Grazing Management Training to Enhance the Sustainability of Pasture-Based Beef Production Systems

Final Report for ES98-040

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1998: $31,745.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $21,678.00
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Jim Green
North Carolina State University, Crop Science Dept.
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Project Information


This project is an outgrowth of previous experiences we’ve had with training farmers, students and USDA agency workers in the area of grazing management/pastureland ecology. The Southern Region has thousands of small and part-time livestock farms which have significant impact on family income, community stability and environmental quality. The region is also home of a significant amount of confinement animal systems which produce tons of nutrients which have to be judiciously applied to land that is often sloping and conducive to runoff into streams. Animal management on pasture has historically been quite extensive, resulting in poor plant persistence, poor animal performance, high feeding costs and considerable damage to the environment because of erosion and poor nutrient redistribution.

This training project focused on helping Farm Agency Workers and farmers develop a sustainable approach to pasture-based livestock management. We offered in-depth training programs with considerable “hands-on” field exercises to reinforce classroom discussions. We devleoped well organized Training Modules with supporting visuals which can be used as resource material for follow-up educational programs. We expect this material to be used by many Agency workers in the Southern Region and by Vocational Education teachers.

The farmers who obtained this advanced training will serve as resoure assistants and volunteers in helping Agency advisors put emphasis on sustainable livestock/grassland issues in their respective communities.

Project Objectives:

The objective of this program is to provide training support to Farm Agency Advisors and livestock farmers who want to learn more about economical, environmental and socially sustainable farming systems.

Participating professionals will be trained specifically in pasture/livestock management so that they can offer educational programs and provide information and support to farmers who want to adopt sustainable and environmentally sound pasture-based livestock production systems.

Selected farmers and farm advisors will organize educational activities and regularly meet on farms to discuss sustainable livestock management practices and solve problems.


Most of the livestock farms in the Southern Region are classed as small and part-time therefore training and demonstrations have to be directed to a wide range of people with differing experiences and interest. In North Carolina alone, there are more than 28,000 beef farms with more than 500,000 cows utilizing more than 2.5 million acres as a feed resource. Such farming operations contribute significantly to family lifestyle and community stability. These many landowners can have significant impact on natural resources through nutrient management, pesticide use and cropping management. Many of these small farm owners serve as policy makers who enact laws and influence attitudes that impact sustainable and environmental issues. Because many farmers work off the farm, they have not historically placed great emphasis on improved management practices which often have significant impact on environment and profitability. For example, many are marginally profitable due to lack of capitalizing on the year-round grazing potential that exists in the Southern region. Profits from many small livestock farms are minimized because too much “harvested” or “stored” feed is used; animals can be fed by grazing for less than half the cost of feeding hay or silage. Maximizing grazing efficiency will reduce the labor, equipment and fossil fuel requirements on many farms.

Because of widespread misconceptions about the labor demands and “fencing costs” of management intensive grazing many farmers hesitate to change their management practices. As a result, many allow cattle to overgraze pastures and do not restrict grazing patterns, therefore stream banks are destroyed, trails are formed and runoff is high resulting in soil loss and reduced moisture availability to plants (which further reduces productivity).

More than half of the small livestock farms in NC have available to them manure from confinement animal systems (poultry and swine). While the “cheap” sources of nutrients currently provide an opportunity for profitable cropping/cattle systems, the long-term sustainability of such dependence may not be possible from an environmental aspect. Well planned fencing and livestock drinking water designs on farms and a “controlled” grazing approach offers an alternative management strategy which will allow continued production of meat and milk on landscapes where “agronomic rates” of manure or inorganic fertilizer and lime are used.

The public, in general, is seeking ways to have clean streams (minimum of sediment, nutrients and pathogens), aesthetically pleasing landscapes, open spaces and wildlife habitat. Since more than 50% of the land mass in this region should be maintained in permanent vegetative cover as a way to protect the soil and water resources, it is imperative that Farm Advisors and farmers understand how to manage these resources. Stream water quality is a major concern of everyone and this training will provide alternatives which can improve farm profits and minimize water quality.

Education & Outreach Initiatives



We plan to offer training to 60 Farm Agency Advisors (NRCS and Cooperative Extension workers) 120 farmers and 8 volunteer farmers over the two year period of this proposal. All participants will receive two days of training. Twenty of the Farm Agency Advisors and the eight farmers will receive advanced training that offers ideas on how to teach sustainable livestock/pasture principles to clients in their respective communities. The training team will consist of seven instructors from Cooperative Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service and a private fencing contractor.

