Seasonal Grazing Systems

How the season starts sets the tone for the year. Too early and the grass is unlikely to reach its full productivity. Too late and some pasture will be too mature by time you get to them.

Seasonal Grazing Systems

Spring Turnout

“a day in the spring is worth three in the fall” -Unknown

How the season starts sets the tone for the year

  • Too early and the grass is unlikely to reach its full productivity.

  • Too late and some pasture will be too mature by time you get to them.

General recommendation: wait until 3rd leaf has emerged.

Typically at about 4-6 inches of growth. This is also the ideal height for grazing livestock. They can get a good bite without eating grass to the ground.

When grass is growing very quickly it is important to **get all paddocks grazed before the grass in the last paddock starts to mature. Often this means each paddock will get a light grazing the first time round. It may be necessary to move stock twice a day or to offer larger paddocks for the first cycle.

In a temperate climate with reasonable rainfall:

  • First rotation is often being completed in 15-20 days
  • Second rotation will likely stretch out to 30 days.
  • Third rotation may take 45 days or longer.

Of course flexibility is key.

These time frames are just approximate. Weather will have a significant impact on grass growth rates and required rest periods.

Summer Slump

Mid-summer is usually the most challenging for graziers. - Cool season grasses have reduced growth rate - Summer heat can discourage animal intake.

Options available

A) Use a rotational grazing system:

  • decreases overgrazing
  • keeps soil cool
  • minimizes evaporation
  • enourages deeper root systems

B) Include deep rooted plants in the pasture mix (i.e. alfalfa)

C) Add extra acreage to the grazing system (i.e. second growth on hay fields)

D) Plant a percentage of pastures in warm season grasses

E) Seed some annuals for summer grazing in mid to late spring (i.e. sudan grass, pearl millet, or in warmer areas crab grass)

F) Use stored feed to supplement during reduced pasture production (i.e. hay, haylage, corn silage)

Winter Grazing


Leave a field of perennial pasture ungrazed from mid-July for grazing after the end of growing season.

  • Tall fescue is one of the better forages for stockpiling.
  • Trefoil is the preferred legume though clover will also work.
  • Orchard grass and alfalfa do not work well in this application.
  • Fields should have good natural drainage and be fertilized in July.

For best results, strip graze field in late fall and early winter. Livestock are able to graze through snow. Cows and ewes in mid-gestation should be able to meet their nutritional needs on this pasture.

Late Season Annuals & Cover Crops

The brassicas (turnips, kale, fodder rape), oats, and corn can all be grazed after a killing frost. These should be strip grazed in 1-2 day allotments or there will be considerable feed waste.

Spring Cereals (oats, barley, triticale)

These can be swath grazed where winters are cool and dry. These crops are planted in late spring and swathed just before maturity. Swaths are left in field and grazed. Note: In areas of higher rainfall the swaths deteriorate too much to be a practical option.

Crop Residue (i.e. corn stover)

This can be an excellent source of forage to ruminants in mid-gestation. Rule of thumb is one acre of corn stover will feed a cow for a month. Because livestock will eat grain first it is important to give them only a few days area at a time to avoid grain overload. In cereal grain areas a buncher can be attached to the combine at harvest to gather the chaff and straw into small piles to provide winter feed.

Bale Grazing

Large hay bales are placed in a grid pattern at a winter feeding site. Electrice fence is used to restrict how many bales are available to livestock at a time. Fence is generally moved twice a week to offer more hay and strings are removed from the bales before they are fed. This system avoids handling bales during winter and manure is distributed across the feeding area.

Need Advice?

Our Pasture Pro's have been trained to answer site specific questions and recommend designs related to managed grazing operations. Maybe you're interested in the highest quality, innovative animal management products on the market or fence and water system installation services? They offer that too!

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