Grazing Methods - Which one is right for you?
As you're probably aware there are a number of different types of grazing systems or methods out there. Each of these popular grazing methods have pros and cons and some are better than others at helping producers meet specific operations objectives while maintaining livestock density and supporting soil security.
In this article, we'll break down some of the most common and popular types of grazing systems out there and help you understand which grazing method might work best for your needs.
Continuous grazing provides a single pasture system where livestock have unrestricted, uninterrupted access to a pasture or paddock throughout the entire grazing season. This method provides little or no rest for the land and includes no livestock rotation or managed grazing plan. While continuous grazing reduces the management time and costs in fencing it results in animals selectively grazing on forage they prefer, resulting in uneven distribution of manure. Additionally, this method is harder on the pasture resulting in longer recovery and regrowth times which can lead to low-nutrient forages, erosion and deterioration of the land.
The rotational grazing method utilizes a large pasture and divides it into 2 or more smaller paddocks. Livestock are rotated through these paddocks in a planned grazing sequence (rotation), typically every few days (depending on animal health and weather). This method provides time for pasture regrowth and helps to more evenly spread manure and break worm and pest cycles. Once each paddock has been grazed, the sequence starts over again with the paddock that has rested the longest.
While this method requires more labor and fencing expenses it helps to increase forage growth, improve livestock health and performance, improve pasture health, reduce supplemental feed and increase profitability. Temporary fencing is often used to allow for adjustments to paddock sizes between grazing periods based on weather and the health of the pasture.
The strip grazing method involves using portable electric fences to section off small areas of a pasture for animals to grazing in for a relatively short amount of time. Animals are often moved as much as once or twice per day. This rapid movement of animals ensures that each area is lightly impacted which supports pasture growth. Typically animals are moved in a single direction with no back fencing to minimize forage waste due to trampling. Because of the frequency of animal movement this method is somewhat labor intensive.
Mob grazing, also known as ultra-high density grazing, is a grazing system that involves a large concentration of animals (mob) in a small area for a short amount of time. Similar to strip grazing, animals are moved multiple times per day using temporary fencing. Because of the intense impact of the grazing a large amount of animals at once, paddocks are only grazed 2 or 3 times per year allowing for long rest periods to support forage growth.
Mob grazing forces animals to graze everything available in a paddock rather that selectively grazing for choice forage like in other grazing methods. This grazing method involves significant labor due to the frequency of movements and requires careful grazing rotation planning to ensure paddocks are not over grazed. Because of the increased labor required this method best works for animals with lower nutritional requirements.
Using the creep grazing method allows for younger animals to have access to the higher quality pastures and forage first by eliminating the competition from older animals. Called the creep method because this system uses a creep gate to allow younger animals access. Because younger animals have access to higher nutrient rich pastures young calves often see faster gains than nursing alone and the pressure on nursing cows to provide milk is reduced providing for quicker recovery for cows.
Leader-follower grazing, sometimes called forward grazing or first-last grazing, utilizes two different groups of livestock, each with different nutritional needs grazing on one paddock one after another. This method allows animals with higher nutritional needs (example, nursing calves) to first selectively graze on more nutritious forages. The next group, with lower nutritional needs follows to graze the rest of the paddock. This method also works well for grazing two different species.
Multi-species grazing systems encourage and support grazing multiple species of animals on the same paddock as a single herd or utilizing the leader-follower method. Because each species have different nutritional needs and forage preferences, this method effectively utilizes available nutrients in the paddock. This method also provides more effective weed control as different species grazing in different ways and prefer different plants. While multi-species grazing provides for a diverse operation and well balanced use of pastures it also requires species specific equipment and facilities and can be quite labor intensive.
Learn more about the benefits of multi-species grazing.
As you can see there are many different types of grazing methods. Hopefully this article provided some insight into the difference between these popular grazing systems. Most studies and producers would agree that some type of rotational grazing offers the largest benefit to pasture health, soil security, forage quality, and animal health and performance. Check out this guide to rotational grazing to learn more.
Take a look at how Farmbrite can help you plan and manage your grazing and livestock operation more efficiently.