Rancher Grady Grissom discusses the lessons he’s learned from deploying a deferred-rotation system of managed grazing on his 14,000-acre ranch. But he doesn’t like the term “grazing system.” He says you don’t choose a “system.” You graze toward a goal. His goal in recent years has been to encourage the growth of cool-season grasses. That’s meant longer periods of rest for pastures.
This is Playa Country — a weekly look at the wildlife, wetlands and prairies of the western Great Plains, and the people who manage them — brought to you by Playa Lakes Joint Venture, an organization dedicated to conserving birds and bird habitat.
Good grazing management — it’s good for the profitability of the cattle producer, by necessity it must result in a healthy landscape of plants and soil, and birds benefit from the improved grassland too. We can learn about deferred grazing by visiting with Grady Grissom, a partner in Rancho Largo, a 14,000 acre ranch in southeast Colorado, east of Walsenberg. A deferred-rotation system generally includes four to eight pastures with one grazing period per season in each pasture and moderate stocking rates. Grissom has a pet peeve with the description of grazing systems. As far as he’s concerned, you don’t choose a system — you graze toward a goal.
“Because as soon as you say grazing system that implies there’s a protocol; for instance, in deferred grazing you’re going to have so many pastures and you’re moves are going to be two weeks or three weeks, versus mob grazing where you maybe move them four or five times a day.”
Grissom says how you graze, ultimately, is determined by the ecological process you’re trying to influence.
“Once you know what ecological process you’re trying to affect and then your goal and what direction you want to take that process, then your grazing protocol is determined by that, not by a grazing system. In my case, I was after, initially, reproduction of cool-season grasses, and I figured out that what I needed to do was give those grasses a longer deferral so that they could build seed bank, build root mass, reach maturity between defoliations, and therefore have a better chance of reproducing.”
Grissom started our resting pastures about 100 days. Now he’s resting land 180 days between grazings. Over four or five years, through deferral designed to allow those cool-season grasses to reproduce, Grissom says he’s more than doubled those nutritious cool-season grasses.
“Having that diversity added a month or two to the grazing season in the spring and the fall. My cattle were able to quit feeding protein supplements earlier in the spring because of those cool-season grasses.”
A well-designed grazing system that fits the local situation positively impacts a producer’s ability to pay the mortgage and positively impacts wildlife. A well-designed grazing system improves the grasses, forbes and soil, and it comes back to carrying capacity. There’s an inherent limit, and ranchers must be sustainable.
“You look at some of the guys who are in their 80s. Those guys figured out a long time ago that if they overstock, the penalty they pay for that is in animal performance. It turns out that the ecological limit of where yearlings will gain close to two pounds a day, where cow conception rates will be on the order of 90 percent and where you can do that year after year, is a fairly conservative stocking rate.”
Grady Grissom is a big supporter of birds. Yet, he says he’s never set an ecological goal to increase the abundance of birds. But he has managed the land to increase plant diversity.
“So, as I was working toward diversity of plants, I created an environment where a lot of my grass plants got to go to seed every year, which is food for a lot of birds. So, sorta inadvertently, I created a system that the birds liked. And then the birds kinda became a good monitoring tool more so than a goal.”
Playa Country, a weekly show about the wildlife, people and landscapes of the western Great Plains. Made possible by the Playa Lakes, and Rainwater Basin, Joint Ventures — and a generous grant from the Dixon Water Foundation.
Original broadcast: February 2014