Drought forage reserves: In one pasture or scattered through multiple pastures?
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012
When planning forage reserves during drought, should ranchers allocate a single pasture, or scatter their reserves across multiple pastures?
The answer to this question is highly situation specific, but must be considered when allocating grazing days during a drought. Remember, it doesn't matter how many acres you set aside for drought reserves. What really matters is how many days you have set aside in reserve for your herd. You may set aside a single pasture that provides a certain number of grazing days, or you may graze multiple pastures lightly and leave plenty of standing forage available for a return graze.
For example, assume you plan on setting aside Pasture A as a drought reserve. You estimate that it has 1000 animal days available for grazing. (See here for calculating animal days available for grazing.) You know your herd size, and forage is not growing due to the drought. You can then calculate how long a particular herd of livestock may use this pasture (Animal days available for grazing / herd size = grazing days).
Conversely, you may decide to graze pasture A lightly, leaving 250 animal days behind. You do the same in Pasture B with its 100 animal days left behind. With Pasture C grazed lightly leaving 300 animal days behind, and Pasture D leaving 350 animal days left behind, you have reserved the same number of animimal days as in the prior example. But the difference is, you have spread your reserve over multiple pastures.
Which strategy is correct? This, again, depends upon the situation. if you fear a lightning strike whose resulting fire may consume the entirety of the Pasture A reserved forage, then the second strategy is preferred. It spreads the risk. The same may be true for an insect outbreak. Further, moving a herd through multiple pastures should help maintain a higher plane of nutrition and avoid reductions in body condition associated with leaving the herd in a single pasture for extended time periods.
Either way, ranchers should carefully consider their drought strategy when managing forage reserves. Having an effective strategy and plan for implementing that strategy can help avoid costly errors if the drought lingers.