Because of this increase in efficiency, it is possible to increase the stocking rate and carrying capacity of the land. Stocking rate increases of 35-60 percent have been reported in the scientific literature. As a general rule, however, stocking rates should only be increased by 10-25 percent during the first few years of transitioning from continuous stocking to moderately-intensive grazing management scheme (rotating every 2-4 days).

This will allow the pastures and the forage manager’s skills to improve. In the meantime, any excess forage production can be harvested as hay or mowed and returned to the soil.

Intensively-managed grazing is unlikely to improve the performance of individual animals. Forcing the grazing animal to consume forage to a predetermined height eliminates their ability to selectively graze, sometimes reducing individual animal performance.

Remember that it is the increase in stocking rate that results in higher productivity per acre. For example, a three-year study conducted in central Georgia showed that individual cow or calf performance was not increased or decreased.

However, rotational stocking improved cow-calf stocking rate and calf production per acre by nearly 40%!

Improving the carrying capacity of the land and producing more per acre are significant accomplishments. However, many of the benefits and cost-savings come from the secondary advantages of improved grazing

Remember improved grazing management:

  1. Decreases the need for hay feeding during the winter and periodic droughts by as much as 1/3.
  2. Improves persistence of desirable forages.
  3. Improves clover and legume performance and contribution in mixed stands.
  4. Decreases weed pressure and reduces need for herbicides.
  5. Improves nutrient recycling and the uniformity of manure distribution within the pasture.
  6. Improves soil organic matter, which improves biological activity that stimulates additional growth.
  7. Captures and retains more rainfall while minimizing runoff and environmental impact.

Dennis Hancock is the forage specialist with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.