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How to Size Paddocks for Intensive Grazing

By   /  October 12, 2015  /  3 Comments

Have you been wondering how to decide the size of your paddocks when you’re setting up an intensive grazing system? These tips from NCAT’s Dave Scott will help you get going.

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Dave Scott's Sheep RanchDave Scott and his wife own and operate Montana Highland Lamb (Home Grown & Happy) in Whitehall Montana. Dave is also a livestock specialist at ATTRA’s National Center for Appropriate Technology in Butte, Montana. Recently he created a series of videos to help folks with the ins and outs of management intensive grazing, using his own operation as a demonstration. Though he talks about is sheep, the principles he demonstrates are the same regardless of what you’re raising.

Dave manages an average of 200 ewes and 33o lambs on 30 irrigated acres. They graze from May first through September 1, and then he rests his pastures by sending them to a nearby ranch to graze down the leafy spurge there. (Dave notes that his sheep have been so good at reducing the leafy spurge that they may be grazing themselves out of a job!) When they return home, the pastures have rested enough that the sheep can graze again from October 15 through January 15.

As he describes in this video, Dave has three goals for his management.

Daily goal: Let the grass fully recover,

Seasonal goal: Control parasites and manage for good gains with a target weaning weight gain of .7 and .8 pounds per day

Ongoing goal: Sustainability. The farm hasn’t always included this idea in its goals for the 25 of the last 30 years. For the last 5 years, Dave has been working on sustainable practices that can reduce the need for fertilization and irrigation. In everything he does, he is looking for a way to create a more natural sustainable system.

Dave figures Dry MatterIn this video, Dave shows how he uses a hoop and scale to estimate the pounds of dry matter he has in his paddocks as the first step in figuring out how big to make his paddocks. He also shows you an easy way to tell if your grass has recovered from a previous grazing. (Jump right to 3:26 in the video to see it now.) He also shares the formula that let’s you convert the weight of what you collect from your hoop into Dry Matter. Then he takes you through the math for what your animals need to eat, and on to what that means for your paddock size.

The whole video is about a 10-minute long conversation with Dave that will get you started on figuring out what you’ve got in pasture and what that means for your stock and your paddock size. Grab your favorite beverage and enjoy!

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Grazing Stick StatesP.S.  Some of our readers are lucky enough to live in areas where grazing sticks have been created to make it easier to estimate how much forage you’ve got in pasture. If you’re one of those folks click on over to this article by Troy Bishopp that shows you how to use a grazing stick AND where to get your very own! Hooray!

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.


  1. Alan Bower says:

    Hi Dave and Jenna,

    The reason for the “50” is a little more involved than that. The “50” is a conversion factor for that particular size of hoop in order to calculate pounds per acre. That hoop he is using appears to be a 1.92sq.ft. hoop (yes I know its a round hoop but the area is the same 🙂 ). Anyway different size hoops have differing conversion factors;
    *e.g. weight of forage within a.96sq.ft. hoop x 100 conversion factor (cf) to get lbs./acre….other size hoops and CFs are listed here.
    1.92 sq. ft. – 50 cf (as seen in the video)
    4.8 sq. ft. – 20 cf
    9.6 sq. ft. – 10 cf

    Naturally the size (sq.ft.) is directly related to length of material which then becomes the circumference once assembled.

    Hope this helps

  2. Jenna says:

    Why was 50 used in the calc?

    • Dave Scott says:

      Hi, Jenna.
      That is a formula that NRCS uses with the particular size of hoop that I use in order to calculate the pounds of dry matter per acre. I got the hoop size and formula from NRCS a number of years ago. Other hoops have different conversion formulas to use with them. I have seen different sizes and shapes.
      One thing to note is the formula calls for % dry matter of the grass, not moisture. It is easy to get the two mixed up.
      Hope that this helps.

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