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Rotational Grazing: Round & Round They Go

by Darla Noble

rotational grazingRotational grazing is the process of moving livestock from pasture paddock to paddock for the benefit of both the animals and the pastures.

The most obvious reason for resting pasture is re-growth. When animals aren’t grazing, both the root system and stem can grow and take advantage of the nutrients in the ground. This new growth will then be there for the animals to eat when they return to that paddock.

Land that isn’t being grazed down to the dirt, but that instead is allowed to rest and renew itself is usually safe from the threat of soil erosion. With grasses and legumes to hold the dirt in place, the natural eco-structure remains intact.

Land allowed to rest is cleaner; meaning parasites and their eggs left behind in the animal’s feces will not survive without the host animal. Instead the manure will act as a fertilizer. The nitrogen naturally found in manure from livestock is essential for pasture growth. This is especially true when 35-40% of your pasture is legumes. Some of the most commonly used legumes are red and white clover, alfalfa, soybeans and vetch.

Cattle, sheep and goats are the most common forms of livestock raised by producers who practice rotational grazing. The benefits to the animals mirror the benefits to the land itself.

The re-growth of pasture provides better nutrition for the livestock grazing the pastures. The new growth is tastier, tenderer and contains more nutrients. The tenderness and tastiness of the grass makes them eat more of it. The nutritional value speaks for itself. There is one danger to this, however. The tender young grasses can cause bloat. Bloat is the inability to pass gas resulting from excessive foaming in the rumen. While some foaming is natural, an over abundance can be fatal, and usually happens when animals are released into a lush pasture after having been out of grass in the previous paddock. In other words, they “pig out”. This is an easy problem to avoid, however, by rotating animals before they are down to the dirt.

Paddocks which have been allowed to lay empty long enough to insure parasites are dead benefit both the animal and the farmer. The health benefits of an animal not bothered by parasite overload are:

  1. Better growth
  2. Will produce healthier babies
  3. Better capability to raise their young-consistent milk production
  4. Longer life span

The farmer benefits by not having to spend time and money treating animals for parasite infestation and by realizing a healthier bottom line from having healthier animals with good growth rates, carcass values or reproductive capabilities.

How long animals stay in any particular paddock will depend on the size of the paddock the amount of grass there is to eat, the number of animals in the grazing group and weather conditions. During rainy seasons when grass grows profusely, you’ll likely move groups less often than you will during drier periods when growth is slow.

While rotational grazing systems should be set up to meet your needs and your land, the ideal set up will allow every paddock to remain untouched until the grass is more than two inches tall. This is due to the fact that most parasites live within the first two inches of the grass. Likewise, you shouldn’t let the animals eat the grass down farther than that if at all possible.

Rotational grazing is an excellent way to increase the efficiency and health of your farm. For information on setting up your farm’s rotational grazing system, contact your local farm service agency or county extension agent for ideas, suggestions and possible financial assistance.

About The Author

Darla Noble

Darla Noble is a freelance writer and agricultural specialist. She and her family have played a prominent role in Missouri and Mid West agriculture; predominantly in the production and marketing of sheep, value-added agricultural programs and the agri-tourism industry. They've been named MO Farm Family and their farm has been featured in several publications.