Grazing in defined paddocks
In the current phase grazing is primarily a tool to regenerate soil fertility so that eventually we have enough forage to feed the cows and other animals. In this phase the purpose of grazing is not to feed the cows - we can feed them in other ways if needed.
Instead, we want what is called animal impact which means:
- hooves open up the soil surface for better water filtration
- biting off the tip of grass plants makes them create a larger root system
- grazing allows more plants to grow
- manure as fertilizer for the soil life
In some cases we may have to put the cows in an area just for the animal impact mentioned above and feed them elsewhere before they enter. That way their manure is likely to be left in the area we want to improve.
Access to water
Cows graze, drink and rest as a herd in certain intervals. While they graze they won’t wander off to drink. It’s always the whole herd doing one thing at a time. You should provide them time to drink water or rest when grazing takes more than 4 hours.
How to graze a paddock
We use a paddock system all over the farm. We have permanent fences and doors to access a paddock. We have defined paths for animals to move about.
Find a suitable paddock for grazing
Our Paddocks Application shows the resting period for each paddock. Find the one with the longest resting period and have a look.
Usually grass has regrown for grazing within 21 and 28 days. If there wasn’t enough sunshine or the temperatures were low (below 5C most grasses stop growing) a paddock might need a longer resting period.
Grazing a paddock step by step
We are looking for high animal impact and practice what is called mob grazing. It means that we put lots of animals onto a very small area where they eat some of the grass and trample the rest. Trampling is important as that creates a habitat for a lot of beneficial soil life and later on that soil life helps to grow better and more grass plants.
We are looking for a stocking density of about 40 cows per 1500 square meters for about 30 minutes of grazing. Those numbers may change over time based on how the soil and grass develops.
As paddocks are usually larger than 1500 square meters we need to graze them by using sectors. Those sectors are made of a single-wire electric fence with flexible fence posts. When you open the details page for a paddock in our Paddocks Application you will see a recommendation that tells you how many sectors to use.
The whole paddock for this example is 3952 m2. It has a door at the north side.
Prepare the paddock as shown in the picture with flexible fence posts and a single wire. The red lines show the temporary fencing.
It is recommended to put the spindles with the extra wire close to the west side so that you can move them quickly in the later steps.
Once you have this set up the animals can enter. They will move as the black arrow shows and grazing begins at the south side of the paddock.
Don’t forget to tell the Paddocks Application that grazing has started.
When the animals are all in the south side sector close it by moving the spindle all the way to the permanent fence on the west side:
When the animals have grazed the south sector for 30 minutes you move the spindle back to open them a door so that the animals can move to the next sector.
Usually they see what you are doing and simply start walking towards the next sector. If not, you can call them.
Once the all entered the next sector you move the spindle again so that they all graze in that sector and do not wander back to the previous one.
It is important to prevent them from grazing the previous sector. We want them to take the tip off the grass plants but not remove too much. Photosynthesis needs green leafs to work and when these leafs have been eaten the plant won’t grow as fast as we want it to grow.
After another 30 minutes you move the west side spindle to open up a door to the next sector.
After the animals have all moved you close off the previous sector.
Don’t forget to keep the entrance door to the paddock closed as well, because now they might leave the paddock if you don’t.
Again, after everydoing has entered the sector you preven them from going back by closing off the previous sector.
After another 30 minutes grazing in this 3 sector paddock has finished and you open the paddock door so that the animals can leave.
As this whole grazing process took just 1,5 yours you will probably lead them to another paddock and begin the process again.