Sustainable grazing management is about managing pasture and livestock in a way that prioritizes the long-term capability of a landscape. Its goal is to maintain healthy and productive pasturelands and provide economic benefits, and can be applied to range, pasture, and grasslands in all types of topographies and climates. The way grasslands are managed both directly and indirectly impacts the ecological health of the surrounding ecosystem, including the local water and mineral cycles as well as biological succession, in turn also creating socioeconomic effects for farmers and herders.
As opposed to more traditional and unsustainable practices such as extensive or continuous grazing where livestock graze on one large, open pastureland, there are several methods of more sustainable grazing management. Two examples of this are Rotational grazing management and Integrated crop-livestock grazing.
Rotational grazing is the most commonly used sustainable grazing technique due to the benefits it has on the health and productivity of pastureland.
Unlike continuous grazing, rotational grazing involves a more managed approach whereby livestock are periodically between these paddocks. This gives the pasture’s grasses and vegetation enough time to recover and regrow before animals graze them again. So, the smaller the paddocks, the more the time between two consecutive grazes, and the healthier the pasture.
- Simple Rotational grazing:
Simple rotational grazing refers to a grazed land that includes a few paddocks, e.g. 4 segments. Animals are allowed to graze in rotation on one pasture at a time in order to give the grass time to recover in between grazes.Intensive Rotational grazing:
- Intensive rotational grazing is when the pasture is divided into smaller pastures, e.g. ~16 paddocks. Animals are allowed to graze on one paddock for a short period of time, and rotations happen frequently in order to maximize forage regrowth. This results in less soil erosion and builds a higher quality and greater output of grasses. The resulting grasslands are much healthier, as one paddock is fully grazed by livestock while the grass in the other paddocks is left to regrow fully.
Similar to Silvopasture, this traditional farming practice involves the production of crops and raising of livestock on the same plot of agricultural land. Livestock are allowed to graze on cover crops either between the rows of cash crops, or during off season and colder months. These systems are beneficial in returning carbon to the soil in the form of manure, in turn maintaining healthy soils for crop growth. This technique can be applied to more agricultural landscapes in the case that pastureland is not available or limited.
- Fencing material (e.g. wire, hooks, wooden posts)
- Watering facilities (e.g. pipes + basins, water tanks, ponds or any natural water source)
There are no strict rules for building a rotational grazing system. The optimal number and size of paddocks will differ per farmer based on their needs and the size of their farm, as well as the resources they have available. Upfront labour and upkeep costs to fix fence damage are needed due to the large amount of fencing that will need to be erected to create paddocks.
- It recommended to start by dividing a pasture in two and continue dividing during the subsequent seasons if benefits are observed from doing so.
- A cheap way to experiment with building rotational grazing systems is to use temporary fencing materials and portable watering solutions in order to be able to change the set-up according to what works best. It may take several seasons and multiple tries to land on the most useful arrangement.
The cornerstone of grazing management is to consider both time and timing:
- Time includes decisions regarding the amount of time that the livestock will graze on the pasture vs. the duration of time the pasture will be let to rest before the animals return.
- Timing refers to the period during which the vegetation the livestock graze on will grow.
Estimated costs and benefits of implementing this intervention:
|Establishment cost||7.5 - 10 USD/ha depending on terrain, climate and location|
|Labor time||2 person days per km|
|Maintenance cost||1 USD (depends on the durability of the fencing)|
|Benefits||• Improved income (in Colombia, farmer’s annual income increased up to $523/ha/year.)
• Increased pasture yields & better quality pastures
• Better distribution of manure nutrients throughout the pasture
|Which products||Meat, dairy, wool, leather|
|Price per product||Milk productivity increased by 25% while production costs decreased by 9% in Colombia, whilst cattle are in better condition with an increased productivity of 85% in calving rate in Mazabuka, Zambia.|
The flexible Ecograze system is based on the establishment of three paddocks with two herds within a rotational system. The idea is that all paddocks get some rest during the wet seasons for two out of three years.
Wet season rests are divided into two phases:
(1) The early wet season rest starts after the first rains in November/December and continues for 6-8 weeks, which is particularly good for perennial grass recovery;
(2) The late wet season rest lasts until March/April and aids both seed set and vegetative recovery. Average paddocks of around 3,000 ha in size are sub-divided into three relatively equal sizes, though some flexibility is required to balance variation in the productive capacity of different land types in the paddock. Each paddock is fenced and extra water points and pumps are established where needed.
Rotational grazing management:
Integrated crop-livestock system: