Rotational grazing paddocks
Resting a pasture
Providing shade on pasture
Mixed species grazing
Image source: ARS
Grazing management is how and when you control the grazing habits of
the animals on your pastures. What animals, how, when, and for how long
they graze a pasture determines the species make-up of the pasture
and its long term viability, how much forage it yields, and how
well the animals perform. Overgrazing and undergrazing pastures
is detrimental to both plant and animal health, as well as soil and
Continuous grazing is a one-pasture system in which livestock
have unrestricted access to the pasture area throughout the grazing
season. It is a simple system to implement and manage, with minimal
capital investment and movement of animals. If sufficient forage
is available, continuous grazing often results in a higher individual
animal performance than other grazing systems.
However, continuous grazing usually results in poorer forage quality
and quantity. Pastures are usually grazed unevenly by livestock,
as livestock overgraze the plants they like and undergraze the
plants they don't like. Manure is also distributed unevenly.
Stocking rates are usually lower, so the land is less productive. Weeds and other undesirable
plants usually persist. Parasites can be a problem if stocking rates are too high.
Controlled grazing gives the producer more control over grazing
animals. It has many different names and variations.
Simple rotational grazing
Simple rotational grazing is a pasture system in which more than
one pasture area is used and livestock are moved to different
pasture areas during the grazing season. Pastures need rest periods
to recover from grazing and allow plants to regrow. The longer
a pasture rests, the less infected it will be with worm larvae.
Simple rotational grazing usually increases forage yields and
quality. Stocking rates can usually be increased. Weed control
is better. On the other hand, fencing costs are higher than with
continuous grazing. Unless a central laneway system is utilized, each paddock needs to have water access. In some climates, the animals should have access to shelter (shade) in each paddock.
Intensive rotational grazing
Intensive rotational grazing is a system with many pastures, oftentimes called paddocks or cells. Livestock are moved
from paddock to paddock based on forage growth and utilization.
The number of paddocks and frequency of rotation depends upon
many factors, including the class of livestock and production
goals of the manager. After 3 days, livestock will start to graze
regrowth of plant material. It is usually recommended that livestock
be rotated every 3 to 7 days to a new paddock.
Intensive rotational grazing usually results in the highest forage
output per acre (or hectare). Stocking rates can typically be
increased over those utilized in a continuous or simple rotational
grazing system. Manure is more evenly distributed in paddocks.
Weed control is better, as animals are usually forced to eat everything
in a paddock.
Intensive rotational grazing requires a higher degree of management
and skill. This is why it is often called "management-intensive
grazing." Initial costs will be higher due to fencing materials
and water distribution systems. Providing water and shelter (shade)
in each paddock can be a challenge.
Intensive rotational grazing could exacerbate internal parasitism
in sheep and lambs, if pastures are grazed for too long or pasture rest periods do not allow for sufficient
die-off of infective parasite larvae.
Strip grazing is a grazing management system that involves giving
livestock a fresh allocation of pasture each day. It is usually
organized within a paddock grazing system and the animals are
controlled by the use of an electric fence.
Creep grazing is when young nursing animals are given forward
access to fresh, ungrazed pasture through an opening in the fence.
To be effective, the forage in the creep area must be superior
to the forage in the non-creep area. The greater the difference
between forage in the two areas, the greater benefit to creep
grazing. In addition to better nutrition in the fresh paddocks,
infection with infective worm larvae will be lower.
Year-round grazing is possible even in cold climates, though extending
the grazing system is probably a more realistic goal for most
producers. Tall fescue is the best grass to stockpile for winter
grazing. Small grains, root crops, and crop aftermaths are other
options for extending the grazing season. Warm season grasses
can improve forage availability in the summer, when many cool season
plants go dormant.
Mixed species grazing
Mixed species grazing is when two or more species of domestic
animals are grazed together or separately on the same grazing
area in the same grazing season. The rationale for mixed species
grazing is based on the principle that animals have different
grazing preferences and dietary overlap is minimal in a diverse
An additional benefit to mixed species grazing is parasite control.
Sheep, cattle, and horses are generally affected by different
gastro-intestinal parasites, whereas sheep, goats, and camelids
share the same parasites.
Diet preferences of cattle, horses, sheep and goats (percent
Targeted or prescribed grazing
Prescribed grazing is the controlled harvest of vegetation with
grazing animals, managed
with the intent to achieve a specific objective. Prescribed grazing
can be used to accomplish a variety of land management objectives
such as control of noxious weeds and invasive plant species, reducing
the incidence of wildfires, rangeland improvement, riparian and
watershed management, improving wildlife habitat, and reducing
nutrient competition in tree plantations.
While sheep have been used for centuries to control unwanted vegetation,
grazing as a fee-based service is a relatively new opportunity
that is expected to expand as society looks for more environmentally-friendly
ways to manage landscapes.
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