Pasture Management

Pasture Care and Establishment:

It is important to establish and maintain a strong stand of forages regardless of the grazing patterns.  Pastures with poor forage stands are more susceptible to erosion, livestock damage, or weed invasion.  A thick, healthy pasture is not only pleasing to the eye, it also allows livestock to more efficiently and utilize the forage. 

Rotational Stocking System:
Grazing methods are also very important to maintain a productive pasture and keep average daily gains up on livestock. 
  • Steps to develop your rotational stocking systems:
    1. Consult with local agriculture extension educator, NRCS   advisors, and other farmers for help and innovative ideas.
    2. Examine aerial photographs, soil maps, and property maps to help determine the number, size, and location of the paddocks.
    3. Determine what your water sources are and match the watering system to the type and number of animals.  Make sure that animals do not have to travel more than 800 ft. to a water source, especially during the summer     months.
    4. Base paddock size and location on soil type, existing fences, physical boundaries, existing forages, watering system, and shade access (if needed).    
    5. Decide if the existing forages are worth improving or if establishing new forages  would be more feasible.
    6. Choose forages that fit the topography. Example: Plant alfalfa on well drained soils and reed canarygrass on poorly drained soils.
    7. Price different perimeter fencing options and then utilize the one that best fits your finances and livestock enterprise.
    8. Choose interior fences. Temporary fences are often recommended because it makes mechanical harvesting is easier and it allows you to change paddocks' size to meet weather conditions, livestock numbers, etc.
    9. Before installing fence make sure to include laneways.  Your lane  requirements will depend on your livestock enterprise, and how often you will need to use it. Remember to position your paddock entrances so that the animals have a direct route into the paddock.
    10. Make sure to allow for changes you may want to make in the future to increase herd size, paddock numbers, change watering system, etc.
    11. Finally, match the number of animals to the number of paddocks and available forages.  The stocking rate will vary from year to year.  Learn how to do this by trying these stocking rate questions using the grazing stick.
Grazing Management Information:
Pasture utilization is one of the key elements in a rotational stocking set up.  The picture above shows an underutilized pasture.  With proper management the above pasture can be transformed into a better pasture, like the examples below. 

In the ideal situation, animals should be moved to a pasture when the forages are approximately eight inches tall.  Then the animals need to be removed once the pasture is grazed to three or four inches.  This keeps the growing parts of the plants from being injured by overgrazing.  It should be noted that pastures with birdsfoot trefoil (BFT) should only be grazed to four to six inches in height.  If this is not done, BFT will die off due to the lack of leaf area needed for regrowth.


The above two pictures show properly grazed paddocks.  If livestock are not rotated frequently enough, hay can be made from the excess forages or pastures can be clipped once seed heads form.  By clipping the pastures, new growth is stimulated and the risk of eye and face injury is reduced.  If the forages are allowed to become over mature, they decrease in feed value.  For top production it is very important to manage forage height correctly.

Another useful tool for managing pasture height is a grazing stick. The grazing stick is very helpful for beginning graziers who are wanting to determine stocking rates and the number of grazable days for a paddock.  It is very helpful for training a person to determine forage availability and stocking rates. However, experience will prove to be the best teacher.

Fall/Winter Grazing:
There are many benefits to using fall/winter grazing techniques. They include:
Gazing Cattle
  •  Less labor associated with making hay, hauling manure, and
  • feeding
  • Less wear and tear on buildings and equipment 
  • Less respiratory illness 
  • More exercise for livestock 
  • Better utilization of land resource

Pugging action from cattle

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