The central components of the Pasture Rule relate to grazing and pasture management. Ruminant animals must graze pasture during the grazing season for their geographic region, which must be at least 120 days per year. Over the course of the grazing season, the animals must obtain an average of at least 30 percent dry matter intake by grazing. Additionally, animals must have year-round access to outdoors, and roughages used for bedding must be certified organic. Temporary confinement is allowed for some management and health care procedures, as well as during inclement weather and to reduce risk to soil and water quality. Lactation is not an acceptable reason for confinement. In addition, producers must have a pasture management plan and manage pasture as a crop to meet the feed requirements for grazing animals and to protect soil and water quality.
Designing an effective grazing plan isn’t as daunting as it seems. Mostly it’s applying observation to management, observing some more, and then adjusting as needed. There are five areas to consider in developing a grazing plan. They are (1) Inventory, (2) Define Goals, (3) Determine Grazing Units, (4) Develop a Schedule, and (5) Development of a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan.
A grazing plan should be considered a dynamic document. Stocking rates, seasons of use, and forage utilization levels are designed to be flexible to meet resource condition goals and livestock productivity, and will change over time as incremental resource objectives are realized. Desired resource condition goals are designed to provide physical resources capable of realizing comprehensive farm or ranch goals. Monitoring of resource response to management strategies will be a key component to refining specific management actions.
Grazing plans, again, are flexible, and should be written based on the type of management and ecological constraints in a given region. A grazing manager in one region may calculate a stocking rate based on 50% forage usage, while another may stock the pasture much more intensely utilizing a Management-intensive Rotational grazing system. The increased forage productivity and quicker forage regrowth after defoliation in the latter example may allow the manager to take much more than 50% of the forage available at each grazing event. This is particularly important when we consider the requirements of the Pasture Rule and the necessity to document at least 30% dry matter intake from grazing.
The resources below were chosen based on their relevance for organic graziers and the requirements of the Pasture Rule.
Feed and Dry Matter Intake Worksheets
Troy Bishopp, aka “The Grass Whisperer” is an accomplished professional grazier of 27 years, a grasslands advocate, and a voice for grassfed livestock producers to the media, restaurateurs and legislators. In addition to working with the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition as their regional grazing specialist, Troy is a free-lance writer for a variety of publications, and a popular presenter for workshops and conferences.
Troy is a life-long learner, taking advantage of new knowledge and past experience to bring a holistic approach to grazing planning. Instead of thinking in terms of grazing 8 inches down to 2 inch residuals, he helps farmers chart a course that pays attention to their personal goals as well as their profits.
Visit Troy’s Grazing Help page to find out more about how Troy can assist you with your grazing planning, including free Grazing Chart downloads.
Pasture for Organic Ruminant Livestock: Understanding and Implementing the National Organic Program (NOP) Pasture Rule, USDA National Organic Program, 2011
Pasture Nutrient Calculator and Pasture Nitrogen Balance Worksheet, Penn State
Extending Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs, Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative Publication, 2008
Grazing Systems Planning Guide, The University of Minnesota Extension Service, 2003
Northeast Grazing Guide. University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Electric Fencing for Serious Graziers. Columbia, MO: Missouri Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2005
Watering Systems for Serious Graziers. Columbia, MO: Missouri Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2006
Pasture and Grazing Technical Information & Tools; Calculators, Fencing, and Pasture Management Plan Templates, Michigan NRCS