Amherst Island Pasture Walk Recap

By Danica Davis, OMAFRA Summer Student

Mark Ritchie was kind enough to host the Pasture Walk event held on Amherst Island on May 11th, 2024. At the peak of his operation, he was managing about 1500 ewes, but since then Mark has sold his operation to his granddaughter and he has his own smaller flock. During this event the property that was to be grazed had been perimeter fenced with page wire with the intention to have interior fence for 6 rotationally grazed paddocks. Three main take aways from this event were: examples of pasture fencing, grazing rotation plans, and how grass plants recover from grazing.

Fencing Examples

The fencing portion of this event described how Mark has gone about fencing his pastures and the different techniques throughout the process. Mark uses a perimeter fence with page wire with 10/47/6 meaning there are 10 horizontal wires, the page wire is 47 inches high, and there are 6-inch gaps between the vertical wires. This page wire was chosen to discourage coyotes coming into the sheep pasture. Mark uses two solutions for fencing support with braces. The first is a floating brace, a post is set into a vertical fence post and leaned onto even ground at a 60-degree angle from the vertical post. The second brace is a tie-back brace, a post is set back from the fence line at an angle and strung to the fence for support. For a page wire or electric fence, the wire should be on the pressure side, this is so the livestock do not pop off the staples if they lean against the fencing. For fixing snapped fence wire or attaching a new roll of wire, gripples can be used, but figure-eight knots may also be used as a solution.

Rotational Grazing PLan

The soil on Amherst Island is heavy clay, this makes for an extra 3 weeks of grazing in the fall before a killing frost. Mark’s grazing plans for this coming pasture season consist of cutting a first cut hay crop from the 6 pastures in July. This allows for a crop of hay that can be stored for later use as well as contributing for a clean pasture for weaned labs to graze. Rotational grazing will begin in mid-August/early September after re-growth occurs. Each pasture will have approximately an 8-day grazing period. The last grazing of the season is planned to be hard; this is to tramp down the pasture to increase seed-to-soil contact with the existing seed an improve conditions for any frost seeding that may occur.

How plants recover from grazing

Grass pastures need to have a period where livestock are away from pasture giving it time to recover. The leaves of plants act as a plant’s solar panels. Livestock will graze off the top of the grass. When livestock graze this is considered a grazing period. During a grazing period, most of the leafy material is taken away. Within 3-5 days after a grazing period the plants begin to use energy from storage that has been produced through photosynthesis to start new leaf growth. In grass plants most of the energy produced by photosynthesis is stored in the lower stem, for legumes this energy is stored in their tap roots. As the plants grow new leaves, they start to produce energy through photosynthesis again generating sugar. This sugar being produced by the new leaves will fuel more growth until the plant is producing an excess amount of sugar that can then be stored. For most grasses in pasture, they are ready to be grazed after a rest period once there are 4 or 5 fully developed leaves.

The ideas covered throughout this event can be used for fencing pasture, rotational grazing planning, and enabling pasture recovery. With these different techniques in mind one can make informed decisions for their own pasture management.

There are three more Pasture Walks scheduled for 2024. Visit here for more information. View videos from the 2023 Pasture Walks here.

Ontario Forage Council