The Rotational Grazing Project
What is rotational grazing?
Rotational grazing is a method of managing pastures through livestock that involves moving them through a series of paddocks on a regular schedule. The rotations are designed to optimise plant growth, with grazing time periods based on the requirements of the animals and the production value of the pasture. By managing grazing in this way, rotational grazing can improve soil health, increase biodiversity, and provide better animal health and efficient use of land.
As the number of paddocks increases, the grazing period increases, and the rest period increases. This approach can be used for high-intensity, short-duration grazing, where large mobs of animals graze for a brief period before the paddock is rested for an extended period of time.
There are many different types of rotational grazing systems that vary in the benefit of pasture growth and the complexity of management.
Benefit to Pastures
|Time-controlled grazing||Divides pasture into multiple paddocks and rotates livestock on a grazing schedule that considers grazing time, rest periods and feed on offer of pasture.||Increase pasture productivity and quality and reduces weed growth by allowing for proper rest periods.||Moderate|
|Leader-follower grazing||Divides pasture into two or more paddocks and alternates grazing between groups of animals to optimise forage utilisation and rest periods. Is a popular style for regenerative farming systems, where animals are different species. For example, cattle could be followed by chickens.||Helps to maximise forage utilisation by having one group of animals graze first, followed by a second group. Reduces pasture parasite burden.||Moderate|
|Strip grazing||Divides pasture into smaller strips and allows livestock to graze one strip at a time, moving on to the next strip when grazing is complete.||Improves forage utilisation by restricting access to a smaller area of pasture, resulting in more even grazing. Can reduce weed growth.||High|
|Intensive rotational grazing||Divides pasture into multiple paddocks and rotates livestock frequently, often on a daily basis, to promote even grazing distribution and maximise forage utilisation. Similar to high-density grazing, but tends to have a lower stocking rate.||Increases pasture productivity and forage quality by dividing pastures into smaller paddocks and rotating livestock frequently.||High|
|High-density grazing||Confines livestock to a small area of pasture for a short period of time at a high stocking density to promote even grazing distribution and reduce forage waste.||Increases pasture utilisation and quality and reduces weed growth.||High|
Paddocks illustrating strip rotational grazing. Image source: Mark McAfee
Increasing perennial grass production and soil groundcover through rotational grazing: A five year project.
Rotational grazing is a management practice that is gaining traction in the agricultural industry for its positive impact on perennial grass production, melding regenerative and traditional farming standards. In the Northern Agricultural region, white sandy soils are particularly susceptible to erosion and nutrient loss from their low organic matter and poor water-holding capacity. To address these environmental threats, a three-year Rotational Grazing Project was launched to promote the adoption of rotational grazing among farmers in the region. The project aimed to provide support to farmers in implementing rotational grazing practices and to monitor the environmental and economic impacts of the practice.
The Rotational Grazing project established several grower demonstration sites throughout the West Midlands region, attracting a significant number of additional farmers who expressed interest in adopting rotational grazing principles in their farming operations. These farmers were not directly involved in the project by hosting a demonstration site but were an important element in the success of the Rotational Grazing Project. Over the past four years the project has investigated the effects of rotational grazing practices on perennial growth responses, supplementary feeding in preferentially grazing paddocks, and cover cropping options.
Through a series of demonstration sites expanded through variations and the addition of the WMG Pasture Walk Series, the project has been particularly successful. Rotational grazing is an effective solution for improving the long-term management of the poor soils and variable climate of the West Midlands region and has displayed both positive environmental and economic benefits throughout the project duration.
Commencement: 2018 | Completion: 2023
Funding body(s): Western Australian Government’s State NRM Program
Project Lead Organisation: The West Midlands Group
Original demonstration sites: 2018 - 2021
The project established four original demonstration sites across the West Midlands region, where growers have been able to implement rotational grazing principles into their management practices. New fence lines were erected at each site, and the original perennial paddock was divided into 2-4 smaller paddocks, with the number of hectares reduced accordingly. Since the project's inception in 2018, producers have actively embraced rotational grazing practices, resulting in improved grazing production and increased groundcover, particularly over notoriously sandy and non-wetting soils.
Curious cows check out perennial measurements in summer 2020.
Supplementary feeding: Summer 2021/22
In 2021, the Rotational Grazing Project saw the approval of two project variations aimed at expanding the scope and impact of the initiative. One of these variations was the Supplementary Grazing project, which explored the impact of strategically placed supplementation on the grazing habits of livestock during the summer of 2021/2022. The program utilised this method to encourage even grazing throughout the paddock, resulting in increased groundcover and protection from wind erosion. Producers also reported a significant impact on groundcover and even grazing in paddocks where preferential grazing was previously evident. Overall, the Supplementary Feeding Variation was a successful addition to the project and helped to expand the understanding of effective grazing practices.
Mixed Farming Project Officer Mel taking groundcover measurements to understand how supplementary feeding can affect preferential grazing.
Cover cropping: 2022
A Cover Cropping Variation was included within the Rotational Grazing Project to explore the impact of this practise on perennial pastures. The aim was to increase groundcover and feed productivity in perennial paddocks during the annual growing season through sowing annual legumes, grasses, and cereals. However, observations throughout the season revealed overall low productivity in these paddocks. Producers were unable to graze these paddocks as they initially hoped. These issues could have resulted from several varying reasons across the region. However, most of the paddocks are of low soil fertility (being set to perennials) and sown species received little to no extra fertilizer during the growing season.
Despite the challenges faced with the cover cropping variation, there is still potential for cover cropping to improve soil health and fertility in perennial paddocks. One solution to improve the success of cover cropping in low-fertility soils is to ameliorate the soil before sowing the cover crop. This could involve the use of lime or gypsum to improve soil pH or the addition of organic matter to improve soil structure and fertility. It is also important to choose cover crop species that are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions.
Newly seeding mixed species cover crops over perennials in Warradarge. Left side of the picture is left unsown.
Pasture Walk Series
One of the biggest achievements throughout the project was the evolution and continued improvement of the grower discussion sessions, which started as small meetings for project producers and later evolved to include any interested growers in the West Midlands region. The Pasture Event Series was held over six separate events and eleven local farms, engaging over 100 attendees, and disseminating local knowledge surrounding perennial establishment and grazing management.
Producers in discussion at a Pasture Walk Series event in November 2021.
Listed below are WMG event summaries containing useful information captured during each of the Pasture Walk Series events
Useful Resources & Information
Want to get involved?
Get in touch with our Mixed Farming Systems Officer, Melanie Dixon.
Mob: 0459 353 840
Mandurah local Melanie completed a Bachelor of Science in Animal Health and Science from Murdoch University in 2020. New to the agricultural industry, Melanie is passionate about supporting positive and viable innovations in mixed farming. She has a particular interest in preparing the farming community for future disruptions in a rapidly changing industry.
The Rotational Grazing Project is supported by funding from the West Australian Government's State NRM Program.