50 Shades of Graze: Part 1

A about a week ago our friend Dan Olson was chatting with Tim on Twitter. I don’t remember what they were exactly talking about, but over the course of the conversation Dan mentioned 50 Shades of Graze. What a great play on the title of the popular book 50 Shades of Grey. I thought that would be an excellent blog post title. I most certainty couldn’t just steal the idea, so I asked Dan to guest post. Dan is an expert when it comes to knowledge about grazing. Here is the first post in a series on grazing. 


Pastured vs. Grazed. Is there a difference?

The most difficult part about writing a post with this title is to appear knowledgeable about the subject without admitting to reading the book. But, believe it or not, the subject of grass and how it is consumed can enliven the senses, excite and actually be downright titillating… especially if you happen to be a ruminant. I will start by giving you my definition for the two terms and then explain the benefits of grazing.
“Pasturing” involves giving an animal access to a field or, “pasture” and allowing them to “graze” in that pasture through the year. Think of the horse pastures you see in country. They may have had grass in April but by June they are shorter [and browner] than your lawn. Pastures give animals a place to exercise and ward off boredom but aren’t a good source of feed.
“Grazing” in my definition is, “frequently moving the animals from area to area allowing them to eat as much grass as they possibly can”. This form of grazing is termed MIG, or Management Intensive Grazing, and is relatively new. It is better than “pasturing” for the following reasons…

1.  The farmer grows more grass per acre. To regrow, most grass species rely on energy reserves that are stored in the bottom 4 inches of the plant. They also need photosynthesis to energize the plant to put down roots. When a grass plant is harvested the roots “shed” or die to an approximate depth that mirrors the above ground height. So, if you have 4” of grass on top you will have about 4 inches of roots below. [Side note: don’t mow your lawn too short in a drought!] With MIG grazing, the farmer gives the pastures rest periods, often for 30 days or more, and that allows the grass plant time to regroup and regrow.

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This is a photo of one of the Zweber’s pastures during this summer’s drought

2.  The cows eat more grass. National Organic standards require that organic dairy cows like the Zwebers’ get at least 30% of their diet from pasture during the growing season. For a dairy cow this means they have to eat 100 or more lbs. of fresh grass per day. To do this, there has to be enough grass that a cow can take big mouthfuls and not have to do much searching between them.Most MIG grazers move their cows to new grass after each milking. This gives the cows a new field to explore twice each day and it allows for the manure to degrade and the grass to regrow before the cows are given access to it again.

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Tim changes the pasture every 12 hours on Zweber farms.

3. The cows make more milk. A productive cow is a contented and full cow. Cows need time to rest and chew their cuds. “Management Intensive Grazing” makes that possible!

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Here the Zwebers’ cows graze on lush pastures


Daniel Olson is an Organic dairy farmer, writer and entrepreneur. He also serves as the VP of Grassworks Inc., a grazing education organization.

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