There is a reason why we are seeing an increase in the number of pasture-based dairies, stocker operations, replacement heifer growers and grass-fed beef producers in the Southeast: profit. Times have changed.

The key to managing the rising costs of inputs is making sure the operation is using what forage the land is capable of producing as efficiently as possible.

Certainly, our diesel-powered harvesters can be efficient. But our livestock, or our four-legged harvesters, can be efficient, too. Like any harvester, they must be driven.

The single most important factor affecting the cost-effectiveness of the pasture-based enterprise is grazing management. Take a moment to think about how much of the forage in a pasture, hayfield, or silage field will actually make it into the mouth of the animal. Of the total forage that is produced, what percentage do the animals actually use? This percentage is referred to as forage use efficiency.

If cattle are allowed to freely graze one or two large pastures, they will select certain areas, avoid other areas and ultimately create a scenario where relatively little of the forage is actually consumed. The key is to ration out the forage. Rotational stocking requires the cattleman to put animals in and take animals out of a pasture in a relatively short amount of time.

Simply splitting large pastures into several smaller pastures (or paddocks) and regularly rotating the animals between them can dramatically increase the efficiency of the forage system. Producers who allot daily strips for their cattle (strip or frontal grazing) can increase their efficiency even more, often rivaling our most efficient mechanical methods of harvesting.