Specialized Grazing Systems
The concepts of several of today’s more widely adapted specialized grazing systems
were born in the 1950s, and have been developed, honed and modified since to offer several grazing alternatives
depending on climate, cow herd and environmental factors.
Properly managed grazing is crucial to the success of a herd and the productivity
of a ranch, and, when effectively implemented, can increase production, and have numerous benefits on your
pastures, the local ecosystem, soil and other positive impacts.
Of course, choosing which grazing system to adopt depends on your environs, and should
be implemented only after careful study of the associated effects.
The Task at Hand
It is important to note that different grazing systems require different amounts
of dedication and management, and some are more or less intensive depending on the system in place. A grazing
system also does not eliminate the need for basic herd and ranch management, but instead complements it. Also, any
system must be monitored over several seasons to truly understand its effects on the herd and its impact
Continuous and Season-Long Grazing
This involves grazing a pasture the entire year, including the dormant season. Though some
argue, with proper stocking, season-long or continuous grazing does not encourage excessive grazing. With this
method, cattle remain in the same pasture season-long, and this has shown to be beneficial to overall herd
This involves dividing the pasture or range into two portions, with each pasture being
deferred until seed sets every other year. Some have implemented deferred rotation systems involving more than two
pastures. This option has shown to have substantial benefits on surrounding plants; however, overall animal
production has demonstrably increased under this type of system.
Deferred rotation’s alternating schedules have shown to benefit the consumption of
local plants by cattle.
This system involves rotating grazing periods on multiple pastures and different herds
over a five-year cycle. This requires more land, as one or two pastures are rested an entire year, while remaining
pastures are grazed seasonally. This method has shown to be beneficial on mountain ranges, and provides an
opportunity for natural resources, including water and vegetation, to recover naturally. This also has the added
benefit of having emergency or back-up pastures, in case of drought or if one pasture is out of commission for
other reasons. The increased movement of cattle does have a negative impact on the herd, however, and the potential
for other animals to graze off the pasture during a resting period can slow and stifle its recovery during times of
In this system ranchers partition their pasture based on vegetation, site constraints and
characteristics, soil and rainfall, then move the herd to different partitions depending on the season. This
usually involves fencing the individual partitions and increased herd movement. The herd can be controlled by
shutting off and turning on water supply areas.
This system benefits ranchers who live areas where rainfall amounts vary, often from one
pasture to the next. Depending on rainfall and pasture condition, the herd is moved from one pasture to the next
with no real regard for scheduling. The movements are instead dictated by the conditions of the pasture. This
system has inherent flexibility, but does require increased management by the rancher, who must manage their herd
more often, shut off and on watering supplies, and keep a close eye on the pasture conditions. This system has
shown to increase perennial grass forage production.
Under this system, the pasture is divided into smaller pastures and these smaller pastures
may or may not get more than one grazing period during the season, depending on the rate and amount of forage
produced. Grazing periods are short, lasting up to 15 days at most, and can be adjusted based on growth rates of
the pasture itself. This method has shown to benefit soils due to increased movement on them, and also improve
water filtration. It can also have negative effects, including negative pasture impacts by concentrating a larger
number of animals in a smaller area. It also requires extra management, movement of the herd, additional fencing
and leaves less room for error in movement decisions.