Rotational Grazing is not just for cows.
Rotational Grazing is the practice of dividing the land into smaller pastures and moving (rotating) animals on and off of fields (or pastures or runs). It can be used for chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep, goats, horses and cattle (or just about any other animal). Many of us can take advantage of the many benefits of Rotational Grazing.
If I couldn’t keep my chickens (and ducks) the redneck way my second choice would be a rotational grazing system. For whatever reason, this is more appealing to me than moving a coop and run around my land.
If you’ve never heard of rotational grazing it’s a very simple system. A building is placed with several “fields” or “runs” off of it. I have seen barns/ coops that even have 4 different doors off the building – one leading to each field/ run. The system can be very complex with many fields or very simple with just 2.
It is up to you. You may even be able to keep your chicken coop/ duck house where it is and build a rotational grazing system off of it. Simply add additional runs/ doors off your building going in a different direction.
Once you have a few separate runs in place you will be able to control how much time your flock spends on a patch of land before moving them onto another. With this option, you can allow the ground to rest. You can let your flock do your mowing. You can even re-seed and grow grass on a barren run. Rotating your flock from run to run will (hopefully) not give your poultry enough time to destroy the ground. Likewise, this gives each run a resting period.
With a few fields to chose from you can usually have a nice area to turn livestock out onto. Since we free-range our poultry, we do not use a rotation system for them; however, we do use one for our cows. It works so well. We only have 2 pastures to rotate our cattle on and off of, but it has been a game-changer. Our fields are usually beautiful.
Benefits of Rotational Grazing
Rotational Grazing allows you to keep more animals in less space.
Any designated area can only take so much “pressure” from animals. A fenced area of land will, of course, have a limit to the amount of livestock it can support. How many animals an area can support depends on many factors:
- What animals? Small or large?
- How much land?
- Supplemental feeding to pasture? Is additional feed being offered?
- Climate? Dry? Desert? Prairie? Tropical?
Many factors will determine how much land you will need to support your livestock. To learn more about the requirements in your area, I would recommend contacting your local Extension Office. They are usually a wealth of knowledge.
When there are too many animals in too little space the land will suffer (and most likely the animals will too). One thing that is agreed upon is, using rotational grazing increases the number of animals any land can support. No matter how many animals you can raise in a pasture right now, that number will be higher when you divide the land into sections and rotate the animals.
Rotational Grazing Keeps pastures healthy.
We’ve probably all seen it. That barren, lifeless fenced in area where the animals are living. I’ve experienced it myself with the pigs.
Pigs are probably the worst about destroying the land. Unless, of course, you want to turn that patch of land into a garden – then pigs are the perfect builders. They will clear it, root it, till it and fertilize it in a way you can only dream of.
If you are not planning a future garden site, a lifeless barren field (or run) is probably not what you want. When you have more than one field to turn your livestock onto you can get animals off of a pasture before it’s too late.
Rotational Grazing Helps Keep Animals Healthy.
A benefit of rotational grazing that is sometimes overlooked is it’s ability to prevent parasite problems. Whenever my vet comes out he brings things to my attention that I never consider. He has helped us determine how many cows our current pastures can support without creating a parasite problem.
Here’s an excerpt from Hobby Farms about using rotational grazing to reduce parasites:
“The majority of the life cycle of worms is outside the host animal, so pasture management is important,” says Dr. Wells, who is a big advocate of controlled grazing. “Make sure your animals don’t graze grass too close to the ground. Larvae crawl up on the grass blades, but they usually stay below two inches. If you move your livestock before the grass gets this short, you’re moving them before they eat the larvae.” -Hobby Farms
In addition to rotating animals, chickens can be a huge help in this department. Chickens will scratch up the manure so it dries out. They will also happily gobble up all those bugs, worms and larvae you don’t want in your other livestock.
Rotational Grazing Lowers feeding costs.
This one is mind-boggling. When our cow was allowed to eat and eat and eat in her field, it was always “bald.” The grass was never given a chance to grow higher than a couple of inches because she was always on it, always eating it.
By adding a second field, we can now move our cows onto a field and let the other grow. And boy does it. With our Kentucky weather and all that fertile manure, when given a break from the cows, our fields really flourish.
We offer free-choice dry hay in addition to our pastures for our cows, but find that during spring, summer, and fall they eat very little of it because we can keep them in healthy pastures.
Problems with Rotational Grazing:
1 Building it. The hardest part (I think) of using rotational grazing is building it. Fencing, shelters, gates, doors, feeders, water, minerals, de-icers, etc. Each pasture/ run will need to have all the necessary accommodations. This may be simple and easy depending on your current set-up. You may be able to move your feeders & such to the new fields as you rotate your livestock. You may decide to put permanent feeders (etc) in each field. One thing is for sure, once you have the system in place – moving the animals is as easy as grabbing a bucket of feed.
2 Ground not recovering. If your runs or fields are not recovering before it is time to move animals back onto the land, you may have too many animals on too small of a space. This can be fixed fairly easily. You can reduce the number of animals (thus the amount of pressure on the land). You can increase the size of the fields/ runs (which also reduces the pressure on the land). The last option is to add another field/ run so that you have more fields to turn the livestock onto. This may be the best option depending on your circumstances because it will allow you to lengthen the amount of time each pasture has to rest, recover & regrow.
3 Winter. It has been our experience that during winter we have to pick a field and just sacrifice it. We do not “rotate” in winter when nothing is growing. Come spring we move the cows off the “sacrificed” field and begin restoring it. It’s amazing how quickly the field comes back to life in spring when the cows are off of it.
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