As livestock producers look to maximise productivity on their existing land base, more and more are turning to management intensive grazing systems (MIG) to help them.
“What we have done in the past is managed for production,” says Rob Davidson, who has practised MIG on his farm near Creston, B.C. for the past 25 years. “Production, itself, doesn’t make you any money. You spend money to make money and at the end you are still broke. When you manage for profit, and that’s what we are doing with MIG, we are doing everything that doesn’t cost money, and so you can make money.”
Management intensive grazing, as the name implies, means managing pastureland in a way that it intensifies the management, but not the inputs. The goal is to produce better quality forage that is capable of supporting a greater number of high-quality livestock. This is achieved by rotational grazing through the pastures, which are separated into smaller paddocks by either movable or permanent fences. The management aspect becomes apparent with the requirement to match grazing with the optimum growth stages of the paddocks to insure renewable and sustainable forage production for the long term.
MIG has been widely talked about in Western Canada by Jim Gerrish, a professor with the University of Missouri-Forage Systems Research Centre. He says MIG is defined as: “A flexible approach to rotational grazing management whereby animal nutrient demand through the grazing season is balanced with forage supply and available forage is allocated based on animal requirements.”
It’s hard to put a figure on just how much extra return a producer can realise per acre through MIG, because it varies depending on the type of land and the climate of the area, but Davidson insists that it’s possible to double capacity. “If you can double your carrying capacity and you were breaking even before, you are going to make a lot of money because you haven’t spent more money to double your income,” he says.
The main economic focus of MIG is on reducing expenses, and basing management decisions on profit making, not production. “When somebody says they have a calf that weaned at 700 lbs. that doesn’t tell me that they made any money at all,” says Davidson. “He could have spent $700 to get that calf that big, because he probably calved in the winter and built an expensive calving barn and laboured it to death. Whereas the guy that calved in May, never spent any money on that calf, kept it for a year and then sold it at 800 or 900 lbs., probably made a lot of money because he didn’t invest as much in producing it.”
But what about the investment to get started in MIG? That can be minimal, says Davidson. “If you bought a farm and it had been grain farmed and there was not a fence on it, you could still use portable fence and start grazing without spending much money and then increase your fencing with retained profits from your business, so you could get started for less than $1,000,” he says.
Davidson also disagrees with the idea that land can be too good for pasture. “If you put good pasture on really good land your net income per acre can be $300 or $600 with very low expenses, other than your labour,” he says.