Stockpiling and Rotation Grazing – Extending your Pasture Season

Published on Thu, 04/14/2022 - 12:49pm

Stockpiling and Rotation Grazing – Extending your Pasture Season.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 Pasture management is a critical skill for both part and full-time grazers. One of its most powerful applications is how it supports the longevity and quality of the pasture through both the season and future grazing seasons.

How long a standard grazing season varies greatly depending on region. But one factor remains the same, whether grazing season lasts six or nine months, buying hay for the off season gets expensive quickly. Finding ways to better assist your pasture to handle the grazing load can potentially provide better nutrient source and be more cost effective.

Appropriate management of pasture, such as allowing for a growth period after dormancy, allows the plants to replenish depleted root systems and prepare for photosynthetic processes, according to the University of Kentucky. This management can assist with future forage production by not stunting the growth due to grazing too short. There are different management practices between the intensity of grazing, plants incorporated into the mix, and other ways of extending the pasture.

When a grazing period is extended through good management, costs are reduced in the present and future. Stockpiling forage, which allows pastures a growth period for use later in the winter season, is one way to do this.

After a long season of hoof traffic and grazing, giving pastures a period of rest (usually beginning in late summer) to create new growth before the first frost sets in will allow you to put cattle back on in some of the winter months. Pasture that’s grazed short without an opportunity to regrow will cease regrowth after the shock of the cold. However, more mature stockpiled forages will remain sturdy and dense enough for grazing buying a bit more time, money and efficiency for the producer.

Remember, stockpiling should be part of an overall healthy pasture management system. Pastures must be taken care of throughout the growing months and not overgrazed to keep them healthy for the best stockpiling stand possible.

Rotational grazing
If done correctly, rotational grazing can assist in preventing overgrazing and allows cows to graze on less mature plants that contain higher nutrient values. A good rotation easily lends itself to stockpiling due to the cyclicity of rest and regrowth periods, plus you can leave certain sections untouched for longer to build stronger stockpiles. Keep in mind that the intensity and duration of rotations will depend on how much land and pasture you have available. Smaller sections allow for more rotations, but that will mean fewer days cattle can be in each one.

A continuous flow through the pasture that also prevents over or undergrazing and properly maintains the pasture to encourage positive growth for the next time the cows are in the section. Rotational grazing is especially effective in spring when forage regrowth is rapid. The University of Kentucky notes that finding a balance between number of cows and current pasture composition is key to maintaining pasture growth during the grazing season.

Not having enough animals to cover your acreage can lead to undergrazing, and too many will cause overgrazing. Where there are lactating cows and growing heifers, rotations must be exceptionally careful to ensure these strict nutritional needs are met.

Pasture mixture
Pasture composition also plays a role in the growth and longevity of the pasture. A healthy mix of cool and warm season varieties can complement each other by proliferating at different peaks in the season, reducing any “gaps” as the weather changes. The best mix is dependent on region the varieties that perform best there. Doing this correctly should involve consultation with local extension services, grazing specialists and other farmers with grazing experience.

“Good grazing management achieves the right balance between standing availability of forage, forage utilization, and animal performance,” says the UK Cooperative Extension’s publication Rotational Grazing. “A good manager stocks pastures heavily enough to graze available forage down to a target height that will allow rapid and maximum forage regrowth (during the growing season) without compromising nutritional needs of livestock. A good manager will observe pastures frequently for overgrazing and undergrazing and will periodically adjust the stocking rate or movement of cattle as needed.”

A solid grazing management program will prevent both over or understocking, as it works with what you have available and making the most of it. At its core is the prioritization of quality pasture growth. Both stockpiling and rotational grazing can accomplish this end if done properly.