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Hands-on irrigated pasture management at Lost River Grazing Academy

Charles Cheyney Published on 11 November 2009

The Lost Rivers Grazing Academy held its fall session September 15-18th at the Eagle Valley Ranch in Salmon, Idaho.

The Academy is presented twice a year by the University of Idaho Extension, and provides an intensive, hands-on introduction to Management-intensive Grazing (MiG), with a focus on irrigated pasture management and extending the grazing season, suitable for all types of grazing livestock.

The September Academy was attended by 18 participants from Idaho, Nevada, Utah and California. Over the years the academy has been attended by participants from all of the western states, Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.

The Lost Rivers Grazing Academy was a four day, hands-on workshop, where the participants engaged in a combination of classroom and field experiences to introduce them to the principles and practices of MiG.

Faculty of the Academy included extension educators Chad Cheyney, Scott Jensen and Shannon Williams, extension specialists C. Wilson Gray, Kelly Crane and Glenn Shewmaker, retired extension educator James Hawkins, as well as Jim Gerrish, formerly with the University of Missouri Forage System Research Center, a well-known authority on MiG and proprietor of American Grazing Lands LLC.

Experienced MiG operators Mike Kossler, Jerry Elzinga and Joe Miller also made presentations. The program began with an introduction to the concept of paradigms and how our paradigms affect the way we see the world, then proceeded to an introduction to power fencing and low-stress livestock handling, two powerful tools for increasing pasture productivity.

After lunch participants competed by teams in the “Fencing Olympics”, where they learned through experience about troubleshooting power fencing. Teams were then assigned a “ranch” and a small herd of cattle, which they managed for the balance of the workshop. They were given their first grazing assignment and set up their paddocks.

The technical part of the day was completed with a discussion of the principles of pasture management, and the program adjourned to a catered barbecued steak supper.

However, supper was preceded with the “Cow Chip Olympics” where participants got a brief introduction to the effect of feed quality on animal performance and how this can be predicted by watching feces, as well as the ins and outs of portable electric fencing equipment.

Since MiG is a goal-directed activity, and each of the participants have different goals, the second day began with a discussion of goals and goal setting, then continued with a discussion of farm management principles.

Building on the previous day’s field assignment, “graziers arithmetic” was discussed, and since grazing depends on plants, discussion moved on to practical plant anatomy and physiology, culminating with a “stand-up lab” where participants examined the plant features discussed, asked questions and shared experiences.

After lunch the students learned about the importance of residual, the green plant material remaining after grazing, in a talk entitled “Residual is Everything”.

In the afternoon, the participants moved to the field again, where they took a “pasture walk” with the instructors and evaluated how well they did with their grazing assignment. They received a new assignment, which they laid out and moved their cattle into.

Discussion then turned to estimating forage, monitoring pasture production and evaluation of pasture condition and trend. After a short period to return to Salmon and freshen up, supper was served at the Rose House, an early 20th century Salmon home which is being restored and refurbished with period furniture.

Supper was followed by a review of grazing principles in “Mystery Theater.”

The third day began with breakfast and some time to work on team pasture planning problems, and then the program moved into the practical ecology of pasture management, impacts of nutrient cycling, nitrogen fixation, and grazing cell design.

After lunch the class again moved to the field where their handiwork as graziers was evaluated, and were given a new grazing assignment. Following setting up their next assignment, the class started into the “Power Wire Round-up” where they got a chance to build a short stretch tensile electric fence, followed by an evaluation and learning critique of their work.

Another terrific supper was served at the Rose House, and grazing principles were reinforced after supper with a team competition of “Grazing Jeopardy”.

The final day of the program began with a discussion of the pasture planning problem, and talks on building functional diversity in pastures, feed allocation and budgeting, and extending the grazing season.

After another great lunch, the crew moved to the field for their final “Pasture Walk” and an opportunity to meet Joe Miller. Joe is a local producer who has attended several grazing academies and was finally “forced” to implement the principles.

As a result of implementing MiG principles, Joe has paid off $250,000 in debt in three short years. Joe continues to modify his operation, implementing and refining principles that he has learned at the Academy.

Participant evaluation of the program indicated an increase in knowledge and skills, as well as interest in implementing the principles discussed and demonstrated during the Academy.

Participant comments included:

  • “It was really good. It’s funny … I hope to be able to apply strip grazing on our place.”
  • “Great school!”
  • “Excellent job covering a wide variety of information. Everything was tied together and was useable.”

Meals were rated 8.3 on a scale from 1-9 and it was reputed that the ADG on the students was 2.5 pounds per day.  FG