Trevor Toland, owner of Toland’s River Oak Ranch, touts the benefits of rotational grazing during “The Keys to Profitability and Sustainability in a Changing Beef Industry” meeting sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension.
Trevor Toland, owner of Toland’s River Oak Ranch, touts the benefits of rotational grazing during “The Keys to Profitability and Sustainability in a Changing Beef Industry” meeting sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension.

UTICA, Ill. — All cattlemen need to develop a unique rotational grazing system that fits their operation.

“We all have something different — soils and topography,” said Trevor Toland, owner of Toland’s River Oak Ranch in Macomb. “There’s a lot of different forms of rotational grazing.”

Attitude is very important for cattlemen to develop a system, said Toland at “The Keys to Profitability and Sustainability in a Changing Beef Industry” meeting sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension.

“We have a good corn and soybean attitude — guys work hard to try to get the latest information, hybrids, techniques and equipment, but that doesn’t hold true for grazing,” he said. “We don’t think the same way about pastures as we do row crops.”

If pastures are not as carefully planned, grown and harvested as corn and soybeans, he said, “you’re missing out on your pastures, and that’s an enterprise that can return a lot more to your cattle operation.”

Toland manages 380 acres and 200 acres of that land is pasture.

“I’m not a farmer. I’m a grazier,” he stressed. “We graze from 110 to 120 heifers in two groups on those 200 acres from April 1 to Dec. 31.”

These heifers live on forage.

“We never give them anything except what they graze. That’s what they’re doing today and will be doing tomorrow,” the cattleman said.

Cattlemen need to fence their entire operation, Toland advised.

“We waste a tremendous amount of forage in this state,” he said. “We have good soils, and we grow a lot of forage, so if we’re going to utilize that fully, we need to have the pastures fenced.”

For a successful operation, gates need to be people and animal friendly.

“You’re going to use them a lot, so they need to be friendly to you, as well as the kind that animals will go through,” Toland explained.

“Animals should never be driven. They should always be moved by leading,” he said. “My heifers know if I hook onto the mineral wagon with the Kubota, they’re going to a new pasture, and they’ll be all over me, if not ahead of me.”

There are many benefits of rotational grazing.

“This year proved the benefits of rotational grazing even greater than I’d ever hope for,” Toland said.

“The benefits include increase in forage quality, better plant vigor, increase in pasture production, improvement in soil health, increase in stocking rate and animal performance is enhanced,” he said.

Rotational grazing will improve stewardship of the land.

“People often say our pastures look like a park,” the cattleman noted.

“After two or three years of good rotational grazing with good grasses and legumes in your pasture, you will have no weeds,” he said. “We never clip for weeds. The only time we clip is for seed heads to keep our pasture vegetative.”

For fall and winter grazing, Toland utilizes temporary fencing for cornstalk grazing.

“Whenever you graze, check and read manure to help determine forage quality,” he advised. “That mound of manure that really stacks up is telling you those cattle are not getting enough protein.”

Toland also starts stockpiling forage by Sept. 1 for winter grazing.

“We start grazing the stockpiled forage the first week or two of November, and we graze that as long as we can,” he said.

The cattleman is concerned he won’t get his fescue and red clover pastures grazed down as far as needed so next year’s red clover frost seeding will take off.

“I want the pasture grazed tight because if I don’t, the fescue will jump way ahead of the frost-seeded red clover,” he explained.

The goal is to frost-seed the red clover in February at 3 pounds per acre.

“I want to be out there when the ground is frozen and later that day the ground thaws out,” the cattleman said. “That works the seed into the soil.”

In the wetter pastures, Toland frost-seeds alsike clover because it will withstand moisture.

To prepare for spring grazing, he soil tests the pasture and applies lime in the fall to 6.5 pH.

“Try to get your phosphorus scores to 50. However, 35 is acceptable,” he said. “The potassium score is preferred to be over 260, but you can get by with 200.”

If hay is harvested from a pasture, the cattleman added, “you’ve removed 25 pounds of P and 100 pounds of K per ton of hay, which is different than having cattle out there spreading manure.”

Toland has not applied nitrogen to his pastures in the past 10 years since the pastures include both a grass and legume.

“If you don’t have any legume and you have to apply nitrogen, I would consider split applications,” he noted.

Keeping good records is very important for a rotational grazing system.

“All summer, I have in my notebook not just the pastures I’ve grazed, but the next 10 paddocks we’re going to graze,” Toland reported. “I’ll plan way out, and it may work exactly like I plan and it may not.”

The pasture should be divided into at least seven paddocks.

“If you graze each paddock five days, that’s a 35-day rest period between grazings,” the cattleman said. “When you divide your paddocks, consider the terrain and shade — I like to have shade in each pasture for those 95-degree days.”

There are many fencing systems available.

“Choose one that is reliable, simple and inexpensive,” Toland advised. “If your rotational grazing system is properly managed, you won’t have fence pressure. My interior fences are one wire, high tensile, electric.”

Cattlemen can fine-tune their grazing management by changing simple things such as where the cattle are now, where they are going to be next and where they are going to be a month from now.

“You are the guy in charge,” Toland stressed. “The cattle are working for you.”