Grazing options expand

You may have more choices than you think in how you graze your land. Changes in technology for flexible fencing and watering systems make concentrated, high-density rotational grazing with long rest periods for the pasture or forage more attractive now. And there are more benefits for livestock owners who develop a successful grazing system and commit to closely managing and moving their animals.

“You could leave cattle or other livestock on the same pasture all season long, but there are better ways to graze for both the land and your livestock than that,” says Jess Jackson, a grazing specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service located in eastern Iowa.

Key Points

Livestock producers now have more choices in how they graze their land.

There are situations where any of the three methods might be the best choice.

Whatever system you choose, you need to monitor and manage your forage.

Jackson and his colleague, NRCS state grazing-land specialist Mark Kennedy of Missouri, think in terms of three primary grazing techniques; each method has its advantages and trade-offs. The techniques vary by length of time and intensity of grazing, Jackson says, and in the amount of rest between the grazing periods.

The three techniques are:

Rotational grazing. Longer periods of grazing and resting allow animals to graze selectively.

Management-intensive grazing. This method uses shorter grazing periods and more pastures or paddocks than rotational.

Mob grazing. This small-cell grazing means livestock must be moved twice daily or more often. The cattle or sheep eat or trample everything in the cell.

“There are conditions when any of the three techniques might be the best choice,” Jackson says. “Whatever system you choose to use, you need to monitor and manage your forage. The good news is, if you make mistakes, you can correct them with adequate rest for your pastures.”

The chart accompanying this article offers details on the three types of grazing techniques described by Kennedy and Jackson. For more information on choosing and setting up a grazing system that protects your land while meeting the forage production needs of your particular livestock operation, consult an NRCS grazing specialist or an Iowa State University Extension livestock specialist.

A good place to start is your local NRCS office, which has information on improved grazing management techniques and can also put you in touch with a specialist and with other farmers who have experience, says Jackson. Besides technical advice, grazers can get Environmental Quality Incentives Program cost-share funding from NRCS. Choices include EQIP contracts offering cost-share money for interior fences, pipelines, water tanks, pasture and hay planting, and other expenses.

Betts writes from Johnston.

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MOB GRAZING: Neal and Norm Sawyer of Princeton use mob grazing. Their cattle eat or trample everything in a small cell before being moved to the next cell within hours.

This article published in the May, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.