Grazing for profitability

Thu, 06/11/2009 - 3:19pm
By: Ben Nelms

Grazing for profitability

Cows are a lot like people. They get into the habit of doing something a certain way, and that is what they do. Over and over and over, even if it does not always make sense. And that includes things like grazing. That is where a concept called “rotational grazing” comes in. That approach was the topic of a recent workshop, “Grazing for Profitability,” held near David Brown’s Longview Farm near Haralson.

The day began with the classroom portion of the workshop at Haralson United Methodist Church conducted by Arkansas Grazing Land Specialist Dr. Ron Morrow. Attendees spent the second half of the day receiving on-site observations and instruction from Morrow at Brown’s farm on Al Roberts Road.

In all, more than 50 grazing livestock people from 10 counties across southwest metro and as far away as Floyd and Morgan counties made their way to Haralson to learn more about the approach called rotational grazing.

One of those at the site was Carroll County Extension Agent Bill Hodge, who explained the idea behind the workshop.

“We’re trying to educate livestock producers about efficient forage (grass, legumes and forbs, or weeds) utilization to make their operations more profitable. So we brought in Dr. Ron Morrow to lead the workshop. I’ve known him for 10 years and I have a lot of respect for his expertise and experience. And I think the people here today are benefitting from that. We’re having a lot of positive comments,” Hodge said.

To the uninitiated, it might seem questionable to have someone come from half way across the United States to talk about grass. But to those who livelihood is directly tied to livestock and what they eat, the answer is obvious.

“Grass is a very under-utilized resource in the Southeast. We have such a long growing season that we can grow something 12 months out of the year. Many people know that some people make hay to feed livestock. That is an ever-increasing cost. So if we can eliminate the mechanical harvesting side of it and let the animal do the harvesting we can enhance the bottom line in our operations. If you manage your grazing, you can force them to eat all these different kinds of forage,” Hodge explained, then expanding on the other benefits of rotational grazing. “It cuts down on pesticide use, it enhances water quality and improves the bottom line. It’s a win-win and a no-brainer.”

Hodge said “grazing for profitability” means utilizing the most current techniques to benefit both forage crops and livestock while maintaining healthier and more productive pastures for grazing.

“All this is good, but if there is not profit involved it has to be subsidized,” Hodge said. “So what we’re trying to do is show people that this is really profitable. We’re trying to bring people together so that producers can see that it’s profitable and consumers can see that there really is a viable alternative to the standard concept of things like a feedlot. So we’re here to tell people about rotational grazing. It’s like the buffalo used to do. They didn’t stay in one place. They moved on from area to area to graze.”

Troup/Meriwether Extension Agent Matt Comerford was also present for the workshop. Comerford reiterated the comments of Hodge as those attending the workshop walked along side Dr. Morrow from pasture to pasture, stopping continuously to examine and discuss the forage they found and the movement of Brown’s cattle across the expanse of the farm.

Comerford said a substantial part of the idea of grazing for profitability involves how livestock feeding is approached.

“The whole idea (of rotational grazing) is moving the livestock around. It’s so simple,” said Comerford, adding that the concept is markedly different from the often-utilized concept of continuous grazing, where the animals are left to graze, urinate and defecate wherever they choose, which is usually in the same place. “Moving the cattle around the area gives the grass a chance to grow back. Otherwise, with continuous grazing, there will be fertile spots the livestock will always go back to and over-graze. There will be spots where they don’t graze and there will be spots they manure under constantly.”

But how does the farmer or rancher get her cattle, or any livestock, to graze in a variety of areas when the animals are not accustomed to doing so?

“You don’t push them, you pull them. That’s the funny thing about explaining this for the first time to most cattle-grazers. You tell them basically I’m moving the cows every day or every other day or every third day, however you do it. You don’t have to be out there on a four-wheeler or a pick-up chasing cows. On my farm, it takes me about a minute and a half to move my cows now that I trained them. It’s like if your mom or your wife comes in, and she’s got something smelling good at supper, all she’s got to do to get you in there is to call you. So with the cows, you bait them. And yes, it takes a little while to train them, but then they know that when you come out there and give the signal, they’re going to new grass.”

Hodge said the workshop was the first of a planned series. Future plans include holding similar workshops at least bi-annually, and perhaps quarterly if possible, with the next coming in early fall. Workshops will move to different areas so that as many people as possible can attend, Comerford said.

For more information on this topic contact Matt Comerford at (706) 883-1675 or at

login to post comments