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No matter how lush your property’s pastures might be, it takes careful management to prevent overgrazing. Rotational grazing is one of the easiest and most effective strategies to protect pastures.
Simply defined, rotational grazing involves dividing a large grazing area into smaller areas, then rotating a herd among those smaller areas, in turn. While animals graze just one pasture, the remaining pastures are left untouched to continue growing or to recover from just having been grazed.
Once a pasture is grazed down (and before it’s overgrazed), the herd is moved to the next pasture; the length of time on each pasture will vary depending on the number of animals grazing, the acreage in question, and the grazing environment.
By the time the herd works its way through all of the pastures, that first grazing area should recover, and the cycle can begin again.
By allowing grasses plenty of recovery time, rotational grazing can increase the amount of natural forage on offer; having more forage on the ground also helps with drought resistance, mitigating water runoff and helping ensure rainfall soaks into the ground. The approach also ensures manure – natural fertilizer – is spread throughout an entire grazing area, rather than concentrated in locations where animals might naturally congregate without a rotational approach. And, since animals are confined to a particular area, they’re more likely to graze down less desirable plants that would otherwise go untouched in a larger pasture.
Rotational grazing also allows stockmen to create more elaborate grazing strategies: grazing specific pastures at certain times of the year, dedicating particular pastures to a certain group of animals, or limiting grazing of selected areas during a drought.
And, concentrating animals in smaller areas brings additional advantages: stock stay within closer reach, making them easier to control, and day-to-day management needs are limited to the area(s) being grazed.
A rotational grazing strategy is not without its downsides. Crossfencing will be required to separate a single, large pasture into smaller pastures. (Many rotational grazing proponents rely on electric fencing when working with a small herd on a limited acreage; this allows a property owner to vary the size of a grazing area, if conditions dictate.) And, of course, each grazing area will need its own water source.
Study the premise of rotational grazing, and you’ll encounter numerous approaches, each with its advocates and critics.