improving the land’s ability to withstand drought
• Reduction of soil erosion
• Promotion of biodiversity
• Enhancement of water quality and quantity
• Production of healthy food products
• Providing habitat for wildlife and insects that pollinate crops
• Assistance in carbon sequestration, mitigating climate change

However, it’s also a tool that can be intimidating to learn about if you’re new to it. If you’re like us, you’ve probably seen and heard just enough about grazing that you’re intimidated to give it a try and unsure where to start.
Working with the Alberta Forages Industry Network, we designed this series of workshops specifically to give you only the critical starting steps you’ll need to create a basic plan and install a simple fencing and water system. It will also walk you through the 4 essential principles of grazing and give powerful examples of how those principles have been used by successful producers in various climates, ranging from large operations to very small farms starting from scratch.
This page is set up so that you can go through the series in a linear flow from top to bottom, or you can jump ahead and click on any of the workshop links that interest you. As this grazing series is the initial “pilot” of FarmOn’s new Fast Farmer program, we would love to know what you think of the content and this format of learning. You can get in touch with Sarah or Ben any time to let us know what you think, or send an email to info@farmon.com

 

Grazing Stories

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We’ve found that there’s something people have in common who are good at rotational grazing. They have a huge passion for growing grass, caring for livestock, restoring land and soil, protecting water and habitats, and finding innovative ways to produce a healthy profit. And we thought the best way to get that across was with a few short videos. Click the photo above to check them out.

 

The Four Principles of Grazing
There are 4 basic principles that apply to all successful grazing operations, regardless of location, size or climate. They work in South Africa and they work in northern Alberta. This workshop will explain what each of the 4 principles are, and how you can get started in implementing them in your operation.

The 4 Principles of Grazing Management

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The 4 Principles of Grazing are:
1) Overgrazing – What is it and how can you tell if you’re doing it?
2) Rest – What is it and how can you tell when your pasture has had enough rest?
3) Stocking Density – How can you tell if you’re stocking density is too heavy or too light?
4) Monitoring – How to track changes in your pasture and its productivity.

 

Planning

The best place to set up your grazing system isn’t anywhere on your pasture, it’s in your office. Do yourself a massive favour and before you go setting anything up, spend a bit of time planning it out. Are you going to use permanent cross fencing or portable wire? How are you getting water out to each area of your pasture? What’s the best route to get animals back to a processing location for treating a sick animal? Are there riparian or wooded areas that you’ll need to fence off or graze differently? Figuring it out ahead of time on paper, as much as possible, will save you time, money, and headaches.
The following two workshops will walk you through a simple process to get some of the basic elements of a grazing system down on paper. We’ve created one for designing a plan using portable cross fencing, and one using permanent cross fencing with an alley system. Feel free to check them both out and see which one is the best fit for your operation.

How To Design a Grazing Plan Using Portable Cross Fencing

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How To Design a Grazing Plan Using an Alley System

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With either of the above systems, a good plan always starts with getting a good aerial or satellite view of your land. If you don’t have one yet and aren’t familiar with using Google Earth, check out How To Print a Satellite Photo of Your Farm from Google Earth

 

Fencing

Grazing is nothing new, in fact farmers have been grazing cattle since the beginning of the agricultural revolution thousands of years ago. But “intensive grazing management” is relatively new. By using lectric fencing you can control stocking density on your pasture by setting up small paddocks, at a low cost. Without electric fence it just wouldn’t be feasible or economical.
We recommend setting up a permanent perimeter fence, which is actually pretty easy to do if you already have an existing barbed wire fence, by using offset insulators and high tensile wire. This workshop lays out the steps, tools and materials needed to get it done.

Installing Permanent Electric Fence

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How To Set Up Portable Electric Fence

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How To Brace a Corner Fence Post, Underground

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How To Splice High Tensile Fencing Wire

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If you’re fairly new to using electric fencing, here’s a great fact sheet that outlines how it works, with some useful tips and important safety considerations.

 

Water Systems

I think every grazer would agree that the ideal watering system is the one that requires the least amount of maintenance, and has the least number of things that can fail. We came across some brilliant ideas from some of the best grazers around, and the workshops below will walk you through how to set up something similar for your own operation.

How To Set Up a Gravity Feed Watering System

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How To Set Up a Pasture Pipeline Watering System

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Case Studies

We’ve spoken to several of the most successful grazers in Alberta, and it’s amazing how different their backgrounds are, as well as their experiences and even the types of business models they use to create profitable operations. We picked a few of their stories and created these 3 powerful case studies for you to learn from. We take a look at how each of them got started in grazing, how they adapted the 4 Priciples of Grazing, and how they turned it into a successful business.

Key points:
• Be adaptable/flexible: in land, in resources and in your mindset
• Anyone can develop a profitable grazing enterprise
• Simple, yet planned changes result in big results both for the land and for your business
• Looking after the land – will look after your profits
• Anyone can start today with small steps

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Further Resources

If you have any questions about the Fast Farmer Grazing Edition we would love to hear from you. You can Tweet us a comment or question to @FarmOn with the hash tag #FastFarmer, or email us directly at sarah.wray@farmon.com. Below are a few extra resources that we also thought you might find useful. Good luck!

Here’s a great Podcast from Permaculture Voices, interviewing a successful rancher in California who uses rotational grazing.

ForageBeef.ca offers a lot of information and fact sheets on everything from cow/calf economics to feed testing and drought management.

Thank You
The Fast Farmer: Grazing Series is the result of a lot of great people, experienced grazers and innovative farmers providing FarmOn with information and connecting us with great resources. We’d like to thank the Alberta Forages Industry Network, the Grey Wooded Forage Association, and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency in particular, for their amazing support.

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