Grazing has a huge impact on the utilisation of feed, resource maintenance and pasture and livestock productivity.
When it comes to effectively managing grazing there are lots of tools available. The options you choose will depend on the time of year, whether you are lambing, and so on. There’s rotational grazing, set stocking, drought-lotting, mob stocking … or simply deferring grazing in a particular paddock, or sacrifice feeding in another.
You don’t need to identify as a set stocker or a rotational grazer or anything else for that matter. You are a pasture and grazing manager, and you should be open minded and adaptable in order meet the needs of any particular season.
Understanding the various methods and the costs/benefits they offer will help you to choose what will work best for your profit and sustainability at a point in time. Each method has its pros and cons, its livestock and pasture consequences; you might choose to set stock for a certain period in full knowledge that your pasture is being selectively grazed, but the benefit is high per head intake and the fastest progress to a finishing line. For a while. Making compromises can be fine to meet a purpose so long as the consequences are understood and recovery is planned.
Set stocking is where stock are introduced to a paddock and effectively left there for an extended period. It could even be for the whole year on some pastures with some livestock, providing extra feed if it’s necessary from time to time. This is an easy-care option that can work well in some parts of the year. However, your stocking rate must be set to cover any the seasonal or yearly variables. Also, uncontrolled grazing can lead to pasture being ruthlessly chewed, and patchiness, where stock hammer some spots but not others. If the stocking rate is not well matched to the feed availability, both under- and overgrazing can occur. The pasture eventually becomes less palatable and with a poorer species mix, which proliferates, resulting in an overall decline in quality. Set stocking does, however, work very well for some periods or seasons, for example when you’re calving or lambing. At these times, there may be more costs to movement than setting still.
At its heart, rotational grazing is movement of stock between paddocks. This can be applied to either achieve a definite purpose or achieve very little. The rotation itself is not magic but the way you manage it can be.
Commonly, rotational grazing is taken to mean grazing your stock intensively for a relatively short time before moving them on to another paddock in a series. By the time the last paddock has been grazed, the first should be ready to receive stock again, or an alternative feeding or selling strategy in place. The length of time a paddock is grazed can be based on the feed on offer, a rotation length based on regrowth rate or leaf emergence rate, a paddock-based feed budget, or the intake target for the stock.
The rest period will be guided by how long it takes to restore the pasture to optimal levels, or rationing the use of feed resources until pasture growth is expected to recommence. An experienced farmer can look at how high the grass is on her boots and make the decision to reintroduce stock. Experience can be assisted by pasture measurement tools like rulers or meters calibrating both eyes and boots.
A mixture of set stocking and rotational grazing is the norm on most properties. Whatever grazing tactics are used, a good strategy is crucial. You need to understand the purpose and how a specific tactic will achieve it. For example, without good understanding, rotational grazing that doesn’t pay heed to regrowth rate and adapt to how it changes can simply end up as moving animals and not growing feed.
The more intensive the grazing, generally the more monitoring and active decision making is required. This management input is often good for livestock production and pasture condition. It also builds confidence in making stocking rate decisions because feed growth and use are so visible.