December 11, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

Rotational grazing provides one of the best opportunities for farmers to increase their income in forages and beef production.

Farmers should consider switching from continuous grazing due to several factors, said Garry Lacefield, forage specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

“No. 1, you will utilize a whole lot more of what you are already producing,” he said. “We waste a tremendous amount of feed in Kentucky. We probably don’t utilize much over a third of what we grow. We already have the investment of our seed, fertilizer and other things, so we need to utilize more of it.”

Better utilization can come from improved management, Lacefield said. A continuous grazing program allows farmers to use only 20 to 50 percent of their total pasture, while rotating cattle among pastures every three to five weeks can improve usage to 40 to 60 percent, and weekly movement can increase that to between 50 and 70 percent.

“We should be thinking about getting at least 60 percent utilization and we should be going even higher than that,” Lacefield told participants at the recent Kentucky Grazing Conference. “Sixty-five percent is not an unrealistic goal.”

Rotation allows pastures time to rest and regrow, he said. That can result in an increase in forage production within those pastures compared to continuous grazing.

Another factor is that there is the potential to improve quality as well. Forage is highest in quality when plants are young and vegetative. Pasture quality is closely associated with the amount of leaves, and rotational grazing can permit utilization of a higher percentage of leaves.  It also helps manage and improve stands of legumes and certain grasses that are sensitive to continuous grazing.

Other benefits of rotational grazing include the potential to increase animal products per acre; reduce machinery, fuel and facilities; extend the grazing season thereby reducing the amount of stored feed needed; reduce wasted pasture; improve the distribution and use of animal waste and fertilizer; and more efficiently allocate pasture to animals based on quality needs.

In times such as spring, where there is an abundance of forage, excess pastures can be harvested for hay, haylage or round bale silage.

“If we can utilize more of what we already produce in a higher quality state and be more efficient in converting more of our tremendous forage base to high quality animal products then, without question, animal-based agriculture will play a major role in increasing Kentucky’s agricultural cash receipts,” Lacefield said.

Data on enterprise budgets from Penn State University show a profit of $129 per acre in an intensive grazing operation compared to $75 per acre for continuous grazing.

“There is certainly a potential for us to make a profit,” he said.

Farmers getting started in rotational grazing should use a combination of permanent and temporary fencing, advised Ken Johnson with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Johnson, who started rotational grazing on his farm 14 years ago, said farmers need to figure out what works best on their farm before installing more permanent fencing. He said he moved fences for two years before settling on his present setup.

He also encouraged farmers not to reseed their pastures in exotic grasses right away, but to learn to manage what they have and then move into new things a little at a time.

Try to have water in each pasture and no more than 800 feet from the farthest point in the field. A good fence charger is also essential, he said.

Implementing new grazing systems can come with a price tag, but there are several financial assistance programs available on the local, state and national level. Farmers should check with their local Extension office and USDA office to learn details of what may be available.



Garry Lacefield, (270) 365-7541 ext. 202