We are finally attempting rotational grazing! We have been wanting to do it for so long and have only played around with it some in the past few years. This year we are going at it full bore!
What is Rotational Grazing?
What is rotational grazing? It is also called management intensive grazing (MIG) and there are all sorts of different levels that people attempt, but it mainly involves giving the cattle a portion of the field to sustain them for 1-3 days. Ideally you are giving them just enough for 1 day but in reality some people feel unable to take the time to move them each day and may give them 2-3 days or even a weeks worth. The best benefits reside in the 1 day range!
The Benefit to the Pasture
Increased forage capability. Better manure distribution. Better regrowth. The benefits to the pasture can be huge!
When you only give the cattle a portion of the field instead of the whole field, it forces the cattle to eat in one area, distribute that manure around that one area and aerates the soil. When they are then moved off of that area and into the next days area, the same process is repeated in the new one day area and the area you just left gets time to rest and rejuvenate. Ideally you want to stay off the area you just left for 60 days. This allows for ample regrowth and best health and rejuvenation of that area! At a minimum some people have suggested waiting at least 30 days. Obviously all of this is variable to your pasture conditions and the weather. When grass is growing faster you may be able to move faster across the field and return sooner. When grass is not growing as fast, everything may need more time to regrow.
There are many books and articles about this whole concept. Many attest that your forage capability starts to increase because you get better return growth than when the cattle have the whole field to themselves. The same field that used to only supply your cattle with 30 days of buffet, can eventually start to provide your cattle with 60 days of buffet!
The Benefit to the Cattle
Healthier Cattle. Better daily gains. Less worm infestations.
When cattle are given a whole field, they choice pick what they want to eat and return to eat the sweetest regrowth which eventually shunts the growth cycle of the grasses. They also leave a lot of growth alone since they have the choicest cuts of the buffet! When a mob is applied in a heavy enough stocking for one days' worth of feed they become so concerned that the cow next to them is going to eat their food that they eat almost anything in sight! I'd relate this to eating a well-balanced diet as opposed to just eat prime rib or the choicest steak all the time!
Joel Salatin, a farmer in Virginia, illustrated this in a talk he was giving on his farm about rotational grazing their chickens. We were there back in 2008 visiting his farm. He picked about 5 different plants from the field that most would consider weeds. He started to talk about how each different plant benefited that animals in a different way. One affect heart health, one affect this, one affect that, etc. He's a tremendous farmer going about things the natural way and has written many a book about farming and given many a talk about the need to challenge our current commercial agricultural methods if we want to sustain healthy life!
Joel also gave a talk not to long ago at Wholesome Valley Farms, near Wilmot, Ohio, and mentioned about the increased gains that are achieved with daily rotational grazing in cattle. The cattle gain better which the MIG style versus just giving them the whole field!
So how does all of this help with less worm infestations with your cattle? When they are moved off of the pasture they were just on the prior day or couple days before, the cattle no longer are going back and eating the fresh regrowth of the grass next to their manure patties. This keeps them away from the worm activity and they would ingest less parasites because of this!
But I Don't Have the Time to Move them Daily!
I know. I know. I have said the same thing for the past few years while working a full time job away from the farm myself...
That is why some people end up moving them every three days. Or moving them once a week. The reality of life when you are not farming full time or just when life happens and other things consume your time. It's partly why we have only tinkered with it in the past and until this year are not implementing it on a much greater scale.
But, you will not get the maximum benefits without moving them daily. And your time may be spent elsewhere treating the cows for conditions when they are not in their optimal health.
A Photo is Worth a Thousand Words...
I may have wrote a thousand words anyway! I tend to be wordy... But here are some photos of our moves the last couple days. In the one the cattle were all lined up at the gate ready for their first move to fresh grass this year! They knew what was coming when I called out to them!