Rotational Grazing

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

When it comes to livestock, most of us relish the times of the year when cool season grass is lush and our cattle, horses, or goats are up to their bellies in grass. Pasture is the most economical way to feed livestock, but to get the most production and return per acre, producers need to accurately balance forage growth and livestock management.

Each species of livestock have particular grazing habits and, by knowing these habits, producers can more effectively manage by rotating pastures. This keeps pastures at the most nutritious, vegetative state for the bulk of the grazing season.

With rotational grazing, livestock graze one section or paddock at a time, while the rest of the pasture rests and rejuvenates. Pastures grazed in this way give higher yields and increase animal performance, whether it is pounds of gain, milk production or reproduction efficiency.

By providing paddocks with a 20-30 day rest period, the forage is given time to renew carbohydrates and rebuild plant vigor. This rest also improves the quality of the forage and gives the stand greater longevity. Rotational grazing can allow forage stands to produce from 1000 to 2000 more pounds of dry matter than overgrazed, abused pastures.

Rotational grazing is a simple idea that can be accomplished merely by subdividing larger pastures. If you have one pasture now, divide it into four similar sized paddocks to improve your forage production and animal performance. Ideally, 7 to 8 paddocks work best as each is grazed for three days and rested for at least 21 days, but starting small can teach you ways to improve the process.

Always let your forage growth tell you when to move your livestock, not a set period of grazing. Remember that the closer you graze the forage, the longer the recovery period. To avoid overgrazing, take livestock to a fresh paddock when the forage has a stubble of 3 to 4 inches. Closer grazing than this makes for a long re-growth period and weakens forage stands. For warm season grasses, move them when the forage is between 4 to 8 inches.

By following some simple management procedures, and considering the state of their forage growth, livestock producers can both increase forage yields and animal performance. Consider rotational grazing for your livestock, I think you’ll see the returns the first year.

Damon Pollard
Extension Agent