What is Rotational Grazing for Cattle?
Rotational grazing is a technique that falls under the “regenerative agriculture” umbrella, meaning, it leads to the regeneration of the soil. Rotational Grazing means moving or rotating livestock to different pastures, or paddocks, every set number of days. Large pastures are sectioned off into smaller paddocks to allow a rancher to control where the livestock graze. This improves soil, plant, and animal health.
Regenerative farming means you’re getting carbon out of the air and into the soil. There have been some eye-popping claims about how much carbon we could capture. According to the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that supports organic farming, regenerative techniques “could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive management practices.”
How Does Rotational Grazing Work?
Many ranchers will separate their large pastures into something that looks like slices on a pizza. The rancher will allow the cattle to graze on a slice at a time, moving the cattle from one slice to another, each day or couple days, depending on the size of the “slice.”
How Does Rotational Grazing Help Plants?
When livestock are allowed to graze a pasture without being controlled, such as in an “open pasture setting,” they’ll eat the most savory grasses first, leaving some parts of an open pasture overgrazed, while other less palatable areas lie under grazed. Livestock will continue to eat the most palatable sections, without giving the plants optimal time to develop strong roots and recover. Eventually, this will lead to the infiltration of weeks and non-desirable plants across the pasture.
What are the Environmental Benefits of Rotational Grazing?
When animals are managed with rotational grazing, the soil sees big returns. Grazing encourages plants to send out more and deeper roots. These roots are continually sloughed off to decompose in the ground, boosting soil biomass and fertility and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. Stronger, more biodiverse soil also prevents erosion and agricultural runoff.
Some other big benefits are:
Increased forage production on the land, so increased stocking density (ranchers can hold more cattle on the same amount of land, great for the farmer to increase profits).
- Increased soil fertility
- Increased resistance to drought
- Controlling less desirable plants
- Allow animals to graze, like wild animals, constantly moving and exercising.
Another critical difference is that cattle raised for the grass-fed market graze. Since they’re not in feedlots, they get regular exercise that results in leaner, firmer beef. They also spend their lives living, well, like cattle, without contributing as much to the major health, land, and water impacts of factory farming.
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