Specialized Grazing Systems For Beef Cattle

        The concepts of several of today’s more widely adapted specialized grazing systems were born in the 1950s, and have been developed, honed and modified since to offer several grazing alternatives depending on climate, cow herd and environmental factors.

     Properly managed grazing is crucial to the success of a herd and the productivity of a ranch, and, when effectively implemented, can increase production, and have numerous benefits on your pastures, the local ecosystem, soil and other positive impacts.

     Of course, choosing which grazing system to adopt depends on your environs, and should be implemented only after careful study of the associated effects.

The Task at Hand
It is important to note that different grazing systems require different amounts of dedication and management, and some are more or less intensive depending on the system in place. A grazing system also does not eliminate the need for basic herd and ranch management, but instead complements it. Also, any system must be monitored over several seasons to truly understand its effects on the herd and its impact environment.

Continuous and Season-Long Grazing
This involves grazing a pasture the entire year, including the dormant season. Though some argue, with proper stocking, season-long or continuous grazing does not encourage excessive grazing. With this method, cattle remain in the same pasture season-long, and this has shown to be beneficial to overall herd production.

Deferred Rotation
This involves dividing the pasture or range into two portions, with each pasture being deferred until seed sets every other year. Some have implemented deferred rotation systems involving more than two pastures. This option has shown to have substantial benefits on surrounding plants; however, overall animal production has demonstrably increased under this type of system.

     Deferred rotation’s alternating schedules have shown to benefit the consumption of local plants by cattle.

Rest Rotation
This system involves rotating grazing periods on multiple pastures and different herds over a five-year cycle. This requires more land, as one or two pastures are rested an entire year, while remaining pastures are grazed seasonally. This method has shown to be beneficial on mountain ranges, and provides an opportunity for natural resources, including water and vegetation, to recover naturally. This also has the added benefit of having emergency or back-up pastures, in case of drought or if one pasture is out of commission for other reasons. The increased movement of cattle does have a negative impact on the herd, however, and the potential for other animals to graze off the pasture during a resting period can slow and stifle its recovery during times of resting.

Seasonal Suitability
In this system ranchers partition their pasture based on vegetation, site constraints and characteristics, soil and rainfall, then move the herd to different partitions depending on the season. This usually involves fencing the individual partitions and increased herd movement. The herd can be controlled by shutting off and turning on water supply areas.

Best Pasture
This system benefits ranchers who live areas where rainfall amounts vary, often from one pasture to the next. Depending on rainfall and pasture condition, the herd is moved from one pasture to the next with no real regard for scheduling. The movements are instead dictated by the conditions of the pasture. This system has inherent flexibility, but does require increased management by the rancher, who must manage their herd more often, shut off and on watering supplies, and keep a close eye on the pasture conditions. This system has shown to increase perennial grass forage production.

Short Duration
Under this system, the pasture is divided into smaller pastures and these smaller pastures may or may not get more than one grazing period during the season, depending on the rate and amount of forage produced. Grazing periods are short, lasting up to 15 days at most, and can be adjusted based on growth rates of the pasture itself. This method has shown to benefit soils due to increased movement on them, and also improve water filtration. It can also have negative effects, including negative pasture impacts by concentrating a larger number of animals in a smaller area. It also requires extra management, movement of the herd, additional fencing and leaves less room for error in movement decisions.

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