Grazing Management: Keys to a Well-Fed Flock

Grazing management helps to keep overgrazing from becoming a problem in the pasture.


| 2013 Guide to Sheep and Goats



Gated-Flock

A gate separates the flock from the next paddock.

Photo By iStockphoto/Kristin Hoskin

The traditional approach to grazing has been to put animals in a pasture at the beginning of the season and let them stay there until they run out of feed. This method is called “set stocking,” and it results in simultaneous overgrazing and undergrazing of plants in the same pasture.

The reason set stocking causes overgrazing and undergrazing at the same time is because critters are sort of like children in a candy store: When they’re set stocked, they eat what they like the most and ignore the flavors they don’t like. Some plants are constantly being grazed, whereas others aren’t touched. Interestingly, the result of both overgrazing and undergrazing is the same — the plants lose energy and don’t perform at their peak potential. Ultimately, both scenarios can kill the plants.

Grazing management

By employing managed grazing — also called rotational grazing, management-intensive grazing and planned grazing — you control the flock’s access and grazing time, thereby obtaining peak plant performance, which in turn results in peak animal performance. The trick to this is to subdivide your pasture into smaller pieces, known as paddocks, and to time your flock’s movements through the paddocks according to how the grass is growing.

Grazing management is a complex skill that takes time to master, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Finding a mentor who uses managed grazing, even if it’s a cattle grazier, will hasten the learning process. Many states now have organized grazing groups, which your county extension agent can help you find. The local office of the USDA National Resources Conservation Service also can be a valuable place to learn about managed grazing, and may also be able to help provide cost-share funding for installing needed fencing and watering systems.

Some forage plants, such as alfalfa, can’t stand the pressure of the continuous grazing that occurs in a set-stocked pasture, but they can survive hard grazing for short periods. Alternating paddocks allows these plants to compete. In fact, all desirable forage plants grow much better when they are grazed hard and then given a period of rest.

You’ll also find that managed grazing gets your sheep to eat better than they would on a set-stocked pasture. Sheep prefer not to feed continually in the same place. They like fresh pasture that hasn’t been walked on, and managed grazing keeps them on fresh pasture regularly.





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