From the Back Paddock

May 16, 2024

Enjoy the glory of May, friend.

That’s how I ended my last column piece, which came out the first week of May. Now we’re smack in the middle of the month and May has kept its promise of being glorious. A dry and largely snowless winter has relented to ample rainfall across much of Wisconsin.

If you’re lucky enough to be a grass-based livestock farmer you’re likely finding yourself shin deep in lush-green pastures that are just now experiencing their “blaze of growth.” That phrase was used by Andre Voisin, a Frenchman who was a biochemist, farmer and author. In 1945 after fulfilling his military duty to his country, Voisin returned to Gruchet, France, to pursue his desire to farm.

Voisin was best-known for developing the theory of rational grazing, also known as Voisinism, Voisin Grazing or rational intensive brazing. I had a dog-eared copy of his book “Grass Productivity” on my nightstand throughout my brief 30-year career as a grass-based dairyman. It was a terrific source of practical information regarding how to properly manage pastures in a sustainable and productive manner. It was largely based on Voisin’s knowledge of science but also rich in information based on his observations of his dairy herd as they grazed the pastures on his farm.

There was an elegant nature in Voisin’s writings. The term “rational grazing” always appealed to me. Not only is it rational as in making sense or based on reason, but it’s also rational in that it’s a system where grass is rationed to cows in distinct daily portions. His broad definition of grazing was simply “the meeting of cow and grass,” a phrase with a subtle touch of poetry to it.

One of Voisin’s main contributions was developing four basic rules or “laws” of rational grazing. In them I find a continuation of his elegant use of language.

Law #1 – the Recovery Period Principle – Before a sward, sheared with the animal’s teeth, can achieve its maximum productivity, a sufficient interval must have elapsed between two successive shearings to allow the grass to accumulate in its roots the reserves necessary for a vigorous spurt of regrowth (as well as) to produce its “blaze of growth” – or best daily yield per hectare.

Law #2 – the Occupation Principle – The total occupation period on one paddock should be sufficiently short for a grass sheared on the first day – or at the beginning – of occupation not to be cut again by the teeth of these animals before they leave the paddock.

Law #3 – the Maximum Performance Principle – The animals with the greatest nutritional requirements must be helped to harvest the greatest quantity of grass of the best possible quality.

Law #4 – the Regular Performance Principle – If a cow is to give regular milk yields she must not stay any longer than three days on the same paddock. Yields will be at their maximum if the cow stays on one paddock for only one day.

I can imagine Voisin on his dairy farm observing his Normande-breed dairy cows as they grazed the different paddocks divided by rocky hedgerows. Being an avid “cow observer” was near and dear to my heart as a dairy farmer. I began honing my cow-observation skills at my first job as a herdsman at the Berry College Dairy Farm in northwest Georgia. There I watched the Berry College Jersey herd with the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop. Eventually I landed my own farm and built a herd of 120 mixed-breed cows that included a few Normandes of my own to observe and tend to. There’s nothing that matches standing amongst a herd of cattle in mid-May observing them tearing at a pasture of grass and clover in its “blaze of growth.” It was an annual observation I was always glad to partake in.

Click here to see more...
Subscribe to our Newsletters

Trending Video