The best way to control ruminants from destroying grasses where they graze is to do what is called “Rotational grazing”. If you have a fenced paddock where your animals do graze, it is not good to allow them access to the whole of the grasses at the same time. Some portion should be reserved while the other is being grazed on by the animals.
In case of nomadic grazing, the areas of grazing should be rotated regularly to allow grasses maintain their freshness. There could also be times when paddocks are left ungrazed for some time. At this time, grasses can be supplied to them in their housing units and concentrates can also be served to them.
Grasses and other types of forage are consumed by all classes of domestic animals and many classes of wildlife although the various animals do not consume grasses in the same way or in the same amount.
Well-managed forage systems contribute signifi cantly to the sustainability of a farm/ranch operation. This article addresses numerous aspects of sustainable pasture integration, grazing rotation strategies, and management options.
It covers: grazing systems, pasture fertility, changes in the plant community through grazing, weed control, and pasture maintenance.
Livestock grazing also impact grass growth and regrowth by trampling, fouling, selecting or rejecting certain plants and pugging the soil.
Meanwhile, Cattle, goats, sheep, and even geese may be used to control weeds. Cattle will graze invasive grasses, can trample inedible weed species, and can incorporate native seeds into soil.
Horses can also be used to control invasive grasses, but horses tend to be more selective than cattle. Geese are also useful for the control of invasive grasses, but are more subject to predation than other animals.
Under rotational grazing, only one portion of pasture is grazed at a time while the remainder of the pasture“rests.” To accomplish this, pastures are subdivided into smaller areas (referred to as paddocks) and livestock are moved from one paddock to another.
Resting grazed paddock sallows forage plants to renew energy reserves, rebuild vigor, deepen their root system, and give long-term maximum production. For rotational grazing to be successful, the timing of rotations must be adjusted to the growth stage of the forage.
Unfortunately, rotationalgrazing is often reduced to regular animal shifts from paddock to paddock based on rigid time schedules rather than in response to forage growth rate. Rigid schedules reducethe benefit of rotational grazing. Rotational grazing can be practiced ina variety of intensities.
Systems canrange from 2 to 30 or more paddocks. Management intensive rotational grazing involves a higher level of management with greater paddock numbers, shorter grazing periods, and longer rest periods. Generally, more intense management results in greater livestock production per acre.
Management intensive rotational grazing will be emphasized on this article because it offers a number of advantages over both continuous grazing and less intensive rotational systems. These include:
■ more stable production duringpoor growing conditions (especially drought),
■ greater yield potential,
■ higher quality forage available,
■ decreased weed and erosionproblems, and
■ more uniform soil fertility levels.
There are many names for intensive rotational grazing: Voisin grazing, Hohenheim grazing, intensive grazing management, management intensive grazing, short duration grazing, Savory systems, strip grazing, con-trolled grazing, and high-intensity, low-frequency grazing.
Although each term implies slight differences in management, they all refer to some sort of intensive rotational grazing system.
Importance of using rotational grazing
1) Increased pasture productivity
Rotational grazing can help improvelong-term pasture quality and fertilityby favoring desirable pasture speciesand allowing for even manure distribution. Rotational grazing also can increase the amount of forage harvested per acre over continuous grazing by as much as 2 tons drymatter per acre.
2) Aesthetics and human health benefits
One of the greatest advantages tousing rotational grazing is that it is a“peaceful way of farming.” It is quieter than mechanically harvesting your feed and it gives you the excuse to stretch your legs and take a look atwhat’s happening in your pasture. You might even hear the birds singing or see a deer grazing as youmove the fence.
3) Animal Health and Welfare
Animals in grazing systems are often healthier than animals housed in confinement. Animals have more space and fresh air, reducing their exposureto high levels of micro-organisms. Increased freedom for movement enhances physical fitness anddecreases opportunity for injuries and abrasions.
However, risks associated with exposure to severe weather or predators may be increased in grazing. Many have reported fewer herd health problems after switching to grazing. For many graziers, culling animals for health reasons has dropped from about 35% of the herd annually to approximately 10%.
A healthier herd is more profitable andit allows the option of increasing herdsize or improving the herd by select-ing animals based on higher milk production or reproductivity.
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4) Plant Yield and Quality
Forage growth is slow when plantsare small and have few leaves (earlyspring growth or after grazing) and yield is low. As leaves get bigger, photosynthesis increases dramatically, allowing for rapid growth and increased yields. Prior to flowering, most pasture plants are growing as fast as possible if other factors are notlimiting.
As plants mature, growth slows since most energy is diverted to flower and seed production. While yield is highest at heading, quality is very low. Quality is high when plants are small and vegetative and declinesas plants mature.
This occurs because, as plants get larger and stemmier, a greater percentage of nutrients and dry matter is tied up in undigestible forms (such as lignin). Greater amounts of undigestible fiber result in lower quality forage with decreased amounts of total digestible nutrients (TDN).
The goal of a good grazing programshould be to maximize both forageyield and quality.
Species develop differently however and the best time to graze one grassspecies may not be the best for another. For advice on ideal grazing heights and rest periods for various species, see the section on “Length of Rest Periods.”
5) Grass growth patterns
In the seeding year, grass seeds ger-minate and give rise to a single shoot. As the season progresses additional shoots called tillers develop. Removing the top growth through grazing or mowing encourages tillering. Some species such as orchard-grass, tall fescue, and ryegrass form tillers from buds on the original shoot.
These are called bunch-type grasses as the tillers stay fairly close together and form discreet bunches inthe field. Other grasses tiller by sending out short rhizomes which form new shoots.
These grasses areknown as sod-forming grasses as theyform a dense sod in the field. Tilleringcontinues throughout the seedingyear and the plants enlarge.
Mostcool-season grasses (with the excep-tion of timothy) don’t form seedheads in the seeding year. Buds thatform in late summer are the nextyear’s flower buds.
They must beexposed to cold temperatures duringwinter (vernalized) to produceflowers the following year.
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