It is often said that livestock producers are grass farmers first, and then animal farmers. They make sure the grass grows, and the animals do the rest. If this is true, are you being the best “grass farmer” that you can be? The way that your land is managed for grazing can have a great impact on your forages, the soil, and your bottom line. While there are advantages and disadvantages to every grazing system, some of the advantages of a more intensely managed system can far outweigh the disadvantages. There are a few different grazing systems to consider as a producer of a grazing animal.
Continuous grazing is the system with the lowest input costs and lowest labor requirements. In a continuous grazing system, animals are given a whole pasture for the duration of the growing season and are free to choose which plants to consume. In this case, the animals get to be selective about which plants they prefer to eat. While this method does have the lowest input cost, it also brings the lowest yields in terms of average daily gain of your animals and milk production. When animals are given a whole pasture, the plants and pasture suffer and will not produce at the level needed to produce the best possible animal. Forage consumption and utilization stays around 30 to 40 percent on a continuously grazed pasture due to trampling of other forages and selection against certain forages. Manure is also distributed poorly in a continuous grazing system, rendering it more of a hinderance than a help for pasture management.
A step above continuous grazing is rotational grazing. This grazing system involves moving the animals between at least 3 different pastures or sections of pasture. The amount of pasture space needed and time that animals are on a specific pasture will depend on the amount of available forage and size of the herd. In this system, the animals are left on one pasture until it is completely grazed down to a certain residual height. This residual height will be what allows the forage to regrow, and will depend on the type of forage in the pasture. While this method is slightly more labor intensive than continuous grazing, it has several advantages over continuous grazing. Moving the animals will allow the forage to regrow and be grazed again during the growing season. Manure distribution is also more uniform in this grazing style since the animals are on a smaller area.
Strip grazing is often referred to as intense grazing management. This grazing management style is the most labor intensive, and has the highest input costs due to the cost of temporary fencing, but the producer must take into consideration that this is a one-time cost of equipment. In a strip grazing system, animals are given a small section or ‘strip’ of a pasture to graze for a short period of time. When the forages in the strip are grazed down to a certain height, (depending on the forage type) the animals are moved to a new section the same size as the last. The size of the strip is determined by the amount of available forage and stocking density of your herd. With this system, forages are utilized as efficiently as possible. On average, animals are on the strip from 1-4 days, and then are moved to the next strip. This allows each individual strip time to regrow and restore nutrients before animals are put back on it. Producers are often able to get two or three more grazings per pasture when using this method compared to the others mentioned. While it does require more time than the first two methods, the efficiency of the system often makes up for the extra time needed. Animals are given the best possible quality forage, and sections of the pasture have time to rest and recover before animals are back on it. Overall, this system leads to benefits for both sustainability and profitability when managed properly on a farm that far outweigh the disadvantages of this system.
For any questions regarding grazing management systems, please contact Katelyn Stovall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (704) 983-3987