Depending on what kind of livestock farm, there are different perspectives. Surprisingly, there are several characteristics that we can use in all environments to determine the quality of a pasture.
It is the 'fine tuning' of those characteristics within a certain region and business form where the greatest differences lie.
The common features are:
- The energy ratio
- Sufficient proteins
- Keeping the minerals in
- The palatability
- Crop density
When discussing protein in the livestock farm, energy is much more often the limiting factor for good animal performance. Energy comes from two primary sources in the pasture.
Plant cells contain soluble sugars. This is readily available energy that monogastric animals (animals with a single stomach) can use themselves, as long as they can chew the plants to break through the cell walls. The other energy source comes from the fermentation of the vegetable fibers and is only available to ruminants such as cattle, sheep, goats etc.
Our management should focus on optimizing the use of grazed forage in our livestock system.
The protein in the pasture
Proteins are mainly found in the cell soluble parts. Proteins are built around nitrogen, so the amount of available nitrogen in the soil directly affects the RE of a crop.
The minerals in the pasture
The third criterion for a good quality pasture is the mineral content. This factor has probably changed more in the course of the last 150 years of industrialized agriculture than any other of the five criteria mentioned above.
Agriculture is an extraction process in which many minerals are extracted from the soil in the form of crops and livestock. When we dispose of those products from our companies, we remove minerals from our soil environment.
The biggest change in grazing management what we have observed over the past 25 years is our increased understanding of soil microbiology and the role that living soil plays in the nutrient cycle and mineral transfer between soil and plants.
The palatability of the pasture
Palatability is more than just the taste of plants. Plants contain thousands of different chemical compounds called phytochemicals. It is the interaction of these chemicals in metabolic processes that ultimately determines whether animals are grazing the plants.
Palatability has more to do with metabolic feedback loops than with whether a plant is sweet or sour.
We know that pastures sown with prolific herb-rich pasture mixes offer greater opportunities to balance grazers' diets and self-heal when problems arise.
The density of the pasture
The density of a crop has to do with how effectively we can convert solar energy into plant growth. The more leaves we can cram into every square meter of land, the more solar energy we can capture, and the more feed we can make available on every hectare. This allows us to allow more animals to graze, increase our income stream and at the same time pump more carbon into the soil to stimulate and improve soil life.