To get the most from your grasses, you need a well-considered grazing strategy. When deciding the grazing strategy that works for your operation, there are a number of factors to weigh up:
- the needs of your livestock
- the quality of your pasture
- your land management goals
- labour and infrastructure costs
Common grazing strategies to consider
A fixed area of land is grazed non-stop, over a period that can vary from a few weeks to the entire grass-growing season. To maintain the optimal grazing pressure and avoid over- or under-grazing, you can adjust the stocking rate. Alternatively, areas can be closed off to control sward quality if cover exceeds targets, and excess grass cut for hay or silage.
While this is the most straightforward grazing strategy, it can be difficult to maintain grass quality. There is also uneven manure distribution, weed build-up through selective grazing, and lower forage yield than with rotational grazing strategies.
Stock are moved through a small number of fields, grazing in each for a number of days. The time may be based on sward height or pasture cover targets. Pasture is given time to recover and regrow in between grazings. The strategy leads to an extended grazing season, even manure distribution and higher productivity. The system does require more fencing and greater oversight.
Stock are moved frequently through a series of smaller paddocks, based on sward height or pasture covers. This more-intensive rotational grazing system offers even greater forage production and can sustain higher stocking rates. Other benefits include weed control through grazing and even manure distribution. However, there can be substantive costs with fencing and water provision, and it requires informed management.
Mob or cell grazing
Intensive rotational grazing, this system sees a large number of animals graze highly stocked, small areas of pasture. When livestock have moved on from an area, that area is back-fenced and left to regrow. The system, which can involve portable water troughs and temporary electric fences, requires close monitoring of livestock.
Young animals move onto a section of pasture ahead of older livestock, for better quality forage and faster weight gain. Managed through fencing that allows smaller animals into designated areas first, creep grazing integrates well with a rotational grazing system.
Different species of livestock prefer different types of forage – cows prefer legumes, while sheep will graze grasses and weeds first. As different stock types consume different plants – and plant parts – overall plant utilisation is improved. Rejection areas stock don’t normally graze, especially because of dunging, are reduced. Mixed grazing may also reduce parasite problems, improving animal performance.
The importance of data in grazing management
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has an in-depth guide to planning grazing strategies. Whatever strategy you choose, it’s crucial to maintain reliable records of both your stock movements and the condition of your pastures. Combining this with your production outcomes will provide valuable insights into your grazing systems and enable you to manage your pastures even more productively into the future.
Using AgriWebb, a grazing plan is easily created each time livestock is moved into a paddock, and the Insights feature lets you know exactly what is happening in your paddocks, in real time. Accessed through the Farm map, it gives information such as your stocking rate, feed on-offer (FOO) and grazing days remaining.