With the grazing season in almost full swing, University of Arkansas forage experts are reminding growers to consider which grazing methods will best help them get the most out of their forage stands and pastures.
Dirk Philipp, assistant professor of forages for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said grazing methods are tools growers use to determine and manage how, when, and how much of the available forage is grazed.
“Producers use methods ranging from ‘low-input,’ management such as continuous stocking, to more sophisticated techniques such as rotational stocking, and ‘first-last” grazing or ‘creep’ grazing,” Philipp said.
He said that when deciding whether to use continuous or rotational stocking, each grower should consider his or her unique situation.
“For continuous stocking, Individual animal performance may be higher than in rotational stocking, as animals can more selectively graze,” Philipp said. “Time and material inputs are relatively low, and some forages, such as Bermudagrass, are resilient and forgiving enough to persist under continuous grazing.”
Rotational stocking requires more material and time, Philipp said. Additionally, growers should consider how they will divide their pastures, where they will install watering access points, and whether their forage base actually justifies these investments.
“When considering which grazing methods to choose, keep in mind that the overall setup of your livestock operation depends on the class of livestock, soil productivity, possible impacts on the natural resource base, and — most importantly — the projected economic return,” he said.
“Many times, a setup with continuous stocking is so badly managed that a switch to rotational stocking will invariably improve animal performance,” he said.
Philipp said that growers should keep their entire grazing system in mind when considering grazing methods.
“If necessary, and if possible, grazing methods should be adjusted in the spring, when growth is rapid and vigorous,” he said. “When using rotational stocking, forage use might be as high as 80 percent, but be prepared to harvest excess forage for hay if the stocking rates cannot easily be increased.”
Philipp warned that forage grasses will switch to reproductive growth quickly if they’re not grazed, so growers should stock their pastures as early as possible to avoid the grass “getting away” from them too quickly.
Philipp added that in cow- and calf-centered operations, creep feeding is a good option, because it provides high-quality forage for calves. Producers growing legumes in their fields in substantial quantities should use rotational stocking, in order to maintain plant persistence.