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Wet weather calls for careful pasture management

 
Wet pastures are a problem for producers in many parts of the country this year. But with careful and creative pasture management, it doesn’t have to be a sink-or-swim situation.
 
Graze and move on
 
Mike Roberts, ranch manager for the 65,000-acre Waldron Ranch Grazing Co-op in the Alberta foothills, focuses on timed grazing to keep his extensive pastures healthy.
 
The ranch’s most intensive grazing program involves 4,000 acres in which Roberts and his team move cattle in 50-acre blocks, for three days. After grazing, each block is left undisturbed for the rest of the year.
 
“We try to mimic what the buffalo did – they came and grazed, then moved on,” Roberts says. “With our approach, the soil and grass is resting and recovering throughout the majority of the year.”
 
He protects riparian areas on pastureland from overuse, fencing both sides of creeks up to 200 yards from the banks with one-string electrical wire. The ranch has about 80 kilometres of electric fence.
 
Overgrazing can damage root systems
 
In Manitoba, Boissevain-area beef producer Jill Martens says stubbornly wet pastures require water-tolerant forages. She suggests a seed mix of drought-tolerant and water-tolerant forages, “to cover all your bases.”
 
She too warns that overgrazing can damage root systems.
 
“Allow proper re-growth before letting animals back onto a pasture,” Martens says. “Healthier root systems create a more dense sod that will stand up better to hoof traffic in wet situations. A stronger sod will be more stable and reduce pugging.”
 
The wet weather also extends this year into Ontario.
 
Cattle producer Joe Dickenson, who farms near Oil Springs, Ont., had about quarter of his 125 acres underwater last spring due to a nearby creek that easily spills its banks. The flooding continued into the fall. For Dickenson, it’s been an entire season of grazing on wet ground for his herd of 70 Simmental beef cattle.
 
Look to higher ground
 
Dickenson was able to graze his cattle on high ground until the water drained through his farm’s heavy clay soil. He kept on top of weather reports and moved his herd to higher ground if rain was predicted.
 
Keeping cattle off sensitive areas as much as possible was key to his management approach. Dickenson designated a limited portion of the least damp acres to be sacrifice pasture, land he was willing to give up to the cattle to save the rest.
 
“That restricted the cattle from destroying more than necessary,” Dickenson says.
 
As well, he used bale grazing, to help keep calves dry and deter diseases associated with wet conditions. Loose bales are distributed through the pasture; cattle feed on them and whatever is left becomes a dry place for calves to lay down.
Source : FCC