Grazing Systems: What types are there?

Published Mar 9, 2020 

A grazing system, when done correctly, can assist rangeland managers in achieving management objectives. They can both boost production as well as reduce their overhead costs.

Selection of the proper type of system depends on understanding the unique combination of different aspects that go into range management. Things like the topography, soil type, the particular animal involved have to be balanced in order to get the best results.

Whether intended or not if you have animals grazing in a pasture then you already have a grazing system in place. If you are getting the most out of your pasture however is an entirely different story.

What is a grazing system?

A grazing system is defined as a way of managing the interaction between plants, soil, and livestock. While there may be different degrees of a system the best ones balance all of these factors to get the best results possible.

It is a scientific approach to balancing different factors to optimize performance. In order to make a grazing system work you will need to approach it with a scientific mind.

When combined with good management skills it will create a long enhanced overall production. A key word that is thrown out a lot lately is that producers need to be sustainable. Well using the grazing system that works best for your particular situation will go a long way to helping you to be sustainable.

While one system is not "superior" to the others it depends entirely on your situation. You will have to look at things like the resources you have available, the amount of land that you have, and just how much labor you can commit to it.

Using the correct stocking rate is vital for a grazing system to have any chance of being a success. If you are constantly overgrazing your pastures then things are out of balance.

Benefits of a good system?

If correctly implemented it can improve the overall land and pasture conditions on your place. As the forage growth improves it can also help with your stocking rates.

It can also force animals to utilize more of the forages that are available to them. If you are interested in learning more about how to better utilize your pasture, check out my previous article "Better grazing with Supplements".

When you promote forage growth you also reduce the chance of weeds taking hold. Your forage grasses will grow back quicker thus choking out any potential weeds. If there is less weeds present that means it will save you money on having to buy herbicides.

Types of grazing system

There are many different types of a grazing system that you can choose from. Here are a few of the more popular ones that you can look through.

  • Continuous

    • this is where a set number of animals graze 1 pasture all year long
    • useful when you have animals you only want to eat the "cream of the crop" such as thoroughbreds and dairy cattle
    • According to a study done by Penn State, forage utilization and consumption is reduced 30% to 40% in a continuous system
  • Rotational

    • This is where you have a pasture sectioned off into multiple paddocks
    • the time for rotation can be based on the length of time they are on that particular based. Though the best way to go by is when they have grazed the forages down to a particular height.
    • The key thing to remember is that you do not graze the same paddock twice in the same grazing season. In order to work best you will need to rest each pasture a "rest period" to allow regrowth.
    • the different types of rotational grazing are:
      • the Merrill system
        • this system comprises of 4 separate pastures with 3 herds grazing
        • Each pasture is grazed for 12 months then not for 4 months making a 16-month cycle
      • Wheel spoke system
        • as the name implies the set up of your pastures will look like the spokes on a wheel
        • the central part of your pasture will consist of the water source and the working facilities
        • In this system each pasture is grazed from 1 to 145 days with a rest period of 30 to 90 days
      • One herd rotation
        • this one is similar to the Merrill system though you are only using one herd to graze
    • A downside to this type of system is the cost of the fence you will have to put up. You can reduce some of that cost by setting up the pastures to be about as square as you can make it. This will also require more labor in order to move the animals around.
    • If you are interested in learning more about rotational grazing then check out my previous article "Is rotational grazing for you?"
  • Switchback grazing

    • This is where you divide 1 pasture into 2 separate pastures
    • It is a good system for a producer that does not have a lot of land, labor or resources
    • You move the herd back and forth between them, hence the name, as your forages allow
  • Strip grazing

    • Here a small part of the pasture is fenced off and grazed till the forage resources become limited
    • This is good for when you are grazing cool- and warm-season annuals or any stockpiled forages
    • Works well when the regrowth of the forages is not likely to occur

One key thing to remember is that whatever system you choose that there is a water source within 800 feet of the livestock at all times. This will improve the grazing distribution as well as provide a more uniform manure distribution and increase water consumption.

If you are interested in improving the overall productivity and profitability of your operation then check out my e-book "Nuts and Bolts of Successful Ranching".


Article Added

Robert Malmstrom Brady, TX
Mar 9, 2020

Grazing Systems: What types are there?

A grazing system, when done correctly, can assist rangeland managers in achieving management objectives. They can both boost production as well as reduce their overhead costs.Selection of the proper type of system depends on understanding the unique combination...

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