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Splitting up paddocks for intensive grazing

Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG), also known as cell grazing, mob stocking, holistic managed planned grazing and possibly other terms as well.  There’s lots of different names for it and each method is slightly different, but whatever you call it, the idea is to split up your land into the smallest size paddocks you can manage and move your animals as frequently as possible.  The opposite is called continuous grazing, where the livestock have access to all the land all the time.  The disadvantage of continuous grazing is that cattle will tend to nibble at the green tips of the grass they prefer, so the roots have to continuously contract to produce more leaf.  Eventually the plant will die unless it is given a chance to recover and re-grow deeper roots.  
grass roots depending on grazing period and recovery time

Rotational grazing allows the grass to recover.  If its done properly, the cattle should eat most (but not all) of the available forage in the time they have in the area, and trample the rest.  They will spread their manure over the area and then be moved away from their manure (and the parasites that can breed in the manure), to a fresh pasture.


The greatest benefit is realised the more  frequently the animals are moved and the smaller the paddock size, but even splitting a property into a few large paddocks will make a difference to the ability of the pasture to regenerate.  This method can also be used to graze forage in sections rather than letting the cattle have all the forage all at once.  This ensures more even grazing and less wastage.

our forage sorghum after the rain
With electric fencing, the moving part is easy.  The thing we have struggled with is providing water to all these small paddocks.  The ideal would be to reticulate water all over the property and move and fill water troughs when the cattle are moved.  This is an expensive option, so if you need to set something up before you can afford the full system that you'd prefer, it is also possible to start with the cattle near a water source and gradually move a temporary fence away from the water, as shown in the first diagram.  The cattle will use the same water source for the entire time they are in that paddock, but they will spend less time in the area they have already grazed (light green in the diagram below) and more time in the new pasture (dark green) as the fence is moved to fresh pasture.
Move the fence away from the water
If there is no water source in a particular area, you can leave a gate open to allow access to water (and even construct a laneway if you have the spare fencing).  The fence can be move gradually away from the gate, allowing the cattle access to more pasture or forage crop with each move.  This is how we grazed our forage sorghum crop recently.
Options for paddock with no water source, moving the fence around a gate
For more information about intensive grazing, see this booklet.  Fiona from Life at Arbordale Farm also wrote an excellent post on mob stocking recently (she is much better with Paint diagrams that I am too).

Have you tried intensive grazing?  How do you make it work at your place?  What is stopping you using it more intensively?  Any questions?

  

Comments

  1. Thank you Liz for this. We have been here 6 months only and to date have had a neighbours stock grazing here on agistment. We will be using some sort of intensive grazing system when we get our stock, our problem is also the water issue and the fact that a good deal of our patch is quite hilly. Thanks for this twist on intensive grazing ( one that I haven't seen before) and thanks for the referral to Arbordale as well.

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    1. Planning the paddock layout is the hard part. Using a central laneway which has the water is a simple solution. The paddock to which the animals have access is always open to the laneway while all the other paddocks running off the laneway are closed. Trough water is always better than dam water ie cleaner, healthier and more reliable. And don't forget the shade. Cattle use more energy keeping cool than keeping warm.

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    2. good point, I didn't mention shade, that was another reason why we split up the paddocks the way we did, I'll have to get into that in another post...

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  2. Could you create a large mobile water truck/trough setup? :)

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    Replies
    1. yes, some people do that, but we're not at our property every day. The cattle drink up to 100 L/day each, and we have about 30 head, so that's 3000 L/day, that's a decent trough finished in a day. It is definitely an option for when we live on the property.

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  3. The property we work (job share) on has 30 cells on 80 acres with 25 breeding cows moving each 1-3 days depending on season. Silage is made every year to ensure adequate feed in the cooler months. We also irrigate when dry. Each cell is harrowed after the cows and calves move out or if there is too much woody growth it is slashed. The harrowing spreads the cow pats for faster breakdown into the soil (free fertiliser). Most of the fencing is single wire electric and water is in troughs usually shared by two or more paddocks. Under continuous grazing (set stocking) this place would carry 15 breeders. This is probably an extreme example but cell grazing and grass management makes a huge difference to the productivity of a property. There are a few other management practices that make a difference but I’ll leave that otherwise this will be a long reply. The cows were in poor health and calves doing poorly when the property was purchased about 4-5 years ago. Now they glowing and the calves as fat as mud.

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    Replies
    1. thanks for sharing your experience John and Jean, sounds like that property has got a good system worked out. I'm wondering if its flat, hill do make cell grazing more difficult :)

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  4. Hi! I’m new follower of your blog and would like to invite you to join me at my weekly Clever Chicks Blog Hop:
    http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2013/05/clever-chicks-blog-hop-35-brinsea.html

    I hope you can make it!

    Cheers,
    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

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    Replies
    1. Hi Kathy, welcome, and thanks for the invitation :)

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  5. What great information! Thank you so much for joining The Creative HomeAcre Hop! We hope you join us again this Sunday!
    http://acultivatednest.com/2013/05/the-creative-homeacre-blog-hop-3/

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    Replies
    1. my pleasure Manuela :) thanks for hosting

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