Do you want to start rotationally grazing your livestock? Members of the Ohio State University’s Extension Forage Team write information in this column about rotational grazing.
We talk about things like forage quality, controlling seedheads, length of rotation, rest periods, summer slump, weed control, water in each paddock, new forage varieties, and a whole lot more.
Easy. I hope topics like this excite you, not turn you off.
Rotational grazing is not hard to do. I think some farm managers do not try rotational grazing because they think it is too much work moving animals from paddock to paddock or it will take a lot of time to move their livestock.
They may think they need a lot of knowledge about grass growth, money for new equipment, special fences or other things they currently do not have to rotationally graze livestock.
This is just not the case.
Start small. If you do nothing more than divide one large field into two smaller fields and move your livestock from one to the other, allowing one to rest while the other is being grazed, you have made a start.
Rotational grazing can be what you want it to be for your farm. Like many other things though, the more you put into something (management) the more you can get out (money).
Once a week. Many farmers, including myself, started rotationally grazing their livestock by moving cattle once a week to a new field.
Seeing the results of better pasture utilization, more legume growth, and the desire to graze more livestock on the ground available, I found I wanted to rotate the livestock more frequently.
Learned behavior. The fear I had of chasing or driving animals through gates to get them into the next paddock was now gone.
I found the cows knew they were going to be given a fresh new supply of forage and there was no chasing or driving animals needed.
Generally, opening the gate to the next paddock and getting out of the way is all one must do if a little thought has been put into how livestock move and in what corners the gates should be installed.
Most graziers find moving livestock to be an easy job and time well spent.
Moving animals is an excellent time to get a good look at each animal as they file past into the next field. Sick or injured animals quickly become apparent.
Flexibility. Remaining flexible is a key to rotational grazing.
When you properly rotate paddocks and allow rest periods, you will find you are able to grow more grass per acre than you could with conventional grazing.
To optimize your system, paddock sizes may need to be changed the first few years. Then if you add extra livestock you will want to change paddock sizes again.
That is why we recommend you keep interior fences flexible until you have a good handle on the amount of forage your ground will produce and the stocking rate you are comfortable with.
Overtime. Did you know cows don’t work overtime? To some this may sound odd because we think an animal would eat as long as it wanted to eat if food were available and it was not full.
But, several studies have documented information showing cows do not graze much longer than eight hours per 24 hour period.
Grazing involves the whole process of moving around searching for food and then actually eating. Grazing longer than this eight hour period would interfere with rumination and other behavioral requirements.
If we can help animals harvest more forage, by offering grass at the optimum height for grazing, livestock productivity is likely to improve.
Bite rate. Daily patterns for grazing activity, biting rates and grazing time are similar for cattle and sheep. So, intake per bite becomes an issue when we look at how livestock graze in a pasture.
A cow’s mouth is about 2 1/2 inches wide and she needs to eat approximately 150 pounds of green forage (30 pounds of dry matter) each day.
A cow grazing forage that is the optimum height moves forward swinging her head from side to side within an arc of 60 to 90 degrees, taking 30-90 bites per minute.
Length. Forage length has an important effect on a cow’s rhythm of eating. If a cow is grazing tall forage (say 14 inches), she either eats 2 1/2 -3 inches of the tops or she tears off a mouthful about 12 inches long.
If she tears off the long forage she cannot swallow without chewing it first. Chewing requires about 30 seconds per mouthful.
In comparison, if a cow is grazing forage that is only about 6-8 inches tall, she can swallow about 30 mouthfuls in 30 seconds.
So, animals grazing forages that are optimum height can eat more during a day’s grazing than when consuming grass that is too tall or too short. By consuming more forage the animal has the ability to produced more milk if she is lactating or gain more weight if that is your production goal.
If you conventionally graze your pastures, how do they measure up?
< Time to start. /b>With the grass greening in the pastures it is time to start implementing your management skills. If you want more production per acre, lower overhead costs and environmentally friendly practices on your farm, yes, rotational grazing is for you.
There are many advantages to be gained using rotational grazing and each grazier can decide how intensively they want to manage their pastures.
Why not try one more paddock this year?
Get help. Many grazing schools/groups meet around the state if you want to attend and learn more about rotational grazing.
Contact the agricultural extension agent or Natural Resources Conservation Service grazing land specialist in your area for more information.
(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent in Monroe County, Ohio. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)