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MODULE 8: Turn Pasture into Product
Tool 8.7
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A rotational grazing system can improve pasture production, utilisation and persistence. Moving stock around a small number of paddocks, grazing each for a fixed time, is an easy way to get started. This simple approach can be introduced to trial the system and build confidence.

Tactics

To start a simple 4-paddock rotation:

  • Combine animals from 4 paddocks into one mob, or subdivide a single paddock into 4 smaller paddocks with temporary electric fences
  • Rotate stock around the 4 paddocks in a general program of 2-week grazing and 6-week rest
  • Managers of native pastures have successfully used 2-paddock rotations (4 week graze; 4-week rest) and four-paddock rotation (4 week graze; 12 week rest)
  • To get a rotational grazing system underway after the autumn break may require stock to be fed in a sacrifice paddock or feedlot to allow the pasture to reach 800-1000 kg/ha and grow more quickly. Depending on seasonal conditions and location, this may take 3-4 weeks. The rotational grazing system can then start perhaps with 1 week grazing on each paddock gradually increasing to reach 2 weeks grazing, 6 week rest over winter.
  • Stock may need to be moved weekly in spring (1 week graze; 3 week rest) to keep pastures in the growth phase for as long as possible. One paddock can be shut out of the rotation for silage, to enable hay or growth in the other 3 paddocks to be managed more efficiently
  • After a trial period, modifications can be made to the system.

Further information is contained in the MLA Tip and Tool: Getting started in simple timebased rotational grazing. Get your free copy by:

EverGraze has developed new calculator to help plan rotational grazing systems, determine appropriate stocking rates, determine how long your paddocks will last and calculate the most economical ration for your stock. To download a copy of the tool, go to www.evergraze.com.au and look under the Information tab.

Management tips

Setting up

  • Keep costs low at first. Use as much of the existing fencing infrastructure and watering systems on the property as possible.

When to start

  • Any time of the year except during lambing. The break of season often provides an ideal time to defer grazing some paddocks to allow pastures to start growing.

Livestock

  • Start the rotation with mature dry stock (Merino wethers or steers). These will be less affected by any feed restrictions. Alternatively, steers can be run with heifers, or sheep and cattle grazed together to make up the grazing mobs.

Water

  • Sufficient supply of high quality water must be considered if implementing a rotational grazing system. If mob sizes are 3-4 times greater than previously, pipe lines and troughs must be adequate to provide access to the increased number of stock. Laneways can be used to provide water points to several paddocks. NSW Department of Industry and Investment have a comprehensive handbook called AgGuide. Go to http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/ choose the search function and search for AgGuide Farm Water. It can be ordered online for $28.00.
  • Access to water may not be as important for dry stock during winter, when pasture often contains over 75% moisture and stock may drink little water.

Fences

  • Use electric fencing to keep cost to a minimum.

Measure and monitor

  • Ongoing assessment of pastures and animals is best management practice in any grazing system.
  • The pasture should be monitored to estimate the amount of pasture remaining when livestock are moved. This provides an indication of the degree of under or over-grazing.

Go slow

  • Simple trialing can be a key to risk management success. The first year can be used to train stock, set-up a routine and build confidence in the management routine.
  • Seek advice from someone with practical experience during the start-up phase.

What can go wrong

  • When stock over-graze a paddock, they damage the pasture base.
  • If there is not sufficient rest period for regrowth between grazing, total pasture production can be seriously reduced. Rest periods should be at least 3 weeks for rapidly growing pasture, and 6 weeks at other times. Reduce stock numbers by selling excess stock or feeding stock in a containment area.
  • Have a management plan to cover late autumn breaks, wet, cold winters, dry springs, and drought.

Four-paddock rotation during moderate pasture growth

Four Paddock Rotation - Moderate

Four-paddock rotation during fast growth (in spring)

Four Paddock Rotation - Fast

Source: MLA Tip & Tool Getting started with simple timebased rotation grazing

The speed of the rotation should reflect the rate of pasture growth. After the autumn break, use a sacrifice paddock or feedlot to allow pasture to bulk up. During winter a slow rotation (2 weeks grazing 6 weeks spell) is appropriate with supplements used if the paddock feed in insufficient to meet animal requirements. In spring, speed up the rotation (1 weeks grazing 3 weeks spell) to ensure that the pasture is eaten before it becomes rank and unpalatable. Alternatively, drop a paddock out of the rotation and conserve as hay or silage to speed up the rotation.