Rotational grazing boosts forage yield

What can you do to get more forage from your pasture? You have a number of choices. Fertilizing, controlling weeds and planting clovers are just a few. But one of the best ways is the most overlooked. Simply waste less forage.

That’s the objective of rotational grazing. But you may have heard that rotational grazing is something that’s complicated and requires a high degree of expertise.

All rotational grazing means is confining animals to an area so they will graze all of the available forage with little waste. The smaller the area (a paddock) they’re confined to, the faster they will graze it down and the less forage they’ll trample and defecate on.

Here are some benefits of rotational grazing:

o Better control over livestock. You’ll handle the animals more frequently, which will make them more docile, calm animals. Oftentimes, your animals will be waiting at the gate.

o Better production and persistence of plants. The rest periods will allow pastures to recover and persist longer.

o Better distribution of urine and feces.

o Less forage wasted. This is one of the main advantages. Confining animals to paddocks results in more uniform grazing and less waste.

o During excess forage growth, save forage as hay. Because you have a large pasture divided into smaller paddocks, take one or more out of the rotation pattern and cut it for hay.

o Better success in trampling clover seed into pastures. Since the animals are concentrated in a small area, broadcast the clover seed in February and let cattle trample it in. Move the cattle in a week or less, and the clover seedlings will become established without the threat of being pulled out of the ground by grazing before their roots become established.

o Improved management. Because you are moving cattle every week or so, you do a better job observing the cattle and become more aware of what’s happening, both with the cattle and with the pastures.

One of the first questions that everyone asks is, "How many paddocks should I make out of one large pasture?"

There is no set number. Size paddocks so that cattle will graze forage down in three to seven days. If it takes longer than seven days to graze, you won’t see the advantages of rotational grazing. So reduce the size of the paddocks.

When pastures get down to two to three inches, move the cattle to the next paddock. If forage growth gets ahead of the cattle and you have two or more paddocks ready to graze at the same time, cut hay from the ones cattle aren’t grazing.

Design paddocks so that water is available from several paddocks. Paddocks don’t have to be identical in size or shape. Use temporary electric fencing with low-impedance chargers to form the paddocks.

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