Craig Roberts

Extension: Grazing Systems

The Grazing Systems Program is now a statewide educational effort that teaches management-intensive grazing to livestock producers. This type of grazing management requires large pastures to be divided into small grazing areas, known as paddocks. It requires all livestock to graze a single paddock for a few days, then move to the next paddock. After livestock have rotated through all the paddocks in a system, they return to the first paddock and cycle through the system again.

Justification of Program
Justification for this program is based on economics and environmental stewardship. As livestock move off of a particular paddock, perennial legumes and other desirable plants in the pastures undergo physiological processes that allow them to recover, thereby improving their chances of survival. As the legumes survive, they contribute nutrients to the soil via nitrogen fixation, a process by which atmospheric nitrogen is naturally captured and converted to a plant nutrient. Nitrogen fixation reduces the need for expensive nitrogen fertilizer. Also as legumes survive, they increase nutritional quality of the diet, because they contain more protein and digestible energy than do grasses. Legume survival also evens out the spotty yield distribution that occurs in a pure grass pasture. These benefits all contribute to increased profitability of the farm enterprise.

The environmental benefits result from having a large number of animals on a small area for a brief time. This sort of "mob grazing" causes manure to be deposited evenly across the landscape, thereby preventing a concentrated build-up of animal waste around ponds and streams. In addition, the even deposition of manure can lower the need for phosphorus and potassium fertilizers; these elements become available to the plant as the manure decomposes as a natural step in nutrient cycling.

Implementation of Program
From 1990 until the present, the Grazing Systems Program has taught this style of management by collaborating with the internationally known "Grazing Schools" at Linneus, Missouri; these schools were conceived by Jim Gerrish of the MU Agronomy Department and Ron Morrow of the MU Animal Science Department and were co-taught with Maurice Davis of Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). In 1993, the program began local implementation through workshops known as "Regional Grazing Schools."

The regional schools are taught throughout Missouri by a team of regional specialists in University Extension and personnel in the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The schools are self-supported, as costs of teaching materials, facilities, and other logistical expenses are covered by registration fees. Instructors are trained at the school at Linneus. As part of this training, instructors receive the Regional Grazing School Resource CD, a collection of scripted, digital lectures that are embedded with support data and photos.

Students who enroll in the Missouri Regional Grazing Schools follow a syllabus that teaches 10 core subjects. They also receive grazing manuals written by researchers at the University of Missouri. These manuals are listed below.  Students also receive and learn to use grazing sticks, which are calibrated square rulers used to estimate available forage in the pasture.

From 1996 to 2003, the Regional Grazing Schools were directed by a committee including Craig Roberts (Chair, MU), Jim Gerrish (MU), Maurice Davis (NRCS), and Mark Kennedy (NRCS). With the retirements of Gerrish and Davis, the schools were directed by Roberts and Kennedy (co-Chairs); since the retirement of Kennedy, the program has been directed by Roberts and Dee Vanderburg (NRCS). The schools are implemented locally by 18 Regional Grazing School Coordinators–nine from the university and nine from NRCS. The coordinators work through the Missouri Forage and Grassland Council/Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (MFGC/GLCI), a nonprofit commodity group, to identify instructors, schedule schools, order materials, and report impact. The schedule for the Missouri Regional Grazing Schools is posted at the MFGC/GLCI website, which is http://agebb.missouri.edu/mfgc.

Impact of Program
From 1997 to 2014, this program taught 15,550 producers in 605 schools. The economic mpact of this program can be quantified directly by the number of producers who enroll in the cost-share incentive programs known as EQIP, DSP-3, DSP-33, and DSP-333; every enrollee has been trained at a Regional Grazing School. These cost-share incentives offer funding and assistance to producers who are designing new grazing systems. The funding helps defray costs of fencing and watering systems. The list of cost-share recipients is maintained by Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). From 1997 to 2014, the program has been adopted on 1.65 million acres in Missouri. In 2014 alone, the program was responsible for enhancing the Missouri economy by $83.6 million.

Key Publications and Resources