Reasons for Rotational Grazing

Reasons for Rotational Grazing


  • Calmer livestock– having control of animals is a huge part of overall management.
  • Reduced hay fed– a 12 paddock system vs. continuous resulted in 31% less hay fed
  • Carrying capacity is increased– typically moving from a monthly rotation to a weekly rotation will increase carrying capacity by 20 to 30%
  • Increased gain per acre– rotating animals in a 12 paddock system vs. continuous grazing resulted in a 37% increase in pounds of calf per acre
  • Temperature reduction– vegetation compared to bare soil reduces temperature by ~ 8 degrees in summer
  • Improved Wildlife Habitat– Varying the height of forage and diverse forage systems improve food and cover for wildlife. Biologist like plant diversity and plant diversity comes from soil disturbance and rest for plant recovery.  In a grazing system wildlife are always the first grazers which provides the best nutrition.


  • Better persistence of forages– particularly of forages sensitive to continuous grazing. In general woody plants that goats prefer require a longer rest period (~45 days).
  • More weeds are consumed- some weeds are high quality
  • More uniform grazing, Improved utilization- Continuous grazing typically only utilizes approximately 30- 40% of standing forage whereas rotating approximately twice a week (rotate based on forage height) improves utilization to 60 – 70%.
  • Excess pasture growth harvested as hay- improves utilization even more
  • Higher production– Typically due to increased stubble height, more leaf area, and more moisture conservation production can be increased by 20% over continuous close grazing.
  • Better management– with proper fencing forages with different management needs are fenced facilitating improved management such as overseeding and treading in seed.



  • Reduced Runoff- Improved vegetative cover has 3 times less runoff than overgrazed pasture
  • Improved filtering of water– Increasing stubble height improves filtering of runoff.
  • Better distribution of dung and urine– improving the environment through proper placement.
  • Improved water quality– with proper fencing animals spend less time loafing in water areas and drink from selected and protected watering points. Bacteria, concentration of nutrients and soil erosion are all reduced when practicing rotational grazing.
  • Streambanks are more stable– Livestock enter streams less frequently (i.e. 5 paddocks system- animals are in one paddock only 20% of the time that’s a reduction of 80%). Treading followed by rest increases plant diversity – resting allows vegetation to establish or recover.  Grazing provides better plant diversity than total exclusion which long term results in only woody vegetation.
  • Soil loss- Overgrazed pasture can have soil loss of 9 tons relative to 1 ton for well managed pasture.
Indicator Plants

Indicator Plants


Indicator Plants are plants that, by their presence or abundance, provide an assessment of the quality of the site. Past soil management has a dramatic effect on the plant community and the plant community doesn’t change quickly so some indicator plants may persist after
management has improved. Indicator plants provide insight to what is occurring below the surface but there are many factors that come into play such as previous land use or management. These can dramatically influence seed availability on the site (e.g. – a low fertility site may still have broomsedge or rabbit tobacco on it even though fertility has improved). Soil testing, rest and recovery, more cover, increased diversity, seeding or other soil management methods may be required to alter the site to the desired state. The best weed control is out-competing undesirable plants. “Manage for what you want, not for what you don’t want. It takes grass to grow grass.”

Some Options for Mitigating Resource Concerns

The plants that grew naturally on the site are nature’s way of healing the site some of them are very palatable and others are not. If these are undesirable plants you may want to terminate existing plants
and plant a more desirable plant community that is adapted to the site.
Compacted Soil: More roots are needed fibrous and tap roots. Maintaining living roots all year helps. Allowing plants to recover longer between grazing and mowing improves root system. More residue helps. Resting plants during their active growing season strengthens plants. All plants help reduce issues with compaction but
the following plants are renowned for improving soil Compaction.

Cool season annual plants are: Forage radish and Cereal rye; perennial cool season plants: alfalfa, chicory, red clover and sweet clover.

Warm season annual plants are: sorghums and warm season perennial plants:

Native warm season grasses like: big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass and eastern gamagrass. Bermudagrass is tolerant of overgrazing and rather drought tolerant but doesn’t have as deep a root system as natives and needs nutrients for production.

Overgrazed Land: Longer recovery between grazing improves vigor of plants. If grazing skip a paddock resting a paddock for up to 90 days in the growing season and up to 210 days in the winter. Lowering stocking rate will remove stress on the the grass, soil, livestock and you. Increasing inputs such as fertilizing, feeding, number of paddocks and rotating more often leaving minimum heights of grass for soil protection, improved
infiltration, lower soil temperature and improved water management. All of these inputs reduce the impacts of overgrazing and shallow root systems. When minimum grazing heights are reached confine livestock to 20% or less of the land and feed hay till other paddocks reach a minimum height of 8” then resume grazing. It is ideal
to graze a paddock for 3 days or less, not allowing livestock to take a second bite of the same plant. In general the minimum recovery time or rest period between grazings is 14 days but base the rotation on height don’t graze below 4” (minimum of 4 layers of leaves).

Wet or Flooded: NRCS does not encourage draining land, wetlands are very important ecosystems and
aquifer recharge areas. Before draining land check with your local NRCS office you could lose USDA benefits
or be fined by other agencies. Don’t graze or travel on wet or saturated soil. Drive only in designated areas controlling traffic. If you must enter a field when it is wet walk or use an atv also wide tires compact less that narrow tires. Forage species that are adapted to wet and flooded land are: cereal rye, hairy vetch, alsike clover, red top, alsike clover, switchgrass and eastern gamagrass.

Red sorrel and Oxeye daisy

Low Fertility Soil: A plant tissue test may be in order to determine the deficiency contact the lab prior to sending in the sample. Feeding hay on low fertility relocates nutrients to the feeding site. Move or unroll hay in a new location each time you feed. High density short duration grazing improves manure distribution which improves fertility. Adjust pH to the desired level prior to applying deficient nutrients. You can move fertility in the animal as well by grazing a fertile field then rotating to one less fertile the manure dropped will be from the more fertile field. Plants, cover and roots aid in making more nutrients actively available to plants. Plants adapted to low fertility include: Cereal rye, lespedezas and native grasses.