John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-394-3790
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Rotational Grazing

Pasture rotation is a great way to maximize use of available forage while improving overall condition of the paddocks. The idea is to force livestock to consume forage in a limited area, and then move them on before that area is overgrazed or damaged.

Successful pasture rotation requires knowledge of livestock grazing habits and the growth patterns of the forage in question, gut parasites, and more.

Rotational grazing should considered when laying out one's fences. Building as many permanent paddocks as you think you will need will actually add flexibility, since polywire or other protable fencing solutions can always be used to subdivide further, but things will still work when labor resources are a bit thin.

Systems that rely on moving temporary fence every time that animals are moved and get pretty old really fast.

For the best use of forage, the more square paddocks are, the better. Paddocks should never be more than four times longer than wide. Remember, animals are inherently lazy. They will graze the gate end of the paddock much more heavily than the far end.

For the same reason, it is best not to run paddocks up slopes (with the gate at the bottom). The animals will not want to walk up the hill to graze, and will tend to overgraze the lower portions of the paddock.

Animals will also tend to graze near their water. watering troughs should be placed to facilitate even grazing throughout the paddock.

Resist putting animals on the pasture until the grass is a good 6 inches inches long. Grazing below this height will lead to damaged roots

In early spring grazing can begin when the forage is 4-6 inches long, but the animals will need to be moved through quickly. Remember, it is better to have the grass ahead of the livestock than the livestock ahead of the grass!

It is also wise to start the livestock on a different paddock every year.

Livestock should be moved to a new paddock when the grasses are two inches or more in height. Grazing below this will mean that the paddock takes longer to recover, and it will encourage weeds getting a foothold in the pasture.

It is important to keep parasites in mind with a rotational grazing scheme. For example, H. contortus (barber pole worm) has an approximately 30 day incubation cycle. In the spring this will just about match forage growth, and the farmer will be tempted to restock the paddock just as the parasite bloom is at its peak. The paddock's parasite load will increase with every restocking, and in turn the herd's parasite load will increase, and they will shed eggs into the next paddock.

If this pattern is established, it will not take long before the entire property has a heavy parasite load, and the herd is debilitated.

Understanding this, the wise farmer may choose to mow during periods of heavy growth in order to moderate the herd's exposure to parasites. A minimum 6 week cycle is probably needed for the peak of the parasite load to subside, but this may be subject to environmental conditions.

Alternatively, a multi-species grazing scheme may offer ways to moderate the problem of parasites. For instance, fowl and swine are not susceptible to the same parasites as cattle, sheep, goats or alpacas.

Rotational grazing can maximize forage utilization, herd and pasture health, and parasite management if properly implemented.

 
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