We will develop and package educational resource materials into Training Modules that will be used in 2-day training schools and for subsequent educational programs within respective communities. The Training Modules will include printed and assembled lesson plans containing: a) learning objectives; b) lecture/discussion outline; c) visual aids (slides, video); d) subject matter notes; e) additional reading materials; and f) outlines for “hand-on” field/lab exercises. We will provide slides and video support of the classroom and field topics. Classroom topics to be developed into Training Modules: Developing and understanding a sustainable agro-ecological philosophy; Plant growth requirements and implications for grazing management; Understanding forage quality relative to animal requirements and plant persistence; Meeting animal nutrition needs in pasture based systems; Designing the farm layout to protect soil and water resources, efficiently use forage and to uniformly redistribute excreta from grazing animals; Principles of fencing to manage farm resources; Alternative livestock watering systems.

The following topics will be discussed in the training schools, and they will be developed into “example exercises” to provide “hands-on” activities that reinforce lecture concepts and demonstrate “how to” better manage the grazing animal/grassland system: Estimating pasture forage supply using several techniques; Determining botanical composition of pasture; Making a feed inventory/utilization budget; Using animal behavior, excreta characteristics and post grazing residue as a guideline for adjusting a grazing/management plan; Using animal body condition scores to gauge health and nutritional adequacy; Developing an enterprise financial budget for winter grazing vs hay feeding; Allocating pasture feed to meet nutritional requirements of animals for one day; Suggested topic outline suitable for farm walk discussions.

Outreach and Publications

Educational materials have been formatted, Powerpoint presentations have been assembled, instructions for the grazing demonstrations and exercises have been written and suggested training school formats are developed. These materials and all PowerPoint presentations will be on CDs. These CDs will be available to county extension and soil conservation offices in North Carolina and will be provided to workers in other states upon request.

We have participated in training programs in six other states as a result of our experience in grazing management training which was supported by this project.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Extension educators, local soil and water conservation district (SWCD) and NRCS employees have collaborated under our guidance to develop schools that fit their local needs. In western North Carolina, agency personnel from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina (previously trained in our program) developed an annual program called the Tri-State Grazing School. The Tri-State Grazing School, initiated in 2001, utilized our standard school format and grazing demonstrations on two farms incorporating rotational grazing and advanced conservation practices. The program evolved to cover additional aspects of sustainable beef production. Between 30 and 40 students participated each year.

In several counties in southeastern North Carolina, local agents are working with local graziers to develop grazing demonstrations, and these demonstrations have been used in conducting grazing/forage management multi-day training sessions. These local schools have trained over 150 producers in the last two years.

State level schools are targeted at advanced producers and farm advisors and consultants. In the last two years, we have provided materials, planning input and teaching participation in schools or workshops South Carolina and Tennessee. These schools have provided training for about 150 producers, extension educators and NRCS/SWCD workers.

The training program has been adapted for use in training veterinarians, and has included annual sessions for veterinary students at NCSU, two-day sessions at the national conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners with special sessions at annual conferences of the Oklahoma, Alabama and Virginia Veterinary Medical Associations. In total, 95 veterinarians and 40 veterinary students have received training.

Annually, a course in Pastureland Ecology is conducted in Raleigh for NRCS professionals, and this is an expanded version of our standard training format. This course has been ongoing since 1998 and has provided training to more than 150 district conservationists, state grazing land specialists, and range management specialists representing 37 states Guam and Puerto Rico. These students get a broad coverage of pastureland ecology and management strategies, and are taught to conduct grazing demonstrations and the grazing exercises that are the central theme of the grazing school program. Based on their training in this program, several of these individuals have developed programs in their home states using our format and educational materials which they are provided both in printed and electronic format.


Potential Contributions

This project supplied essential support for the development of educational materials and training of farm advisors (Cooperative Extension, NRCS, SWCD) from at least 37 states, Guam and Puerto Rico. In addition, many graduate students, interns and exchange students (Brasil, Ireland, Venezuela, Argentina, The Netherlands, Costa Rica, Honduras) have participated in our training programs and contributed to the development of materials.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.