Written by Lynzee GlassA well-managed pasture program can be the most economical way to provide forages to your livestock. However, careful planning and sound management are vital to optimize pasture utilization and animal performance. Knowing your animals, forages and soils is the key to developing a successful rotational grazing system on your farm.
Rotational grazing encourages an even distribution of grazing by dividing your pastures into paddocks allowing previously grazed pastures to regenerate before being grazed again explained Myron Hartzell, Natural Resources Conservation Service grassland specialist in Dallas County, Missouri. A simple rotational grazing system has four approximately equal paddocks, with animals grazing a paddock for about seven days or less and then being moved to the next paddock. This provides a spring rotation with about 21 rest days each cycle.
When more fences and paddocks are added to the simple rotational grazing system, it becomes a more intensive rotational grazing system.
“Every field you can divide increases the number of grazing days,” stated Hartzell. Keeping your livestock on paddocks rather than letting them continuously graze all pasture, forces your livestock to eat the forages they may otherwise skip over. Rotational grazing reduces overgrazed and under-grazed areas throughout a pasture but only if coupled with good plant management. Otherwise it can just intensify overgrazing through concentration. Rotational grazing gives the producer more control by coordinating the rotation of livestock to paddocks where forage growth is at peak production.
One advantage to rotational grazing is discouraging and eliminating weeds and other undesirable plant species that often take over pasture when it has been overgrazed. “Let your cattle be your weed control. This will save you time and the cost of spraying,” explained Hartzell.
Although there are several types of rotational grazing systems, Hartzell suggested utilizing the strip-grazing method. Producers who use the strip grazing method use temporary fencing to ration only a day or two forage supply providing fresh, leafy, high quality forage at all times. “Strip grazing during fall and winter months will minimize hay usage,” said Hartzell.
As a general recommendation Hartzell suggested stockpiling fall growth of 1-acre per cow for winter strip grazing.
The major obstacle with any type of rotational grazing is it requires more active management of livestock, but that can also be a good thing. There are initial startup costs for fencing and water, but once installed, these pay back every year. Use of single wire high-tensile electric cross fences and temporary polywire strips are most economical and flexible with minimal maintenance.
It is important to know when to move your livestock and to what pastures. Regional grazing schools can expose producers to these practices. For more information about forage management or about regional grazing schools contact your local NRCS office.
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