Cattle and Management Intensive Grazing
Heritage breed Pineywoods Cattle graze
on the Kerr Center Stewardship Ranch.
Cattle and calves are the number one farm commodity in Oklahoma; the state ranks
sixth nationally. Raising cattle in Oklahoma is not confined to the open
spaces of the western counties, but is common throughout the state on
farms both small and large, including in LeFlore County where the Stewardship
Ranch is located. Therefore, managing animals, pasture, and rangeland
in a sustainable manner is of crucial interest to local farmers and to
Oklahoma agriculture in general.
One way to build fertility, recycle nutrients and conserve energy on
pastureland is through the practice of rotational grazing (also
known as cell grazing, management intensive grazing or controlled grazing).
In this approach emphasis is placed on management rather than the system
or its components. Rotational grazing is the process of moving a herd
of livestock from one pasture to another and allowing each pasture a
period of rest before it is grazed again.
This form of grazing management is gaining popularity because of the
need to increase production efficiency to cover the high cost of land,
labor, and operating expenses. Changing from continuous to controlled
grazing allows livestock producers to (1) increase stocking rates, (2)
extend the grazing season, (3) increase nutrient recycling, (4) decrease
labor, and (5) improve animal health and potentially lower parasite loads.
The Kerr Center’s focus on rotational grazing stems from the mutually reinforcing links this practice builds between the health of soils, plants, and animals.
The management of a rotational grazing system revolves around the period
of rest plants receive during the growing season. During the rest period,
plants are allowed to recover from grazing and produce new growth.
The length of rest varies with season and forage species and is based
upon the amount of aboveground growth (residual dry matter) remaining
in the pasture after the animals are removed. Pastures will recover faster
and produce more usable forage when sufficient residual matter is left
at the end of the grazing period.
The Kerr Center introduced rotational grazing to southeastern Oklahoma.
The system works—soil fertility has been maintained at generally the same levels since
1986 without adding costly fertilizer.
Cattle on the Stewardship Ranch are of breeds adapted to the climatic
conditions of southeastern Oklahoma. Heritage-breed Pineywoods Cattle form one of the Center's beef cattle herds, with a composite breeding of Gelbvieh and Angus for the other.
The Pineywoods breed, descended from the first Spanish cattle in the New World, is tough and hardy, able to tolerate heat and humidity and thrive on pasture.