Words by M.J. Williamson.
Ask any farmer, "What is the advantage of strip grazing?" and inevitably the answer will be, "It reduces wastage". Quite right, but there is more to strip grazing than just reducing wastage. In this article, I will look at some of the not so obvious benefits of controlled grazing systems.
What is strip grazing?
Strip grazing is a method of pasture grazing management whereby animals are given controlled access to pasturage. They may be limited to the amount or the time they have access to the pasture. Either way, their intake is controlled and the pasture managed to reduce wastage and prolong and maximise production from it.
Photo credit: JVA Technologies
What are the advantages of strip grazing?
- Controlled/strip grazing reduces wastage;
- It gives the animals access to clean, uncontaminated, fresh pasturage on a regular basis;
- Livestock are forced to eat what is before them, giving the farmer control over their grazing;
- To avoid having a detrimental effect on milk production, the lactating cow herd can be moved quickly onto a clean, fresh pasture lest they are deprived of any nutrients (the grazed pasture can then be cleaned up using heifers, dry cows, or even sheep);
- The wastage from trampling and contamination by dunging is reduced;
- The dung is evenly spread across the pasture and trampled in by the animals' hoof action. The concentrated hoof action also helps to till the soil and reduce compaction;
- The denseness of the pasture will increase with the regular 'mowing' of the grass by the animals;
- The result of the greater volume of grass means increased carrying capacity;
- Keeping the pasture short will encourage the growth of clovers, which will help reduce fertilizer costs;
- The quick rotation of the animals on the pasture will help break parasite life cycles, resulting in reduced parasite infestations and foot problems.
Strip grazing pointers
It is important that pasture grass is grazed at the most nutritious stage of its life cycle. If you find that the grass ahead is getting away, return the herd to the grass that has been rested and that is ready to be grazed again and make hay or silage of the grass that is getting away before it becomes rank.
While the high-density grazing will result in all the grass species being grazed evenly, it is very important to back fence once a strip or camp has been fully utilised. Back fencing protects the grazed pasture by preventing the animals from grazing the re-growth before it is ready. Re-grazing too soon will deplete the root reserves and weaken the pasture.
Incidentally, two of my old Professors from Natal University, Prof Scott, in Pasture Science and Prof Kotze, in Animal Science, both used to say, "Show me a farmer with the best looking cattle and I will show you a farmer with the worst looking pasture". Meaning that the pasture is underutilized, resulting in rank patches and a lot of wastage because the cattle have had the best pickings. The converse is also true. Think about it, it's a delicate balance to get it right both ways.