Rotational Grazing for Pastured Livestock

The secret to forage management is to keep your critters moving. Follow these rotation grazing guidelines for your pastured livestock.

  • Moving Cattle
    Managed grazing provides fresh forage and gives pasture a needed rest on this dairy farm near Culpepper, Va.
    Photo by Benjamin C. Tankersley
  • Chicken Tractors
    Chicken tractors help spread valuable manure throughout a pasture.
    Photo by Stuart Sutton
  • Sheep in Pasture
    These sheep enjoy rich nutrition, thanks to pasture that's benefited from plenty of recovery time.
    Photo by Bryan Welch

  • Moving Cattle
  • Chicken Tractors
  • Sheep in Pasture

Many years ago, the livestock on our farm consisted of a handful of cows and a couple dozen chickens. We’ve scaled up our livestock operations through the years with cash flow from our profits, and now our farm is home to hundreds of cows and pigs, plus thousands of chickens and turkeys. The pastured model we’ve used with our livestock has proved successful at every level of growth.

Many times, micro-farmers see approaches such as our portable poultry pens and rotational grazing as practices that might be necessary for commercial operations, but that aren’t really applicable to their small homesteads (which some might consider glorified backyards). Nothing could be further from the truth.

In this column, I address the homestead version of our farm’s commercial-scale rotational grazing system. In many ways, this type of forage management is actually easier for small enterprises than it is for large ones.

Two overriding principles drive pastured livestock operations, large or small:

• Bare soil is not good.
• Strategically timed pruning stimulates plant growth.

Few things make my head explode faster than visiting a small farm and seeing a stationary chicken house surrounded by bare soil. No matter how small, the stereotypical yard with chickens scratching around in bare dirt is unhealthy. Removing the soil’s vegetative cover makes it vulnerable to erosion and shuts down biological activity. That activity is important because the work of that community of beings, from earthworms to mycorrhizal fungi, prevents harmful pathogens from gaining the upper hand. A healthy, vegetation-covered, biologically active soil ensures plenty of the good bugs.

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