Articles on forages, animals, and grazing systems
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Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358
Fax: (859) 323-1952
Two main systems are used when grazing livestock. Continuous grazing is usually a low management system where livestock are allowed unrestricted, uninterrupted access to the same pasture for the entire grazing season or year. Using rotational grazing instead of continuous grazing is strongly suggested for numerous reasons. The rotational grazing system is developed by subdividing a large pasture into smaller paddocks and grazing these paddocks in a planned sequence. If done correctly, rotational grazing has many benefits including increased forage production, increased performance, and can increase overall profitability. The rotational grazing system is often modified to best work on various operations. Some popular techniques include strip grazing, first-last grazing, co-species grazing, and ultra-high density grazing or mob grazing.
Strip grazing is often used by graziers during certain times of the year or when grazing specific forage species. This technique involves utilizing a movable electric fence to allow enough forage for a short time period and then moving the fence to allow enough forage for the next specified time period. This can increase utilization and reduce waste due to trampling. Strip grazing should start in the area nearest to the water source to reduce waste. This method is usually labor intensive and often used when grazing stockpiled forages and brassicas.
First-last grazing, creep grazing, forward grazing, forward creep grazing, or leader/follower grazing consists of grazing 2 groups of livestock on a paddock, one following directly after the other. This is often used to graze animals with higher nutritional needs first to allow them to selectively graze more nutritious forages followed by the group with lower nutritional needs to utilize the remaining forage. Usually, young animals are allowed to graze first with the use of creep gates or using fence height to only allow smaller animals through. This method can also be used when grazing two different species.
Co-species grazing, or mixed grazing, is grazing different livestock species on the same pastures as one herd or using the first-last grazing method. This can increase overall utilization and can be used to control weeds and other “undesirable” plants. Cattle, sheep, and goats prefer to graze different forage species and graze in different ways. Goats and sheep often prefer to graze forages and weeds that cattle will refuse. When considering this method it is important to understand that these species have different needs and may require increased labor. For more information see http://www2.ca.uky.edu/grazer/aug12_Multi-Species_Grazing.php.
Mob grazing, ultra-high density grazing, tall grass grazing, or flash grazing consists of grazing a large concentration of livestock in a small area for a short duration. With stocking densities between 100,000-500,000 lbs of body weight/acre, animals are usually moved several times per day. Paddocks are only grazed 2-3 times per year and long rest periods allow forage to become mature before grazing rather than being grazed in a vegetative state. This method forces the livestock to graze everything available. What is not grazed is trampled into the ground. Advocates claim this method will increase soil organic matter, reduce weeds, and increase manure distribution. Allowing forages to reach maturity significantly reduces quality and nutritional value which may reduce animal performance and gains. Forage production and stand persistence may be reduced. This system requires increased labor and is best suited when grazing animals with low nutritional needs.
The benefits of utilizing a rotational grazing system over a continuous grazing system are abundant. Rotational grazing can drastically increases pasture utilization, production, forage quality, and stand persistence which can all increase animal health and performance. There are many different approaches to rotational grazing. Labor, costs, and possible benefits and detriments to the animals and pastures need to be considered when deciding if a technique will work on any operation.