Introduction to Rotational Grazing

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Mark Reynolds

Well-known member
May 30, 2023
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Ohio, South-East Ohio and South Carolina
Yes, this is the exact same post as on the Pasture board. I couldn't decide which board it should go on, or how to put it on both boards with one post. It seems the topic has a following on both boards.

There is a lot of talk about rotational grazing and its benefits. It is a good thing. However, in order for it to be done 'correctly' and its benefits optimized, it must be understood what the objectives of rotational grazing are. Rotational grazing by definition simply means moving your livestock from one pasture to another to another to another in some sort of interval. If you don't know what you are trying to accomplish or have a goal in mind, its going to be difficult to determine if rotational grazing is helping or not.

I put the following together some years ago and some of you have seen it and even committed it to memory. It's designed to be very simple. It's also VERY effective if followed. It's also been pointed out that it is a place to START with your rotational grazing operation and tailor it to your personal needs from there.

The four never fail rules of grazing
(cool season grasses)

Never let seed heads form on plants. This will stunt growth later in the season if it occurs. 1

Never let livestock graze more than 7 continuous days on a pasture. 2

Never graze closer than 3 inches. 3

Never return to a pasture in less than 30 days. 4

Exceptions to the rules- USE CAUTIOUSLY!!

Warm Season grasses in the Western half of the US behave differently than cool season grasses in the East. These plants may require the formation of seed heads to survive. Consult a grazing specialist before deciding to graze warm season grasses, ANYWHERE! Their growth and survival requirements are very different from cool season grasses. Although, they do provide some very important benefits when used in conjunction with cool season grasses.

Grazing more than 7 continuous days results in animals regrazing plants that have resumed growth after being grazed off. These plants are targeted because they are more tender and succulent. This grazing pattern results in decreased vigor and loss of the most desirable plants in a pasture and spot grazing. However, grazing in a pasture for more than 7 consecutive days will not result in selective grazing if the plants are dormant. This occurs during the winter months and also during drought. Both of these are time periods when extended rest may be desirable over continued rotation.

Grazing closer than three inches can be used, and should be, when broadcast seeding is done for an existing pasture. The short grass promotes better seed to soil contact. Closer than a three inch grazing height is inefficient for cattle and results in reduced intake, which means lower weight gains, which means decreased profit. Grazing an actively growing plant closer than three inches will compromise its regrowth ability and lower its vigor. However, grazing a dormant plant closer than a three inch grazing height will not have near the adverse effect as an actively growing plant. This can be particularly important to know during a drought when forage may be scarce, but, plants are dormant. Don't turn the pasture into a dustbowl. Avoid crown damage and uprooting of plants.

It may be required that livestock are returned to a pasture before 30 days in rare springtime circumstances where the spring flush is particularly vigorous. This is required to prevent seed head formation, first in the list of general rules, and maintain growth throughout the year instead of getting all of your production at once. Extreme cases may actually require mowing to prevent seed head development due to rapid growth.
I'm going to differ on coastal Bermuda grazing intervals. My pasture sizes were not the same. Rotating into the hay fields to clean up the perimeter was out of routine but beneficial to protein intake and the quality of the grass.
The ONE never fail rule of rotational grazing:

Any rotational management plan will only be as good as what the weather/climate/rain in your area will support on an "annual" basis. What worked last year likely won't work exactly the same this year. Or more concisely: "if it don't rain the grass doesn't grow." :)

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