Many of you have seen them — farms split into paddocks where the animals are rotated each week, every three days, once a day or even every 12 hours.
Some of you may wonder why? Why go to all of that hassle? Is it really worthwhile?
I suppose to some, all of those division fences and dealing with rotating livestock seems like a lot of unnecessary work.
Your livestock rotate themselves through their large pasture just fine you may think. They’re in one area in the morning and they work their way around the field by evening. Isn’t that the same thing with less work on your part?
Answer is no
The answer is no — it is not the same at all. You see, most livestock species’ goal in life is to eat and when they eat, they prefer to eat the best tasting young forages in the pasture.
Livestock live day to day without planning ahead to ensure they will have a meal to eat tomorrow, so they will eat that young tasty forage over and over.
Every time it grows back a little bit, they will eat that fresh new growth until they have depleted the plants’ energy supply in the roots and eventually the plants die out.
This leaves you with either a pasture full of undesirable plants or with the entire field grazed down to almost nothing.
This is where dividing your pasture into paddocks and some management from you comes in.
As we just discussed, when left to manage themselves, livestock will graze out the good species of forages in your pasture or graze the whole pasture down until it resembles indoor/outdoor carpet.
Management is necessary to prevent these problems. I sometimes like to compare pasture management to how you manage your hayfield.
You wouldn’t dream of mowing your hayfield every day, would you?
You make one cutting of hay and then you give the field time to rest, recover and regrow before harvesting another cutting from that field.
Similar principles apply to grazing. You don’t want to manage a pasture exactly like a hayfield, but like a hayfield, your pasture needs time to rest and regrow between grazing periods in order to be productive.
Recover and regrow
By managing your pasture fields through divisions and rotating livestock, you allow the pasture to recover and regrow, providing additional feed for your livestock.
By producing more grass on the same acreage, you are essentially saving yourself money.
More grass for the livestock to eat for a longer period of time means less hay you have to bale yourself or buy to feed them. This will save you money in the long run.
It may seem time consuming to have to go out and move your livestock from one paddock to another. As someone who has experience with this, it really does not take much time at all.
Once you have the paddock divisions built, all that is involved is opening and closing a gate or stepping in a few temporary posts and running a polywire division across a paddock.
It may take you anywhere from five minutes to about 30 minutes at the most.
Often if you take the time to set up some division fences one evening when you can afford to spend the time, it will leave you with all five minute moves the rest of the week.
The livestock quickly learn that moving means fresh grass, so they normally are very cooperative.
A major advantage of moving your animals on a regular basis is the opportunity to interact with them. Your livestock get used to your presence and it becomes easier to work with them should a problem arise.
It also gives you an opportunity to keep an eye on livestock health. If you don’t spend much time with your livestock, often you may not catch a problem until it is too late; whereas, being with your animals once a week or even more often, you will tend to notice a health problem sooner and be able to treat it.
Management intensive grazing means producing more and higher quality forages for your livestock, reducing your need to bale or buy as much hay and having the opportunity to spend more time with your livestock to monitor their health more closely.
A small investment of your time and energy will net you more profit from your livestock venture, through better production, money saved from reduced hay costs and money saved from a decrease in your vet bills.
So, maybe a better question would be why wouldn’t you consider management intensive grazing?
(Beth Kruprzak is a grassland conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)