Grazing and stocking strategies to improve production
You can use a number of grazing and stocking strategies, separately or simultaneously, to improve production in your grazing systems. Regardless of the strategy you use, matching stocking rates to the carrying capacity of the land is the most important factor for success.
Continuous grazing is generally used on extensive areas of land, with pastures never or rarely spelled. Continuous grazing is successful where stocking rates are conservative and sustainable.
Using this system, there is a tendency for livestock to become selective in their grazing, and patches within the pasture can be over-grazed.
To minimise the decline of land type and preferred forage species, continuous grazing is best used conservatively along with:
- forage budgeting once or twice a year
- stock number adjustments
- wet season spelling every 3-4 years
- rotational burning every 4-5 years.
Rotational grazing and spelling paddocks
Rotational grazing gives you control over when, and for how long, a pasture will be grazed then rested. It involves moving stock between paddocks, destocking and resting ('spelling') a paddock after use.
Spelling a paddock
Spelling a grazing area provides complete rest for the pasture. This is a period for replenishment, seeding or regeneration.
Depending on the season, spelling can be short or longer term, up to several months. To determine the best spelling period, consider the condition and amount of pasture, plus the rainfall expected during the growing season.
When grass is reshooting after a dormant period (after winter, fire or drought), you should spell the paddock for up to 6 weeks to allow pasture to re-establish. Grazing during this time will damage the pasture. Spelling when species are flowering and seeding allows seeds to set. Over-grazing at this time encourages the growth of weeds or non-desirable species. Spelling for part of the peak growing season allows palatable species to set.
Time-controlled (cell) grazing
Time-controlled grazing (or cell grazing) is a form of rotational grazing, where small paddocks are heavily stocked for short periods, followed by a long spelling. This is management-intensive, requiring fencing and watering points.
The number of paddocks in rotation is a key factor in this strategy. As the number of paddocks increase:
- the grazing period for each paddock decreases
- the ability of livestock to graze selectively decreases
- stocking pressure during grazing increases
- the rest period for each paddock increases
- the average stocking rate stays the same.
Forage budgeting is a tool you can use to support stocking strategies by anticipating periods for either over-grazing or under-grazing. You can inspect paddocks and estimate standing pasture available for grazing at the end of the wet season, then adjust stock numbers to ensure you meet residual yield and groundcover targets.
Targets will depend on your land type and average rainfall. A general guide for dense tussocky, 3P (perennial, palatable and productive) pastures is to budget on leaving about 1500kg/ha (10-12cm of height, as a rule of thumb) so there is enough residual grass and groundcover going into the next season. On less productive land, it's best to leave at least 60% groundcover. You can use the following tools for forage budgeting:
Steps for developing a grazing and stocking strategy
- Analyse the current situation and calculate long-term carrying capacity.
- Identify ways to maximise or improve rainfall use, and optimise pasture utilisation.
- Consider the different stocking strategies and likely impact on your land health.
- Plan your implementation, including a monitoring and recording system.
- Implement your strategy.
- Watch the video Grazing systems - fact and fiction on YouTube to learn more about rotational and cell grazing systems.
- Find out more about grazing strategies on the Meat and Livestock Australia website.
- Learn how to get started in simple rotational grazing on the Making More From Sheep website.
- For more information about cell grazing, read Cell grazing - the first 10 years in Australia (PDF, 880KB).