By Roger Don Gribble
Grazing systems, in theory, provide improved control over harvest management efficiency of a grazing management unit.
In other words, a grazing system allows you to control how much forage your livestock will consume. This may sound simple, but there appears to be a bunch of confusion over grazing systems. It still boils down to the question of whether or not to use rotational grazing or not.
The answer to this question is simple, but you must evaluate your specific management skills, operational goals and objectives. Some producers move their livestock around without asking the question, “Why am I rotating these animals?” The answer to this question should have been answered prior to investing in labor and materials required to sub-divide larger units into smaller paddocks used in rotational grazing systems. You simply must have a reason to rotate.
Rotational stocking results in a temporarily overstocked pasture condition. Generally, this does not have an adverse effect on forage plant communities because the overstocking is short-lived. There is, however increased grazing pressure on the forage, and this pressure can be used to a greater advantage.
The advantage is harvest efficiency of the forage. If some of the forage is weeds, the pressure on these weeds might reduce the need for weed control applications, which can reduce the costs of the total forage production. Remember, in a rotational grazing program, animal performance is reduced due to lack of diet selectivity. One of those important performance issues would be average daily gain.
Livestock grazing warm season perennial forage probably will benefit most from rotational stocking. Warm season perennial grasses are typically low in nutritive value and are highest when kept in an immature stage of growth. Rotational stocking will help to prevent these forages from becoming overly mature to quick into the year. Weeping lovegrass is a prime example of a warm season perennial grass that should be rotationally stocked for optimum livestock performance.
On the other hand, continuous stocking can be a productive system if properly managed. Animal performance is generally higher for continuous stocking compared to rotational stocking because of increased diet selection of animals. That means increased average daily gain.
A set stocking rate can result in an understocked condition at one time of the year and an overstocked condition at another time. Neither situation here yields a maximum net return from the livestock enterprise.
A variable stocking rate should be used with a continuous stocking grazing program. Bermuda grass, for example, has a rapid growth rate during the late spring and early summer time frame. During this time, livestock could be confined to smaller percentages of the grazable land and the remainder of the acreage harvested for a hay crop of high nutritive value.
Later in the year as the growth rate of bermuda grass decreases, animals could be allowed to all of the grazable forage. Please note, while continuous grazing can be made to be successful by using a variable stocking rate, it would be noted we are using multiple pastures.
Rotational stocking, is it for you? Maybe it is or maybe it isn’t. Understand there is no perfect system. The system that works the best is the one that meets your operational goals and objectives.
More information can be obtained from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ag educator in your county. Please ask them for Extension Fact Sheet 2567, “Grazing Systems for Pastures.”
Gribble is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service northwest area agronomist.