MADISON CO., N.Y. — Have you ever traveled past a sheep farm and watched the process of the sheep being moved around the field? The farmer quietly moving the white net fencing – sometimes assisted by herding dogs – to move the sheep to a new area. Have you ever wondered why this happens? Farms do this because rotational grazing is key in protecting and preserving the grass quality on farms – and not just on sheep farms.
Rotational grazing is a way many farms ensure grazing animals do not stay in one area for too long result in overgrazed land. Overgrazing can be a real problem resulting in grass unable to regrow properly. The total amount of time sheep remain in one pasture depends on the number of sheep or livestock grazing the grass – along with how fast the grass grows. Normally in late spring to summer, sheep are moved every week (and sometimes more often!) to new fresh grass. As the season progresses, animals will typically be moved more often. The person caring for the sheep is called a Shepherd and determines when they need to be moved to a new area. The Shepherd is often accompanied by a working dog that helps with the process.
There are many benefits to the process of rotational grazing for livestock. A few of the most important ones are listed below:
- Increased soil fertility – by using a controlled grazing method the sheep or livestock will be in a smaller area ensuring the entire land area is not overgrazed and “worn out” which would cause challenges to new growth. In addition, the natural fertilizer provided by the sheep as they defecate increases the soil fertility which boosts even more growth when the sheep are moved to a new area.
- Extended grazing season – another benefit of rotational grazing is that it extends the total number of days in the grazing season as the ewes (female sheep) will not eat all the available grass at once (similar to limiting the number of goodies available at any one time so they are not all eaten in one sitting!). Ewes basically have no self-control and will eat as much as they can and as fast as they can when being placed in a new field.
- Variety in their diet – Just like humans, sheep can also benefit by a variety of ‘greens’ in their diet. When they are rotated from one pasture to another, they are often introduced to different forages than they might otherwise eat (in human terms – imagine chard and kale rather than iceberg and romaine!)
- Reducing exposure to unwanted germs – a final point to note is that rotational grazing is also a way for the Shepherd to keep animals out of wet areas that are breeding grounds for spring and fall parasites harmful to the sheep. Ashlee, of Ridgeway Farms, uses this method because one of her fields gets very wet in the early spring and again in late fall which becomes a breeding ground for parasites such as liver flukes (Fasciola hepatica) the is transferred from snails that live on the moist ground. She rotates out her sheep to keep them from indigestion these snails.
The decision to setup rotational grazing leads to added expense for the farmer (additional fencing equipment, labor, self-waterers etc.) but the advantages far outweigh the costs in terms of care of the animals, care of the land, and additional profit. More and more livestock farmers are adding in rotational grazing as another way to take care of the land that takes care of the animals and all of us – not just for now, but for centuries to come.
If you are looking for more information on rotational grazing, please this website for more information.
For more information on all things Ag please visit our website at www.madisoncountycce.org, like us on Facebook at CCEMadison or give us a call at 315-684-3001 M-F 8am-4pm.
Cornell Cooperative Extension Madison County
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