Does Rotational Grazing Pay? - Tough Question

Fodder for Thought

Managed grazing may work for some operators but not for others.

Published on: July 5, 2012

While a clear need for more managed grazing systems is long overdue for beef producers, many remain hesitant.

In a recent #HayTalk tweetchat we discussed continuous vs. rotational grazing systems. Many were quick to acknowledge the potential economic plusses of rotational systems of cost savings and more income through increased stocking rates and forage utilization. But it was apparent that the challenges of added costs in fencing, water, lanes, and more livestock to move from a continuous to rotational system were stopping some from making this transition. Along with these costs, the added time investment to move cattle more often can sometimes be a deterrent.

The question many beef producers really want to know is simply, "Is rotational grazing profitable?" While this sounds like a simple question, the answer leaves much explanation to be desired.

The honest answer is: "It depends."

It is impossible to predict how profitability on your operation might change from implementing a rotational system using with a blanket statement. Too much variation among farms exists to generalize. The economics of this management change depend on your farm plan. In the end, rotational grazing may work for some farms and not for others.

One method used to evaluate a rotational grazing system for a particular operation is a partial budget. This method allows for the comparison of increased costs and decreased revenue to increased revenue and decreased costs.

Two excellent example case studies of this can be found in extension publications from University of Kentucky and Mississippi State University Extension. Additional resources on the economics of rotational grazing and can be found here and partial budget analyses for farms are here.

While the economics will vary from one operation to the next, it is important that producers take the time to analyze their situation to determine whether a switch to a rotational system would be economically beneficial for their farm or ranch.

For producers seeking to increase stocking rates on their operations, this transition could prove to be a smart business move in the long run. Research has proven rotational grazing systems allow for increased forage utilization and higher animal output per acre.

You don’t know how good something can be until you give it a try.

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  1. Cost and profit have to be properly defined to answer this question. It may be cheaper at first to do continuous grazing but what is that costing you in terms of soil health, animal health and product quality? Once the question is honestly and properly presented I believe rotational grazing, true rotational grazing, is always going to win.

  2. Anonymous says:

    We raise dairy cows and also dairy steers on a rotational grazing system. On our farm we have found the more intense the rotation (we are almost mob grazing) the more profitable. Yes, fencing and water is a huge cost consideration. We have used cost share grants through NRCS to help with the cost of fences, walking lanes and watering systems. Like all management systems, each farmer/rancher needs to do what works for their land, animals and lifestyle Emily Zweber