Managing intensive grazing is the first step to increased profit
Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) is a concept considered one of the best ways to maximize grazing capacity.
The idea has been around since the 1950s, developed by the Frenchman, André Voisin. MIG is simply the model for animals to graze forage and maintain forage at an exponential growth phase. What you’re doing is taking advantage of the plant’s life cycle and keeping it in a vegetative phase for as long as possible without the plant needing to put energy into the roots or sleep from the maturity. It is at this stage that protein and energy sugars are at high levels in the leaves and can be converted into animal protein by grazing them at this high quality point.
On most cattle farms, the money earned comes from the sale of the animals. This profit is then subtracted from all farm inputs and the farmer walks away with a net income. When considering MIG, this comes at a cost. That input costs are generally underestimated to the extent that benefits are promoted.
MIG requires a structural input as well as a labor input. I have seen this concept embraced by many people. Ultimately you increase the use of fields and then you get heavier animals with less land. This is a good thing; the animals are sold and a profit is made. If nothing is changed, you have increased your contribution and kept your profit margin at the same level.
If you don’t increase your herd size when adopting or increasing the use of MIG, you’ve paid for more fences and moved that fence more times without a better return. You could also have developed more water sources, increasing your input costs as well. At this point, if you take your profits and subtract your inputs, MIG has cost you time and money.
In addition, an input that should never be overlooked is liming according to soil analysis recommendations. Unnecessary or inadequate liming are ways to increase inputs without any gain in production. However, soil pH should always be monitored and corrected as needed. Soil chemistry can easily be your production limit no matter how you manage if the chemistry is off.
I encourage you to review your operation and see if MIG is doing as well as it could. MIG is one of those things you have to work “smarter and harder” at to make a profit. MIG doesn’t make sense for everyone, the more you can move the fence the better it works, but practically are you available to move the fence every other day or maybe more than that?
Many factors complement MIG’s efforts. The most important factor is high quality water; experimental data suggest that the rate of gain can be increased by one pound per day with improving water quality. Good availability of minerals, especially sodium, magnesium and selenium, also greatly affects animal performance. A final factor that should not be overlooked is the control of flies and parasites. Parasites can reduce livestock earnings and health if not mitigated within a herd.
It could be argued that the MIG would also gain ground in hay production. This argument translates into more food as an increased source of income. In this situation, it could potentially reduce feed costs for winter feeding or even increase income.
Which is profitable?
The question then becomes, which is more profitable? What I have learned over the years is that the most profitable businesses are the result of marketing and “value adding” interventions on agricultural products. Some examples are certifications, such as Certified Angus or USDA Organic; small square bales for consumers who find them easier to handle; be able to sell calves at the right weight based on seasonal fluctuations when demand is up. “Adding value” is difficult and can only be achieved through research, discussion and trial and error.
If your goal is to make a profit using MIG, you need to analyze the next step. Many farmers fail at the next step. Ironically, the next step is where you have the most options. Never stop improving, never stop evaluating. The keys to most success are adaptability and flexibility.
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