Here in Wheatland, Wyoming it is a cold, snowy, and windy day. Perfect for planning out your grazing for the coming year! A grazing plan is where you think through what you know now, what you expect to unfold, and make a plan for the grazing in the year ahead. To get started on the grazing plan you need a few simple things to facilitate the conversation.
A nice big map of the place and a large form grazing chart hung on the wall are the best tools for the job. You can use something like Google Earth or another mapping software to project maps on a large screen, but I prefer large laminated maps that can be written on with wet-erase markers. If your map is on the wall all the time it will stimulate more conversations and planning rather than having to make a production of getting out a projector to see the map or everyone trying to gather around your phone or computer. On the map you should have water points and permanent fences clearly identified with pasture names or numbers. If you do more management-intensive grazing, we recommend lumping paddocks into “zones” to make planning and recording simple. For example, zone 1 might include 10 individual paddocks of daily moves, but for planning and recording purposes you only need to know zone 1 was grazed during those 10 days and how many stock days were removed. To make the plan, get the team together with the map, the grazing chart, and complete the following steps:
- What constraints to grazing do we face for the coming year? Mark these on the grazing chart. (i.e. poisonous plants, run out of water, specific targeted dates, etc.)
- What are some ranch events we need to plan around? Mark these on the grazing chart. (i.e. calving, weaning, vacation, branding etc.)
- Mark anticipated turn in and out dates for each pasture.
Don’t just slap up what you did last year, this year is different. Cattle numbers are different, there are different levels of residual feed. Hopefully we are not grazing the same place at the same time each year.
Things to think about when you make the plan.
- With the group we are turning in, how long do we anticipate the graze period to be?
- What is our target recovery period for each pasture?
- What stage of production are the animals in?
- The constraints we identified, can we manage around them or do we need to challenge or fix them?
Here’s a short video showing the planning process:
We provide large, laminated grazing charts that many of our alumni find useful for grazing planning and recording. You need something big and visible that people can get around to make the plan and record actuals.
The grazing plan isn’t chiseled in stone tablets. It is just a plan. When the growing season starts to unfold, we will make changes from the plan. For example we thought we’d be in this pasture 4-days, precip came right and there was more feed so we stayed 6.
The value in making the plan is more than just having an actual grazing plan. It is the conversations that occur during the process of making the plan. Planning where you will graze isn’t something that should be done in isolation by one person. Even if you’re a one-person operation, I highly suggest you reach out to someone to review and challenge your plan. It might seem intimidating but your business will really benefit from another set of eyes.
Grazing planning is a great activity to do during the cold days of winter. If you want to learn more about grazing planning, economics, financial planning, and building the ranch business team perhaps it’s time to get yourself to a Ranching for Profit School.