Developing a Grazing System for Your Organic Farm

Organic Agriculture March 19, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

eOrganic author:

Mike Gamroth, Oregon State University

Choosing a Grazing Management System for Your Farm

Although most organic dairy farmers choose an intensive rotational grazing system to maximize the quality and quantity of feed from pasture, there are actually different levels of grazing management "intensity" that can be used. The following chart summarizes, compares, and contrasts three types of grazing management used.

System Description Advantages Disadvantages

Continuous Grazing

Continuous grazing is a one-pasture system where livestock have unrestricted access throughout the grazing season.
  • Requires less management
  • Capital costs are minimal
  • Lower forage quality and yields
  • Lower stocking rate and less forage produced per acre
  • Uneven pasture use
  • Greater forage losses due to trampling
  • Animal manure is distributed unevenly
  • Weeds and other undesirable plants may be a problem

Simple Rotational Grazing

Simple rotational grazing is a system with more than one pasture in which livestock are moved to allow for periods of grazing and rest for forages.
  • Can increase forage production and improve pasture condition over continuous grazing
  • Allows pastures to rest and allows for forage regrowth
  • Can provide a longer grazing season, reducing the need for feeding harvested forages
  • Better distribution of manure throughout the pasture
  • Costs for fencing and water systems can be higher than with continuous grazing
  • Forage production and pasture utilization is not as high as intensive rotational grazing systems

Intensive Rotational Grazing

Intensive rotational grazing is a system with many pastures, sometimes referred to as paddocks. Livestock are moved frequently from paddock to paddock based on forage growth and utilization.
  • Highest forage production and use per acre
  • Stocking rates can typically be increased
  • More even distribution of manure throughout the paddocks
  • Weeds and brush are usually controlled through grazing
  • Provides more grazing options and reduces the need for mechanically harvested forages
  • Requires careful monitoring of forage supply
  • Initial costs may be higher due to fencing materials and water distribution systems
  • Requires more management

 

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.