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More Stock Density, Same Fences

More Stock Density, Same Fences

Experiment with higher stock density working on Kansas ranch.

Alexander Ranch's experiment last year with higher stocking rate, higher stock density and shorter grazing season last year seems to have been a success.

Brian Alexander is using the more-cattle-less-time system again this year and both he and his father, Ted, believe the plan worked well for them last year.

One of their primary intents was to try increasing stock density without adding fences.

Brian is ranch manager now and Ted is officially retired, yet Ted still helps a lot and does much of the record-keeping, which has always been one of the strengths he brought onto the ranch. This author has worked with Ted to "mine" his records for information many times in the past.

It's relative: Denser grazing on this Kansas ranch hasn't meant ultra-high density or "mob" grazing, but it has meant shorter grazing season and a lot more cattle at one time.

One question Beef Producer explored last year with the Alexanders was how well they thought old stock densities and grazing times would let them figure the same needs with nearly twice the animals. In other words, if a paddock ran 500 steers for two days in past years, would it run 1,000 steers for one day?

In addition, the Alexanders' new grazing plan last year was to graze each paddock only once and take 40-50% of the forage. In years past Ted had typically planned two to three grazings in each paddock with a typical recovery period of 45 days between grazing events. In those previous years Ted says he might have taken 30% off the first time and a bit more defoliation in second grazings and perhaps in a third grazing in the years he needed one.

This change in number of grazings and longer recovery also could alter the grazing timing and would be useful knowledge for anyone trying to increase stock density and change grazing frequency.

Good results: Ted Alexander says the evidence from last year's stock-density "experiment" hasn't shown any negative effects compared with grazing exclosures like this or along monitoring transects.

To make the situation a little clearer, let's recall that a 2,700-acre grazing cell on the ranch had typically carried 500 steers per grazing season with a typical starting weight of 600 pounds for a beginning stocking rate of about 300,000 pounds. This would increase as the steers grew, or if an equivalent weight of cows was stocked the stocking rate would increase with growth of their calves.

Last year Brian stocked 800 steers of about 600 pounds starting weight for a stocking rate of 480,000 pounds, or a 62% initial increase. Because they did not add any paddocks this meant a 62% increase in stock density.

In previous years this grazing cell would carry 300,000 pounds of stock for 90-100 days. Beginning last grazing season Ted had calculated they would graze the larger weight of animals for less than 70 days. It turned out to be 62 days in a relatively dry summer.

The Alexanders also learned their calculations based on days of grazing and stocking weight from more than 10 years past could translate well.

Beef Producer asked Ted to compare animal days per acre (ADAs) for the previous plan and last years plan. ADA is a useful estimate of productivity of the land based on number of animals it can run. He estimated last summer in 62 days of grazing Brian had 22.5 animal days per acre of grazing. That compares with the typical rate in past years of 20.45 ADAs for that 2,700-acre grazing cell.

The majority of their paddocks are about 160 acres. The smallest is just under 40 acres.

Further, Ted says last year before starting the grazing season he and Brian planned on 50% forage removal and using forage production and rainfall records calculated their days of grazing in each paddock. In these turned out to be very close, he says.

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