– Matt Blose, Marissa Friel, Courtney Hale, Maureen Hirzel, OSU Animal Science Undergraduate Students, and Brady Campbell, Program Coordinator, OSU Sheep Team
We are back at it again with our Ag-notes from the students of the 2018 Small Ruminant Production course. This week, students Matt Blose, Marissa Friel, Courtney Hale, and Maureen Hirzel provide us with a brief outline of the benefits of rotational grazing by providing insight on how to start and some important considerations you need to ask yourself prior to jumping into this type of management scheme.
In its simplest form, rotational grazing is described as moving grazing livestock from one paddock to another, allowing time for the previously grazed pasture to regrow prior to the next grazing event. There are many benefits to this strategy as rotational grazing allows producers to utilize their pastures more efficiently by decreasing feed costs, decreasing weed pressure present in a pasture setting, improving the health and performance of grazing flocks, and contributing to the sustainability of the grazing land.
One obvious benefit to this management scheme that was previously mentioned above is a decrease in total feeding costs. Rotational grazing can result in a decrease in feed costs as grazing livestock will be harvesting their own feed, which in turn will decrease the cost of labor and time in harvesting and feeding stored forages. When conducted at a high level of intensity, rotational grazing can also offer your grazing animals feedstuffs of high quality depending upon the maturity stage of plant growth. In turn, there will be an increase in animal gain as these animals will be consuming highly palatable and digestible forages.
In addition to the costs of feeding, rotational grazing will greatly benefit your land. Animals that heavily graze a specific area can benefit the land by consuming and or physically destroying weed populations. However, an important thought to consider is if your sheep are grazing a specific plant, is it considered a weed? Rotational grazing also allows for an even distribution of manure and organic matter being placed back onto the land. For example, in a continuous grazing scenario, organic matter distribution may be sporadic as higher levels of organic matter would be found in areas of shade or a water source as animals may have a preference for these types of environments.
So now that we have a basic understanding of rotational grazing, how do we start? First, you need to take into account several factors such as land availability, rotation schedule, number of animals being grazed, and forage availability. One consideration that may be of great benefit to you and your operation is to obtain some aerial images of your land to determine where you can make your pastures and how they will be split. Using Google Earth would be a simple way to easily plot your paddocks of interest. Once you have an idea of where you will be grazing your flock, the next consideration is resources. Do you have enough fencing, both permanent and temporary, as well as an adequate water source? Will you be investing in a water line or will you be hauling water to your flock? Remember, water sources for grazing livestock should be within 800 feet for effective grazing management.
Once you have established your plan, you are ready to go. However, once your flock is out to pasture, the work certainly does not stop here. You must be cautious as you monitor the growth and regrowth of your pastures. As we approach fall like temperatures, forage growth patterns will begin to change. As a result, the cool season forages will slow in growth and in turn will require a longer period of time needed for adequate regrowth to occur prior to the next grazing event. Collecting soil samples on an annual basis would also be beneficial, especially when considering to plant or inter-seed new forages into your pastures.
Keep in mind that rotational grazing is simply an organized method of managing grazing livestock. The information provided above is an outline of the benefits and keys considerations to help aid in the success of this management system.
Follow this link to view the single page Ag-note: Benefits of Rotational Grazing