Appropriate grazing management is an important tool in effectively utilizing land resources. In the US, we don't need more land or even better land as some areas of the world. We only need to learn and apply the basic principles of grazing management. One basic concept that would add greatly to better production is rotational grazing. However, many pastures and other grassland areas are continuously grazed. Animals are permitted to wander across a pasture or range throughout the grazing season. Continuous grazing produces the lowest pasture yields and leads to deterioration of the forage resource because animals select their favorites and eat them until they are gone. Other species, less appealing, are ignored and allowed to grow past their prime development stage. More effective controlled grazing systems are presented in this topic module.
Types of Grazing Methods
The first delineation needed in discussing the different types of grazing methods is to understand continuous and rotational grazing. Animals having unrestricted and uninterrupted access throughout the grazing season is continuous grazing. Continuous grazing can serve a role in livestock production where animals are encouraged to only eat the "cream of the crop" such as might be the case with race horses or dairy cows. Rotational grazing implies only one section of pasture is grazed at a time while the remainder of the pasture is allowed to regrow. The recurring periods of grazing and resting for regrowth continue throughout the time grazing is allowed. Rotational grazing allows plants to remain healthy by renewing energy reserves, rebuilding plant vigor, and giving long-term maximum production. It is more advantageous to sustainability in agriculture.
For any type of rotational grazing the land is subdivided or sectioned off into smaller areas, sometimes called paddocks. The livestock are moved from one paddock to another in order to best promote plant health and growth. The secret to successful rotational grazing is the timing of rotations which must be based as much as is possible to the growth of the forage. Some have used rotational grazing unsuccessfully by rotating livestock based on calendar dates or convenience without carefully considering the plant growth.
Rotational Grazing Systems
Rotational grazing can utilize two or more paddocks. Intensive rotational grazing implies many paddocks are utilized and livestock are moved on a frequent basis. Intensive rotational grazing requires a lot of management with the greater paddock numbers, shorter grazing periods, and longer rest periods on vacant paddocks. But generally, the greater the management intensity, the greater the livestock production per acre. This type of grazing practice is also called Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) and provides more stable production during poor growing conditions (drought), greater yield, higher quality, decreased weed and erosion, and uniform soil fertility levels. Slight variations on this general grazing type are called: Hohenheim, Voisin, short-duration, high-intensity, low frequency, controlled, and strip grazing, Savory systems.
Creep grazing allows young, smaller animals to graze areas that mature livestock cannot access. This is accomplished by having creep gates or fencing that permits the smaller animals through. This is done to provide the highest quality feed to the young growing animals.
First-last grazing is designed to allow two or more groups of animals, usually with different nutritional needs, to graze the same paddock but at different times.
For example: a livestock group requiring high quality forage, like dairy cows, are allowed to graze the area first, selecting the best forage, then another group follows to graze the somewhat lower quality forage remaining.
Strip grazing refers to confining animals to a strip or small section of pasture for rapid grazing in a short time period. This forces the animals to graze the forage with little opportunity for selection. This can also be used to "teach" animals to eat a new forage type as is often the case with radishes and turnips used as miscellaneous forages.
These examples of types of grazing show some of the ways that forage managers can utilize their forage resources wisely while considering the needs of the livestock.
(Claudia Ingham to develop)