By Hannah Packman, NFU Communications Coordinator
Last month on the Climate Column, we introduced the idea of prescribed grazing, a conservation practice in which the frequency and intensity of grazing, as well as the density and placement of livestock, are regulated with a specific goal in mind. Prescribed grazing can be carried out in a number of different ways, depending on the size and type of operation, topography, climate, season, and desired outcomes.
Rotational grazing is one of the most common forms of prescribed grazing. Under rotational grazing, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) describes it, “only one portion of pasture is grazed at a time while the remainder of the pasture ‘rests.’” Before incorporating rotational grazing into their management plans, producers must use fences to partition their grazing land into smaller subdivisions, known as “paddocks.” Livestock are then herded from paddock to paddock and allowed to graze for a specified amount of time, allowing the rest of the land to rejuvenate during that period.
By allowing the forage to regrow, rotational grazing offers a number of conservation benefits. For one, it can decrease the risk of soil erosion. Healthy and robust forage has a deep root system, which can stabilize soil, as well as vegetative cover, which can protect soil from wind and water. Furthermore, moving livestock frequently can prevent soil compaction, which in turn increases the soil’s infiltration capacity. This provides additional conservation benefits; greater infiltration capacity inhibits the occurrence of runoff, which may carry plant nutrients, manure, and pesticides into nearby land water. Ground water quality may benefit as well; rotationally grazed land does not require as many nutrient inputs, and deeper roots can absorb nutrients further down in the soil, both of which decrease the quantity of contaminants entering ground water.
Rotational grazing does not merely offer conservation benefits. Many producers choose to implement the practice because of the economic efficiency it affords. Forage raised in this system is typically healthier, more resilient, and more abundant than those grown in a continuous system, which can save farmers money on feed and other inputs. Additionally, the start-up costs and maintenance expenses are low, as are the time requirements, when compared to a confinement system that necessitates significant infrastructure and time spent feeding livestock. And wildlife can benefit as well; like many conservation practices, rotational grazing can bolster wildlife habitats by allowing native species to grow undisturbed.
Have you used prescribed grazing on your operation? If so, how has it benefitted you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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