For many Ozarks cattle producers, their grazing system consists of no system at all.
And that’s not recommended, Dr. John Jennings, University of Arkansas Extension forage agronomist, told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. Continuous grazing doesn’t do much to manage the forage balance or forage regrowth. He said, “What we recommend is rotational grazing, so you can manage regrowth on the forage and plan different types of forages out there, and help manage the quality for your livestock.”
There are short-term costs to rotational grazing, but it’s cheaper in the long run. The fencing required can be permanent or temporary; permanent fencing costs more, because the producer has to subdivide the field. Temporary fencing with a single electric polywire is less expensive. But the grass savings, said Jennings, are substantial: “You’ll have forage longer into a drought, and you’ll get forage sooner after a drought. You can have forage longer into the fall and winter, so you don’t have to feed as much hay as you do with continuous grazing.” Jennings said in some cases you can run a higher stocking rate; the better regrowth rate means better utilization of forage, and less abuse from overgrazing and continuous spot grazing.”
A popular alternative is strip grazing, which in the Ozarks is primarily used to graze stockpiled forages after the grass has stopped growing for the fall. “Because it’s not growing, we don’t need two fences,” Jennings said. “We only need one single polywire, and we can advance that across the field. Normally, producers like to move the wire about twice a week. They set that wire so that it allows enough standing forage for their herd for about 3-4 days, and when they graze that down they move the wire ahead to allow enough forage for another 3-4 days.” That saves a lot of time, he added, compared to having to feed hay every day.
Another method is called leader-follower, which works well for a producer who has retained ownership of the calves after they’re weaned. Calves are fenceline-weaned from their mothers, and turned into a paddock to graze off the top of the forage, the highest quality grass. Then they’re moved out quickly, and the cows are moved in to clean up what’s left; since the cows just finished weaning their calves, their nutritional needs are relatively low, while the calves’ are high, and each group is getting what it needs.
Under creep grazing, a single wire divides pastures, and the still-nursing cows graze with their calves. Explained Jennings, “We set the wire high enough, usually about 30 inches or so, to keep the cows in the paddock, but the calves are small enough to go underneath the wire to the next paddock. So they’re actually grazing the top part of the next paddock, which is high quality forage, while the cows are continuing to graze where they’re at, and the calves can still come back under that wire to their mothers.” The calves then learn how to graze while all the cattle are contained together.
Tim Schnakenberg, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist, told OFN, University research has found a grazing system with 8-12 paddocks tends to be the most efficient in terms of both managing grass and distributing manure. However, he said many producers maintain paddocks that may be a little too big, 15-20 acres per field. He said, “The biggest issue that I see is getting a sufficient number of paddocks, and then opening and closing gates accordingly to where you’re not leaving cattle in the field too long. The key is to have rest periods where that grass can grow back and regrow, thicken up and keep weeds under control better, and then get the cattle moving on to better quality fields later. If you have enough of those fields, they can move around throughout the farm and give time for the first paddock to regrow so it will be ready for the next go-around.”
There’s also a seasonal issue. Schnakenberg said 10-20 percent of the paddocks should have some warm season grass in them, so they can hold cattle during the summer months when cool season grasses like fescue are going dormant. He said, “Research has shown that you only get 30 percent utilization of the grass if you gave them the whole farm, never closed any gates and they just roam about freely. If you start having around 8-12 paddocks, we can get that number upwards to 60-70 percent utilization, so you can almost double the amount of grass that you can grow and provide for the animals by having a grazing system set up.”


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