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Rotational grazing improves forage stands

Overgrazing hurts forage standsRotational grazing improves use efficiencyFencing a good option 

Ron Smith 1, Senior Content Director

December 3, 2010

1 Min Read

Overgrazing pasture or cutting hay too frequently damages forage stands, limits stocking rates and prevents optimum utilization by livestock.

Forage producers who over-graze or cut hay too frequently harm the forage plant’s root system, says Texas AgriLife Extension forage specialist Vanessa Corriher. “The root system dies back and the plant will not survive drought or persist through the winter,” Corriher said during the recent Ag Technology Conference at Texas A&M-Commerce. “Forage managers must allow the roots to rest and grow back. Adequate rest is essential.”

She said different grazing and mechanical harvesting systems offer a wide range of efficiency ratings.

Continuous stocking results in only 30 percent to 40 percent forage efficiency. That improves to 50 percent to 60 percent with a slow rotation program using three or four paddocks. With six to eight paddocks and moderate rotational grazing, efficiency improves to 60 percent to 70 percent.

Strip grazing offers 70 percent to 80 percent efficiency.

With mechanical harvesting, cutting hay provides 30 percent to 70 percent efficiency; silage is 60 percent to 85 percent efficient. Green chop, at 70 percent to 95 percent is the most efficient mechanical harvest method.

Corriher said fencing is the key to efficient grazing but adds to expense. Forage managers also have to assure water availability in each fenced-in area. “Movable fencing is one option,” Corriher said.  A producer would move the fence forward as cattle graze, keeping water available to the rear.

“This does require more time and labor,” she said.

Livestock perform selective grazing if left in the same pasture, picking the newest, most tender and most palatable grass. “That depletes the root system as livestock continually return to the same spot to get new growth,” Corriher said. “Rotational grazing forces cattle to take advantage of all forage.”

About the Author(s)

Ron Smith 1

Senior Content Director, Farm Press/Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 40 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. More recently, he was awarded the Norman Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award by the Texas Plant Protection Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Johnson City, Tenn. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and three grandsons, Aaron, Hunter and Walker.

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