By Cheryl Cesario, Grazing Outreach Specialist
There is a saying, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” and this holds true for pasture as well as crops. There are many ways to monitor and keep records of pasture yields and grazing activity. Personally, I am a fan of whatever recordkeeping system works for the individual farmer, as it has to be efficient, straightforward and provide useful information to be worthwhile.
One tool I have seen used with success is the Holistic Management Grazing Planning Chart. This tool was initially developed by Holistic Management International as a part of their overall decision making framework for farm planning. Troy Bishopp, of the Madison
County Soil and Water Conservation District in central N.Y., was able to bring the chart to the masses through a Northeast SARE grant, with the help of a network of service providers who then reached out to individual farmers. In 2013, I began distributing these charts so farmers who
were interested could try them out and evaluate their usefulness.
On the surface, the chart is just a large sheet of paper with a lot of rows and columns that form a grid. This grid is really a “year-at-a-glance” calendar that can be a powerful planning and recordkeeping tool. With a simple daily activity of filling in a box that corresponds to the day and
the field or paddock where the animals have moved, a pattern forms providing a visual record of the entire season laid out at once. With this chart, there is no flipping pages back and forth in a calendar to figure out what animals were where and when. I personally like being able to look at a chart and see how many days since I last grazed a given area, and it helps me readjust my plan. At the end of the season, I find it informative (or in the case of last summer, depressing) to see how many times I was able to graze a given field. For experienced grazers, try planning a month ahead by filling in the chart in pencil and then have fun seeing how close you were.
This will be the fifth year distributing grazing charts and I am seeing farmers track all kinds of interesting data including daily temperature and rainfall, periods of hay feeding and/or confinement, applications of chicken manure, bull introduction and frost dates. Organic farmers find these records keep their annual organic inspector happy, and they
are acceptable records for NRCS “prescribed grazing” payments. One farmer is comparing his grazing chart to his milk production records to understand milk per acre. Another farmer charts crops, color-coding the daily entries for planting, spraying, harvesting and manure spreading. When he comes in each fall to update his nutrient management plan,
all the information is at his fingertips.
I would love to hear from farmers who are utilizing some of the newer “apps” such as PastureMap™ or GrazingCalculator ™. Also on the horizon is goGraze™ currently in development as a companion to UVM Extension’s goCrop™ nutrient management software. Ultimately, there are tools available for everyone, whether you want to enter data on the go with your phone or like the comfort of having a tangible paper record.
A limited number of printed planning charts are available at our Middlebury office, or download a variety of templates at: