Managing the grazing means to plan, implement and monitor grazing in order to achieve a sustainable land use. Indeed, the way grasslands are managed can have a profound effect on water cycle, mineral cycle and biological succession. Grazing management aims to allow animals to use the land for as long as possible during the year while staying within the limits of sustainability. The goal is to maintain healthy and productive pasture and to reduce overgrazing, in order to improve forage production and avoid weed invasion, and let plants and animals flourish.
In order to not deplete the pasture, the cornerstone of grazing management is to consider both time and timing. The time indicates how long the livestock will graze on the pasture and how long the pasture will rest before the animals will return. The timing, instead, refers to the period throughout the growth cycle of the vegetation, during which livestock will graze.
Based on the above pivotal points, different systems to manage a graze can be listed: continuous, simple rotational and intensive rotational. The method can vary from farm to farm and according to the farmer’s goal. Continuous grazing means livestock is free to graze on one area for a long period of time.
Simple rotational grazing refers to a grazed land that includes a few pastures. Animals are left grazing in rotation, on one pasture at time, in order to give the grass time to recover in between the grazes.
Intensive rotational grazing occurs when the pasture is divided into small areas, animals are left grazing on one of them for a short time, and rotations happen frequently in order to maximize forage regrowth.
Every method entails advantages and disadvantages. For example, continuous grazing often leads to under- and over-grazed lands, because when animals are left grazing freely, they tend to eat the most palatable plants first. If these plants are eaten repeatedly, they don’t have enough time to recover and regrow. The plants will die, thereby depleting the pasture.
The core idea behind rotational pastures is to allow plants enough time to recover and regrowth before animals will graze them again. The smaller the paddocks, the more the time between two consecutive grazes, and the healthier the pasture.
Within the different grazing techniques, there is one that entails the absence of grazing. It is the so called “no grazing”. It implies that no animals will graze on a specific land for a certain amount of time (chosen according to vegetation needs), in order to let the pasture rest, to be productive again, before reintroducing livestock on the land.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1991, Chritchley & Siegert, Water harvesting, http://www.fao.org/3/u3160e/u3160e00.htm. Reproduced with permission
WOCAT, 2012, Schwilch, Hessel & Verzandvoort, Desire for Greener Land, https://edepot.wur.nl/212528. Reproduced with permission.