Grazing management: The manipulation of grazing in pursuit of a specific objective or set of objectives. Grazing management is important to provide persistent and good forage to meet the needs of a plant and animal in a livestock operation.
There are three components of grazing management:
- Grazing intensity. Grazing intensity is described as the stocking rate which is the number of animals per pasture or it can be described as stubble height when the pasture is grazed. Stocking rate is the most important grazing management decision a producer will make.
- Grazing frequency. Grazing frequency is described as rotational or continuous grazing. Continuous grazing is allowing animal access to the pasture throughout the grazing season and rotational grazing is grazing and resting pastures in sequential order. Certain plants like bahaigrass, can be grazed continuously but other plants like limpograss or legumes need to be rotationally grazed to remain persistent.
- Timing of grazing. Timing of grazing can be described as time of year grazing forage species perform well and timing can be important for survival and reseeding.
Effect on the pasture: This will affect the plants growth habitat because you don’t want to graze so close to remove buds, meristems, or reserves of the plant.
Effect on the grazing animal: Animal intake will decrease if pasture is overgrazed and the animal must take bites closer to the ground. This can be challenging for cattle because of the way they remove forage with their tongue and chew the grass. Horses have top and bottom teeth and are unaffected by close grazing. The over grazed pastures have less leaf area making the forage available more stem and less nutritive for the animal resulting in decreased intake of the forage.
Effect on the environment: Pastures that are overstocked due to having too many animals on a pasture or grazing the forage too low will decrease the fitness of the plant over time resulting in overgrazed pastures that will eventually turn into dirt. If there is not plant material present this can be a cause for soil erosion concern. With too many animals on a pasture this can also lead to soil compaction and decline in soil quality.
Effect on the pasture: When pastures are over grazed the plant must use its stored reserves for regrowth until more leaf area is produced. If the rest period between regrowth is too short the plant cannot restore its reserves and the plant will decline and over years the plant stand will die. Some species require rotational grazing to stay persistent in the pasture and other forage species can be continuously grazed as long as the pasture is not overstocked.
Effect on the grazing animal: Rotational grazing allows for more forage production and 30% higher increased stocking rate in a pasture. In rotational grazing, the timing of plant rest and grazing is determined by the producer allowing for a more uniform forage stand and forage maturity. In continuous grazing the animal is selecting the maturity of the forage stand by continually grazing certain areas of new plant growth in the pasture. Maturity is a main factor driving the nutritive value in a forage so pastures that are rotationally grazed can have a higher average daily gain for livestock.
Effect on the environment: Rotational grazing can allow for more uniform distribution of dung and urine from the animal in the pasture. This is helpful to prevent excess nutrients from runoff into water ways.
Timing of Grazing
Effect on the pasture: Timing of grazing is very important to plants since this determines when to graze the plant so that forage species may perform well. Grazing after flowering or during seed set can be unfavorable for the plants survival. If plant is grazed when growing points are above soil level this can weaken the plant. If plant is grazed late in season or during a dry period it doesn’t allow plants time to grow and store energy for winter and the end results will weaken the forage stand.
Effect on the grazing animal: Nutritive value of the plant and animal performance can be greater if grazed at certain times of the day. In the afternoon the nutritional value can be greater because of accumulation of nonstructural carbohydrates during the day.
Effect on the environment: Grazing some forages can be detrimental to some species if not done at the correct timing since these species may rely on natural reseeding for stand restoration. If the forage does not stay persistent in the environment this could affect some species in the environment.