Imagine this. You’re taking a bunch of kids to a birthday party, and you set them loose at the buffet. The star of the show is a huge, 6-tier birthday cake with really fun (and tasty) fondant cartoons.
Can you imagine what the state of the cake would be like? Smashed to a pulp, or something similarly horrific, that’s for sure!
Now let’s move on to scenario 2. There’s a birthday party, and there’s a super cool cake too. But here, you’re in charge. You cut up the cake into neatly sized chunks and pass it around on plates to the kids. The kids are happy, the cake is intact and you’re relieved.
Rotational grazing is just the same. When you set your cows loose on grasslands, they stomp and chomp and chew up whatever they feel like.
This means that the grass gets grazed unevenly, your cows aren’t always guaranteed nutritious pasture, there’s a steep decline in plant diversity, your soil health suffers and your animals aren’t performing as per their potential.
But there’s a solution to all of this!
In this article, we’re going to talk about the types of rotational grazing, and how you can reap its multitude of benefits.
Types of rotational grazing
Slow rotational grazing:
Here, there are usually a small number of paddocks, usually, animals are moved around 2 to 4 times across a few weeks.
Planned rotational grazing:
This form of rotational grazing is more structured and moves animals once every 3 to 10 days so that pastures get adequate time to rest and regrow. The next paddock might be selected either sequentially or based on herbage growth.
Intensive rotational grazing:
In this system, the animals are typically moved once or twice every day. Temporary fences are used to create makeshift paddock boundaries. And the next grazing paddock is almost always selected based on the herbage it has to offer.
This system has the highest density of grazing animals per hectare. Often it is over 100 to 300 animals per hectare. Because of this high density, animals can quickly go through a paddock’s herbage. So farmers might need to move them several times a day to maintain post-grazing residual levels.
Adaptive high-stock density grazing:
This is a flexible method where graziers constantly adjust herd density according to certain factors like nutritional needs, season, pasture growth rate, etc.
Benefits of rotational grazing
Increased forage production: Did you know that a well-managed grazing program can increase the production of forage by 30% - 70% each year? This usually happens when plants are not overly grazed in the pasture.
When grass is chomped on every few days, it loses root mass and energy. And while it’s already in this sad state, in continuous grazing, the animals are back before you know it, chomping all over again!
On the other hand, when a plant has adequate rest time to gain back its energy and root mass, it can produce 30% - 70 more forage. This is why farmers are encouraged to maintain post grazing residuals of around 1,500 Kg DM/ ha.
Also, animals tend to selectively graze their most favourite grasses like alfalfa and clovers. So these specific tasty plants get over-grazed over and over again. And over time, the tasty plant species tend to die out while the other plants tend to dominate the pasture. This will change your pasture composition in the long run. You don’t want this.
When you put out your animals on pastures that have both delicious and not-so-delicious forage ensures that all plants are equally grazed, and all species remain intact thus upping the plant diversity quotient.
As we mentioned earlier, when plants are overgrazed, they have smaller root mass. This smaller root mass results in lesser soil organic matter. When plants are allowed to rest between grazing periods, the soil automatically gets richer in organic matter.
In continuous grazing, cows usually prefer to deposit manure at a favourite spot, usually around mineral feeders or waterers. When you practice rotational grazing, you can be assured that manure will be spread throughout the pasture, far and wide!
When the soil gets richer in organic matter and when the quantity of forage increases, it’s a winning combination that’s great at battling drought. The thick forage cover will slow the movement of water during heavy rains and the soil will absorb a lot more water. This keeps pastures resistant to droughts, whenever they occur.
During drought, a farmer/livestock manager can also limit how much forage eaten by the animals, before the start of the rainy season. When the size of the paddock is set so that cattle and other animals get just the right amount of forage to eat, you can postpone the buying of hay and save funds!
Lesser wasting of forage:
When you give your cows’ access to as much forage as they want as is done in continuous grazing, they treat it like an all-you-can-eat buffet and stomp on the forage, defecate on it and overgraze certain parts of the pasture.
On the other hand, giving them chunks of paddocks which equal to either one day or a couple of days’ worth of forage will encourage them to treat it valuably!
This happens when cows walk on the same soil over and over again. It causes a decrease in the fertility of the soil, the capability to absorb water and the ability of the roots to penetrate deep into the soil. When cows move across paddocks, the same soil isn’t subjected to their heavy hooves over and over again.
Reserving your forage:
Many sheep farmers offer poorer quality forage to their dry ewes and save the yummiest and most nutritious forage for the growing lambs and lactating ewes. Even newly weaned labs are set to graze on high-quality forage. After the high-quality forage has been eaten up by the young lambs, farmers graze the dry ewes on that grass.
There are all types of forages. Some are warm-season, and some can withstand the cold. Some plants do great in sub-zero temperatures, while others wither away at the first sign of frost. When you follow controlled grazing practices, you can prepare your paddocks for seasonal forages, which is otherwise not possible with a single, large grassland.
Better relationships with your animals:
When you rotate your animals regularly to newer paddocks, they become easier to manage. Since animals are smart, they associate their farmers/managers/shepherds with good food.All you have to do is open the gate and call out to them to follow you.
On the other hand, in continuous grazing, prodding them or driving them to graze makes them get stressed out which results in lesser forage intake and thus, weight loss. This daily/weekly contact with your cattle when moving them to new paddocks makes them feel more comfortable with their owners.
Also, when you call your animals to your paddocks and get them to rush past the gate, it’s easy to spot out the weaker/slower animals. Shepherds use this as a running race of sorts to help spot out the weaker lambs who are usually last to reach the paddocks and are either anemic or worm-infested.
The bottom line of course comes down to one thing – profits. One of the main goals that will help us sustain a farm and poise our pastures for profit.
Extending the grazing season means lesser money spent on expensive feed ration which usually accounts for about 25% of livestock budgets. Overall, rotational grazing has been proven to lower costs by reducing the labour involved and equipment used which then increases net profits which is something all of us want!
We’ve gushed on and on about rotational grazing which does have a lot of benefits but that isn’t to say that it’s easily implementable.
From layout plans to the division of paddocks to using your resources to construct permanent and temporary fences and organizing the supply of water, it does deserve its fair share of prep and planning. But once that’s done, there’s no way to go but up! You can visit Pasture.io to read up on all the aspects of rotational grazing.
And if you’re looking at some personalized advice, just reach out to us and we’d be happy to help!
Until we meet again, Happy Farming!
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 09 October 2020