There are so many different names for different kinds of grazing management that sometimes it gets a little confusing. So, to help you pick what’s right for you, here are some names and definitions. Each of these styles of grazing could fall under “Management-intensive Grazing” meaning that management of the animals is the focus, with adjustments to how animals are managed based on forage, climate, and the goals of the grazier.
As you read through, you might find that different parts of different management styles work well for your operation. Or you might find something new to add to your management toolbox. Those are all good things. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to grazing!
We often associate prescribed grazing with using goats or sheep to reduce weeds and/or fire danger or to create wildlife habitat. But it is not a species-specific technique. It’s a matter of managing intensity, timing, duration, and frequency of grazing based on an understanding of how plants grow. For example:
• Flash-grazing in early spring can target annuals or weedy species, while leaving later emerging forages untouched. Animals are moved through an area quickly, grazing for only hours in some cases. Higher stock densities (i.e., using a large number of animals on a small area) can be helpful for meeting goals.
Graziers in the west use flash-grazing to take advantage of the nutritious spring cheatgrass, while reducing its tendency to become a fire-prone monoculture. Flash-grazing is also helpful for managing vegetation along stream banks. Moving animals out quickly can keep riparian corridors healthy without impacting stream banks or water quality.
• Over-grazing, or re-grazing before plants can fully recover can reduce fire fuels and permanently modify brushy species to slow fire spread. It can also be used as a first step in pasture renovation. Closely grazed pastures mean better seed-to-soil contact when planting.
Sheep and goats are not the only way to manage brush. Here’s what I learned about cattle as brush managers:
• Timing grazing to coincide with flowering and seed set can reduce the number and viability of the seeds weedy species produce. Researchers have demonstrated that grazing spotted knapweed reduces seed viability by 98% and over time, can reduce weed populations. Knapweed is especially nutritious at this time, and since most grasses have matured, they are not damaged by intense grazing.
For more on managing grazing to control weeds, check out this bonus content for On Pasture subscribers:
This management adjustment emphasizes weight gain for beef calves and other young animals. It lets them graze ahead of their mothers on younger more nutritious grass by allowing them to sneak through an opening in the fence, or under a wire set at 36 to 42 inches.
Rotational/Adaptive Multi-Paddock Grazing
At its simplest this is nothing more than moving animals from one pasture to another. Done well, it increases forage yield and persistence, animal weight gain and milk production, and extends the grazing season into fall and winter. The term “adaptive” adds to the definition because it points out the importance of observation and adjustment for maintaining and improving landscape health and profit.
Strip grazing means giving animals a new strip of pasture hourly, or every few days by moving an electric fence forward. Grazing starts closest to the water source and moves away from it. Back fencing is not usually required as animals focus on the new forage in front of them.
• Strip grazing can increase utilization, so it is often used with annual forages or when grazing stockpiled forage. It’s also a good option when grazing forages like alfalfa in late fall when rest is not an issue.
Want more? Check out these On Pasture articles:
I’ve lumped these styles of rotational grazing together because they all focus on stocking density and grazing duration to achieve management goals. Managers increase the number of animals in a paddock and the number of moves to meet their goals. Here at On Pasture, we’ve got lots of articles on how different graziers use these techniques.
Vegetative Grazing vs Long Grazing
One thing that separates graziers in these different types of rotational grazing is grass height.
Some graziers focus on grazing to keep grass in a vegetative state because of its high nutritional value. Grass is grazed down to 4 to 6 inches, and then grazed again after it has recovered, but before it can bolt and go to seed. Dairy graziers often prefer this style of grazing because it takes higher nutrition to produce lots of milk.
With Long grazing, paddocks may only grazed 2 to 3 times per year. Long rest periods allow forages to become mature before grazing rather than being grazed in a vegetative state. This allows root systems to develop and energy stores to be built. What is not grazed is trampled into the ground. Advocates promote this method as a way to increase soil organic matter, reduce weeds, and increase manure distribution.
So How Do You Choose?
If you notice, “goals” is the common thread through each of these grazing management techniques. I suppose your goal could be to win the competition for number of moves per day/week/month, or for pounds of animals grazing on an acre. But that kind of achievement may not be much more valuable than winning the weaning weight championship at the local coffee shop.
In his article, “Figuring Out How Often to Move the Herd” John Marble gives us some other goals to consider, like lifestyle, economics, forage production and animal gain. Even if one of your goals is improving soil health, James Matthew Craighead points out that you can accomplish plenty and still set up grazing around a life that might include an off-farm job or attending your kids athletic and school events. Don Ashford shared his thoughts on what graziers should consider when developing their grazing management systems. You can read more about that in our free Grazing 101 ebook.
Take a moment to check out those articles for some great perspective. Then take some time to think about your own goals. And if you’d like a little guidance, here’s an article from Troy Bishopp that walks you through thinking about your long-term, big picture goals, and shorter term goals that help you with day to day challenges.
Before You Graze, Know Your Goals: What Are You Doing? Why Are You Doing It?
I hope this helps you figure out what size you are when it comes to grazing methods. I’m guessing that bits and pieces of each option will provide you with your best results.