Being a farmer is more than a day job, it's a lifestyle. Early to bed and early to rise, few farmers have the luxury of getting away from the farm for much needed rest and relaxation. Just like farmers, pastures also require rest from the stresses of daily farming life.
What is Rotational Grazing?
Rotational grazing allows you to provide fresh pasture to your livestock at all times. Large pastures are sectioned off into smaller parcels using either permanent or temporary fencing. These new smaller pastures are grazed intensively for a short period of time. Animals are then moved to the next pasture that is ready for grazing and the pasture they were moved from is given time off to allow grass to regrow. By implementing a rotational grazing program, you can help ensure your livestock consumes nutritious and palatable grass with each mouthful they take.
Benefits of Rotational Grazing
Without a break from the stresses from the presence of livestock and grazing, forages can become over stressed resulting in the inability to reestablish new growth. When allowed to continuously graze a pasture, animals will eat the most palatable grasses first, leaving the pasture with both overgrazed and under grazed sections. Likewise, the animals will keep going back to the more palatable sections and graze without giving the plants optimal time to develop strong roots and recover. Eventually these plants will die and undesirable weeds will begin to take over the pasture.
A rotational grazing program limits the time livestock graze on each pasture, thus resulting in more uniform grazing. Periods of rest allow plants to replenish their food reserves and fuel regrowth. Additionally, pastures that are able to rest develop more resistance to drought.
Planning to Rotate
If you have a large farm, one of the best ways to develop your rotational grazing program is through the use of an aerial photograph of your pastures. To speak to one of our agronomists or livestock specialists in your area find your local Southern States store, or contact Customer Service at 1 (866) 372-8272 anytime Mon. - Fri., 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM EST. Once you have the aerial photo in hand, you can start subdividing your pastures based on forage type, if applicable, ensuring all pastures have access to water. When deciding how to structure your pastures keep in mind square pastures allow for the most even grazing, pastures should be large enough for your desired stocking rate and ensure there is adequate shade in each area.
Pastures can be subdivided using either permanent or temporary fencing. Typically, portable electric fence tape is used to subdivide pastures, while permanent fencing makes up perimeter fencing. Portable fencing allows you to be flexible in your program, if you see a certain pasture design or set up isn't working the fencing can be easily moved.
Rules of Thumb
- Grass should be six to eight inches tall prior to grazing. If livestock are allowed to graze too early, plants may die as immature root systems cannot handle the stresses of grazing and the weight of hooves.
- Eat half, leave half. Once your animals eat half of the grass in the pasture, it's time to move them to the next available pasture that is ready for grazing. Try not to allow animals to graze the pastures below three inches.
- Rely on plants rather than calendars. Recovery time for pastures is generally anywhere from 10 to 60 days depending on the season. Evaluate the plant growth and then decide whether or not the pasture has had ample time to rest and regrow prior to grazing again.