Prescribed grazing planning

Prescribed Grazing is a management practice utilized by livestock producers in order to control the timing and amount of vegetation harvested in a pasture setting. When carefully implemented, prescribed grazing can increase livestock production, improve wildlife habitat, reduce erosion and conserve water. The goal of prescribed grazing is to balance the available forage on a given pasture with the number of animals using that pasture to maximize the nutritional needs of the livestock while maintaining healthy forage.

Prescribed grazing offers other management, ecosystem, and soil health benefits that many of us may take for granted. Some of the benefits include pasture animals feeding the soil and soil microbiology with their excrement. Prescribed Grazing can increase soil organic matter by having adequate plant cover and addition of livestock waste. Implementing prescribed grazing can lead to less soil compaction in comparison to utilizing heavy harvesting equipment to harvest hay. By managing healthy plants with deeper root systems, grazing can increase water infiltration into the soil leading to improved water quality and less runoff. Prescribed grazing may reduce the need for supplemental feeding during the growing season. It can create wildlife habitat for various grassland bird species, other mammals, and beneficial insects.

In order to implement the many nuances of prescribed grazing on a farm, we work with livestock producers to develop a prescribed grazing plan that fits their operation. The prescribed grazing plan is an inventory of resources such as available forage, fencing, acreage, water quantity/watering systems, number and type of animals among other related information. The livestock producer uses that prescribed grazing plan to implement prescribed grazing and supporting practices such as fencing and watering system through the growing season.

Typically, with a prescribed grazing plan, a pasture will be divided into approximately equal sized paddocks, or smaller pastures, based on the size of the herd and available land. The livestock graze or eat the forage in each paddock until most of the forage has been evenly consumed. We recommend moving the livestock to the next paddock when they have consumed all but 6-8 inches of remaining forage. It may seem wasteful to leave that much forage behind, however that remaining vegetation helps the pasture plants thrive. When a pasture plant is grazed very low or short, the root system is compromised and reduces the plants’ ability to rejuvenate itself.

Prescribed grazing is part art and part science and requires more hands-on management compared to letting livestock out onto one large open paddock.