Grazing Management

Grazing management involves controlling the number of grass-fed animals on each pasture and the amount of forage the livestock eats. To effectively manage grazing, the herd manager must find a careful balance between livestock production and forage management.

Stocking Rate and Grazing Pressure

When measuring a pasture in acres, the number of animals per acre is called the stocking rate. Another important measurement is grazing pressure, which refers to how short a pasture’s forage is grazed before it is allowed to grow back. Low grazing pressure will result in wasted forage and poor livestock production, and a grazing pressure that it too high will force the livestock to eat poor quality forage closer to the ground. Available forage (measured in pounds per acre) and stocking rate should grow together and help to determine the optimal grazing pressure.

Utilization rate is another key measurement, referring to the amount of forage that is available for consumption. This rate will be a percentage of the total amount of forage, as some is ruined through trampling or soiling by the livestock.

Grazing Management Practices

The grazing management practice that the herd manager selects will impact the forage and livestock production. Two common management methods include continuous grazing and rotational grazing. In continuous grazing, the whole pasture is grazed for long periods of time, sometimes as long as the entire growing season. With this method, controlling the forage growth becomes more difficult, and the forage may be underutilized. However, less fencing is required and animals have more space to roam. The key to successful continuous grazing is finding the optimal grazing pressure. Since the pasture area is fixed, the stocking rate will need to be changed to influence the grazing pressure.

With rotational grazing, the farmer divides the pasture into several paddocks using fencing. The livestock spend a grazing period in one paddock, where the forage is quickly grazed off depending on the sub-pasture size. Rotational grazing usually means higher stocking rates, so the farmer will need to monitor the grass height to determine the length of the grazing period. When this period ends, the pasture is allowed to rest for regrowth. The livestock are moved to the next paddock to continue grazing. Depending on the time of year, temperature, and rainfall, the resting period for a paddock can be anywhere from two to eight weeks.

Other methods of grazing management include creep grazing and mixed grazing. Creep grazing gives young animals priority access to fresh paddocks, excluding mature animals for some time. Mixed grazing is having two or more classes of livestock grazing on the same pasture, which can often improve forage utilization due to the feeding preferences of different animals.