Rotational Grazing vs. Continuous Grazing

Rotating Cows to Fresh Pasture

We rotate our cows around the pasture here at Ramsay Hill.  This is the most economic and healthy way to raise animals.

So what do I mean by rotate?  Let me start with a couple definitions. There are two broad methods to manage animals on pasture:

Continuous Grazing: allows animals to have access to all the pasture at once

Rotational Grazing: controls the animals’ access to the pasture by dividing the acreage into parts using internal temporary fencing.

Each method has advantages and disadvantages and requires time and money.  Which method you choose depends on how you want to spend your time and money and in the end, how profitable you want to be.  Since this is our family business that we hope to be able to do full time one day, we want to employ the grazing style that is most profitable.

Continuous Grazing requires less time on a day to day basis than Rotational Grazing, in fact, almost no time is required on a day to day basis besides observation of the animals. Rotational Grazing, depending on how often you rotate, requires the time it takes to move the animals from one area to another.  We rotate on a daily basis and it takes me roughly an hour to move the cows each day. The time per day is the only real advantage of Continuous Grazing, in my opinion.  And even this “advantage” is a short-term advantage. All of the other differences in the two grazing methods are advantages of Rotational Grazing.

For instance, with Rotational Grazing far less money (if any at all) is spent on medication for your animals than with Continuous Grazing. The reasons for this are that the animals are less exposed to parasites and less stressed out, so they get sick less or never. When you rotate the animals around the pasture, they are not allowed to wallow in their own filth. Cows, like the rest of Creation, do not like grazing among their own poop.  In the wild, the buffalo and other herd animals were always moving to fresh grasslands.  However, cows are also creatures of habit and when in confined acreage that they are allowed open access to day in and day out without being rotated, they begin to form patterns which are detrimental to them and to the land.  Their access to the land needs to be controlled…in other words they need a shepherd…who will lead them to fresh grass each day and limit their access to the land they have just been on so that they do not get sick.

Continuous Grazing not only exposes them to parasites that will make them sick, it kills the grass that they walk over every day, makes ruts in the land and compacts the soil in their favorite spots. In every pasture that the Continuous Grazing method is employed, you will find dead spots of ground where the grass will no longer grow.  The land needs rest and only Rotational Grazing allows it the rest it needs to recover and increase in fertility.  Another advantage to Rotational Grazing is that poop will be more evenly distributed across the pasture, thus breaking down much quicker.  With Continuous Grazing, there are some areas where there will be large amounts of poop and other areas where there will be none.  The areas where there are large amounts will break down a lot more slowly, making the land less fertile in those spots and also making parasites an even greater threat.

I’ll end with one final advantage of Rotational Grazing: grass growth.  When the animals are rotated around the pasture, the plants/grasses are given the time they need to recover and fully grow until they are grazed on again.  Over time, this creates higher yielding and more fertile pasture.  In contrast, when animals are allowed to continuously graze they will eat their favorite grasses to death.  Literally.  Just like us, cows’ taste buds are preferential.   There are “ice cream” grasses and grasses they don’t prefer.  Fortunately for cows, the ice cream grasses are also good for them.  Too bad the same philosophy doesn’t work for us & we could just eat a steady diet of ice cream!  Where this becomes detrimental for the land is that when they eat the same plant again and again over a period of time, eventually that plant/grass won’t re-grow -or- it will be seriously stressed and send a seed head up far to early in its life or season.

Those are just a few of the advantages of Rotational Grazing. I love sharing this with you and even more than that, I love not having to spend money to buy antibiotics for my cows.  Additionally, I love knowing that the meat we eat and the meat we provide to our customers is antibiotic-free and produced in the healthiest way possible for the cows and the land. The opposite is true of Continuous Grazing: the land suffers and the meat quality suffers.  You can see the difference in the land, but the difference in the meat would be easy to miss until you find yourself at the hospital or the doctor.  Traditionally grass fed meat that is also hormone and antibiotic free is more expensive than other meats.  I believe that will change due to the rising cost of beef, but even if the price difference continues the consumer still has a choice to make: should I eat a higher quality meat that costs me more today or a lower quality meat that will cost me more down the road in medical bills?  The environmental costs of continuously grazed, conventional (feedlot) beef are a whole other subject alone.  You see I have the same choice in grazing: do I spend the time today to rotate the cows -or- do I wait until the cow’s health is failing and spend all day doctoring it?  An hour a day is not costly in comparison to a whole day when I can’t control when it will be or the cost of the medication.

I believe rotating my cows is a no-brainer.  I enjoy being outside and I can do it on my own time.  Because we rotate at Ramsay Hill we can offer a product that has not had any medications, hormones, antibiotics or any type of grain/feed.  Although on a day to day basis it costs us more time, the time spent actually adds value to the land, the animals, the products we sell and our overall business model.  To sum it up: Keep ‘Em Mooooving and they’ll keep happily Mooooing!  Thanks for reading!

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