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
One of the most important components of a successful rotational grazing system is allowing the forages an adequate rest period for plant recovery and regrowth. Allowing plants a sufficient rest period is vital to maximize forage quality, yield, and stand persistence. This period not only give the plants time to regrow but also to replenish stored carbohydrates and for root development. However, if plants are allowed too long of a rest period without grazing or mowing, plants will become mature and lose nutrient value and palatability.
The length of the rest period needed will vary depending on forage species, season, and environmental conditions. With adequate moisture, cool-season species will grow rapidly during the spring and fall while warm-season species will grow rapidly in the warm, summer months. When grazing predominantly grass stands, it is suggested that animals are removed in late fall (late October to early November) before a hard freeze to allow plants to replenish root reserves before these plants go dormant. When grazing alfalfa, animals should be removed earlier in the fall (mid to late-September.) The fall growth of alfalfa can be grazed after a killing frost or in mid-November. Because the ideal rest period may vary, it is very beneficial to be flexible and to move animals according to forage and animal observations. Adjustments may be made over time according to observations.
Animals should be removed when pastures are grazed down to the suggested height where adequate leaf area is present for quick regrowth. Overgrazing pastures will increase the length of rest period required. More paddocks allow for longer resting periods. For example, in a six paddock rotation, if animals are in each paddock for six days, this will allow for a thirty day rest period. Knowing and adhering to the suggested grazing heights and rest periods for the various forage species is important for maximum forage production and quality. The following table contains suggested length of rest for common forages. For more information see Rotational Grazing, ID-143.