Defining Grazing Systems

Grazing management can be defined as ‘where and when to move grazing animals’, but the reasons and strategies behind grazing systems are complex and require explanation. Grazing management needs to simultaneously consider the needs of the animal, the pasture, the land and farming business. It can be a relatively inexpensive way to increase pasture production and utilisation or improve composition compared to practices such as resowing and use of fertilisers and herbicides.

Continuous Grazing

Animals are grazed continuously on the one area of land and are free to choose which pasture species to consume. More palatable species can decrease while less palatable species often increase. Pasture utilisation can also be uneven, as stock may preferentially graze some areas (north facing slopes) over others.Nutrients can also be transferred to stock camps. It is uncommon for continuous grazing to always occur across a whole farm and set stocking is much more common.

Set Stocking

Grazing occurs continuously in most paddocks most of the time, however, some paddocks are rested seasonally (e.g. a greater area of the farm is grazed through winter and less through spring) or for various management reasons (e.g. hay production or for high quality forage for lambs to be weaned onto). Stocking rates can vary between grazing periods to match pasture growth and animal intake. 

Rotational Grazing

In these systems, livestock are rotated between paddocks, so that each paddock is grazed and then rested. The length of the rest period is determined by pasture growth and availability or can be a fixed period of time. 

Intensive Rotational Grazing

Intensive rotational grazing is also called Time-controlled grazing, Cell grazing, high intensity short-duration grazing or block grazing. This is a rotational grazing system with a large number of paddocks per mob (20 paddocks). Stocking pressure is high and animals are rotated from one paddock to the next at short intervals (1 to 7 days) to promote even utilisation of pasture. Stock movement is based on the length of the rest period, which is shorter when pasture is actively growing (40-80 days) and longer in the non-growing season (80-180 days).

Grazing Management Principles

Grazing management involves complex interactions between plants, soil and livestock. A basic knowledge of pasture composition
(What plants are there?), production (How much is there?) and the effects of livestock grazing (What is the impact of livestock on pasture and what is the effect of pasture on livestock?) are needed to understand how different grazing systems work.

Grazing management can be used to manipulate animal performance, pasture composition, soil health and NRM outcomes to varying degrees, depending on the intensity and frequency of grazing. The flexibility in grazing management increases as the number of paddocks per mob increases. The timing of the grazing and rest periods is important. Grazing management should not be a rigid time-based system, rather livestock movement should target particular management issues (e.g. annual weed control, seed set of desirable species or animal requirements) and can be combined with other management strategies (e.g. herbicides) to sustain the pasture base. Grazing management principles are often referred to as strategic grazing. Each management action is designed to have a specific response rather than letting time-based movements randomly affect the pastures and animal performance.

Acknowledgement

This information is courtesy of Evergraze - More Livestock from Perennials, Evergraze is a Future Farm Industries CRC, Meat and Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation research partnership.

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