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Summer grazing tips: Water, Shade, Forage, Rotation, and Minerals

by Emily Clement

Summer is here and it is already a steamy one! Heat stress adversely affects production of livestock. Use the heat index (temperature plus humidity) to gauge the temperature the animals are experiencing. Five things come to my mind as being of utmost importance to grazing sheep and goats in this weather: water source, shade availability, forage quality, rotating pastures, and providing minerals.


Water is an essential nutrient for all livestock.

Water is imperative in growth, maintenance, and production of all livestock. According to the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), goats and sheep require roughly 3.5 gallons/head/day of water when temperatures are 90 degrees, as opposed to 1.5 g/h/d at 50 degrees. Water sources must be clean, cool, reachable, and easily refillable. Water tanks grow funk. Algae, drowned and decomposing insects, feces, and biofilm formation are all in there. The adage “If you wouldn’t drink it, neither should your animal” stands true. Keep a scrub brush handy (I like a toilet brush) and give the inside a good scrub, rinse and repeat, and dump and refill the water, every day or two. This will keep your eye on the water level and quality, as well as your animals’ consumption. Placing water sources in the shade is ideal to deter algae growth and slow evaporation. If water is located in the sun, can you bury the hose in some deeper grass to keep the auto fill cooler? Can you scoop out or otherwise drain and refill some water at midday to get some of that cooler water coming in?


Grazing animals need a source of shade.

Shade helps regulate body temperature, conserve energy, and reduce water expenditure in the heat. Shade can come from a tree, a tree line, a lean-to, a run-in, a shade cloth over a frame, or commercially available structures. Regardless of what it looks like, it needs to provide 80% shade for the animals in that pasture. This requires ensuring the space is large enough for all to have access at the same time. The amount of shade needed for small ruminants is in the range of 10-15 square feet/head.


Quality forage

As forage matures, its nutritional quality diminishes. Keep nutritionally viable forage available throughout the year by planting for the season, paying attention to the condition of what forage is available. Fields with a variety of warm and cool season grasses, both perennial and annual, are ideal; however, knowing what you have in your fields and managing them according to their needs is a good start. Mowing pastures or paddocks that contain undesirable plants before they go to seed provides continual growth of in-season forages, ensuring the best nutritional value. Summer is also a time to consider alternative forages such as browse and forbs (ex, clover, sunn hemp, alfalfa, and birdsfoot trefoil). These alternatives often provide more nutrition than winter forages (such as fescue), this time of year, as well as, helping break the parasite cycle.


Rotation is good for your land and good for the animals.

“Graze the best, leave the rest” is a frequent pasture management saying, with good reason. Grazing the grass below 4 inches stresses the plant, eventually causing it to die off and leave bare patches. In small ruminants, susceptible to Haemonchus contortus, grazing grass below 6 inches increases exposure to and consumption of the infective larval stage (L3) of this parasite. After a field is grazed, mow it to encourage an even grass height and a more nutritional and palatable grass stand during the recovery period. Exact stocking rate will be dependent on several variables, such as quality and amount of forage available and intensity of grazing. Precipitation and soil fertility affects the recovery rate of pastures, possibly influencing your need to adjust rotations to avoid grasses becoming over mature. Rotating pastures is important to providing high-quality forage, parasite management, and pasture improvement.


Photo by Jonathan Palmer, KSU media

Provide minerals year-round.

Regardless of the season or the stage of production your animals are in, mineral supplementation is important to maximize the nutrition in the forages available to them as well as trace minerals imperative to normal body functions. Feeding a mineral mix designed for your species, as opposed to just “all stock,” is preferred. Ensure the minerals are provided in a form that is bioavailable as the animal consumes it. Have it available via free choice, at all times. They will eat what they need. Check the condition of the minerals each day to check for cleanliness, standing water, or other contaminants that discourage the animals to consume it.


References

D.M. Ball, C. H. (2018). Forage Crop Pocket Guide. International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI).

Kenneth Andries, P. (2022, June 29). Review of Summer Forage Tips. (E. Clement, Interviewer)

Washington State University Clark County Extension. (n.d.). How Green is Your Grass? Five Steps to Better Pasture and

Grazing Management. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from premier1supplies.com:

https://www.premier1supplies.com/img/newsletter/05-22-14-goat/PastureGrazingMgmt.pdf

Photos courtesy Emily Clement; Jonathan Palmer, KSU Media Producer; and Erik-Jan Leusink via Unsplash

 

Emily Clement, MPA, LVT is a licensed Veterinary Technician that has worked in the animal industry since 1994. Her experience spans from private veterinary practices, laboratories, shelters, to teaching veterinary technology. Emily holds a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Murray State University and a Master’s of Science in Public Administration from South University. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky where she shares her hobby farm/ garden and home with goats, bees, chickens, an elderly potbellied-pig, and senior companion dogs. She currently works for Kentucky State University (KSU) with Dr. Ken Andries as a Small Ruminant Extension Associate and his Research CoInvestigator. The KSU Harold R. Benson Research and Demonstration farm houses the 200+ head meat goat herd that is utilized for gastrointestinal parasite research as well as grazing studies and extension demonstrations. Emily believes in the potential of education and enjoys empowering small farmers with the knowledge and resources needed to produce the highest quality and cost efficient product possible. She leads the Kentucky Small Ruminant Herd Assessment Program (KYGHAP) which assesses the production goals of individual producers and their current situation to find resources and make written recommendations for better productivity and improved herd health. Her truth is: “if you take care of the animal, it will take care of you” regarding all animals; especially relating to production livestock. She can be reached at Emily.Clement@KYSU.edu.


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