Based on our grazing work in North America, we’ve concluded there is probably no more important –yet less validated- grazing attribute than proper recovery period. Plants that are grazed simply need adequate time to recover from defoliation.
Just because it grows back, doesn’t mean it’s recovered.
If the recovery period is insufficient, for too long, the desired plants will be ultimately subdued and/or replaced by other, better adapted species. Unfortunately “subdued plants” are tired plants, they can perform very poorly, are more drought sensitive, have lower quality, and may not reproduce. While “replacement species” are usually vigorous, they are almost always less desirable, less productive, and can easily overtake a weakened pasture.
Then we spend our time unknowingly treating the symptoms by spraying, burning, applying animal impact, reseeding, or otherwise fighting back while our desired plant community may be just simply,…. tired and needing a rest. Does this sound familiar?
Think about RECOVERY.
What is a proper recovery period?
When contemplating recovery periods, three things should be considered; 1) moisture conditions, 2) plant type and then 3) grazing intensity. Let’s use a simple “controlled” example: Irrigated pasture. Under these conditions there is a lot of grace (consistent moisture and hardy plants), and recovery periods can be relatively short and become primarily a function of grazing intensity.
So, generally speaking recovery periods may range from 20- 45 days depending on the intensity of grazing. The higher the intensity the longer the recovery time needed and visa-versa.
Now let’s consider less “controlled” situations: rangelands-natural rainfall (<20”), native plants, and moderate grazing use. Typical locations might be: Big Timber MT, Bison SD, Tensleep WY, Salida CO, Ellensburg WA, O’Neal NE, Raton NM, or Buffalo OK.
Based on these intermountain and western plains areas, we have begun to see the impressive results using extended recovery periods ranging from 13- 30 months in duration.
And guess how we’ve come to these conclusions…
Ask the land
So what IS the proper rest period for your country? … Why don’t you ask it? One of several simple monitoring devices we encourage is to construct a permanent grazing exclosure – call it a recovery pen if you’d like. Picture at least a 16’x16’ area (or larger) permanently fenced, pen sized area, located at a few places on the ranch. Once completed, just be patient, and watch.
What we have observed thus far, in all cases, is improvement. It may start slowly at first (1 or maybe 2 growing seasons), but then ecological aspects will begin to move ahead positively (improved infiltration, new species, higher production to name a few) for the next 1-2 years. Following this, with no grazing a permanent period of decline will at some point begin to occur.
There are managers who are moving to these “extended recovery periods” with success, and in one case a Montana rancher now essentially carries his whole herd on 1/3rd of his ranch (using multiple pastures) each year, resting the other 2/3rds. Each year the herd moves onto the “1/3” which has been rested for 2 years. Though utilization is high, and animal performance just adequate, his pastures look exceptional. I believe he has keyed in on the idea of recovery. Is his approach sustainable? …time will tell.
So what is this saying?
There a lot of ranchers who are likely aware of old permanent exclosures in their area. For years these “examples” have been used to show the negative long term effects of NOT GRAZING (kind of old news actually). And most of the time this is true. However, what we are saying is to really observe the short term (2-4 year) effects of rest and what it may produce.
We have now seen in all cases so far, that 2-4 years of rest have dramatically changed and improved water infiltration, organic matter, desirable plants, species diversity, plant vigor, and production. In some cases, native species we didn’t know could be present have begun to show up and thrive.
So what should you do?
The first step: Don’t take our word for it.
We encourage you to really think about your recovery periods and ask yourself how they were determined. Then you might want to ask your land instead of a book or your neighbor. Unfortunately, there are a number of land managers who are failing in their mission because they are so focused on “doing things right” (and by the book) that they miss answering the most important question: Are they “doing the right things?” (looking at the land).
So, here is a “right thing” suggestion – try building a few of these “recovery pens” on some of your different land types (or concern areas) and watch them over the next few years…and pay attention. If nothing changes then it is good confirmation of your management. But if change does occur, the land may be trying to tell you something.
And if you want to have better skills to quickly track and validate management practices, small lessons like this, taught at Land EKG schools, can certainly help.
If you have interest or questions regarding a school for your area, please give us a call at (307) 366-2445 or go to our contact page.
IN OUR NEXT LAND EKG E-NEWSLETTER ISSUE:
New Concepts for the Grazing Index
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