Comparing Grazing Methods

Comparing Grazing Methods

Making more from grass is beneficial to the farm business and wider environment.  Improve utilisation of grass grown on farm and you can reduce hard feed and fertiliser requirement – both types of inputs have environmental consequences. In addition, we must consider how grazing impacts soil carbon storage – a key element of the climate change challenge.

Grazing animals can be set stocked (left in a field for more than a week at a time) or rotationally grazed (moved through a series of paddocks on a regular basis). Rotational grazing can be managed with a short rest period (15-21 days through the summer) or a long rest period (60-80 days). For this factsheet, the short rest period type is termed paddock grazing and long rest period type is termed mob grazing.

Grazing methods

The table below is designed to help categorise the different methods. It is a guide and is not inclusive of all the variations in practice.

Grazing interval Rest period* Grass height target (entry) Grass height target (exit) Grass utilisation
Set stocking over 1 week N/A 5-8 cm 5-8 cm 50%
Paddock grazing 0.5 days – 1 week 15-30 days 8 -10 cm 5 cm 65 – 80%
Mob-grazing 0.5 days – 1 week 60 – 80 days 30 – 60 cm 10 – 20 cm 50%

* Guide during the growing season, this should be flexible according to the growing conditions

Set Stocking

Set stocking is the most common approach to grazing in Scotland. This is where the stock are left to graze a field for more than a week at a time, often months. Grazing livestock are selective, they will find the grass plants with the greatest energy levels and favour them. This can lead to patchy over grazing in some areas and build up of reject areas too. As a result, the productive species are disadvantaged compared with the lower energy species.

Pros Cons
Easy management Less pasture production
Livestock more settled Inefficient use of pasture
Applicable to challenging terrain Potential for areas of overgrazing
Better for biodiversity?

Paddock Grazing

Paddock grazing is rising in popularity with availability of improved fencing and water infrastructure products. Under paddock grazing, the livestock are given less choice.  As a result the grazing is more even across the field and productive species are grazed in a way that favours their persistency.

Pros Cons
Greater pasture productivity Water and fencing required
Grass quality maintained for longer Requires planning and flexibility
Better persistence of sown species Less sward diversity?
Greater stocking rate potential
Easier stock surveillance
Reduced concentrates and fertiliser
More even dung distribution

Mob Grazing

Mob grazing seeks to take a longer term perspective.  Mob graziers are focused on the soil health.  A large proportion of the tall grass that the livestock meet on entry to a field is trampled into the ground. In addition, allowing the grass plant to achieve it’s full reproductive cycle will lead to greater rooting depth. This is all to improve the soil health.  Some farmers have found grazing in this way has enabled them to outwinter without damaging the soil structure.

Pros Cons
Less issues with parasitic worms Lower stocking rate than paddock grazing
Greater sward diversity Water and fencing required
Better soil health? Requires careful planning
Longer grazing season Plan must be flexible
Stock surveillance easier
Reduced concentrates and fertiliser

Soil Carbon

Grassland soils contain more carbon than arable soils.  Carbon removal from the atmosphere and storage in the soil (termed carbon sequestration) could help to mitigate climate change.  Soil carbon is also beneficial to water management in both dry and wet years and is valuable to good soil health generally.

Overgrazing and soil disturbances leads to soil carbon loss via soil erosion and atmospheric loss.  As livestock graziers, the first objective should be to protect the soil carbon by minimising poaching and cultivation.

Some theories suggest mob grazing leads to better soil carbon storage than other forms of grazing.  Increasing grass productivity generally increases carbon formation in the roots.

Carbon footprinting

The Agrecalc logo in black text and a transparent backgroundA carbon footprint quantifies net greenhouse gas emissions across the business.

Agrecalc is a  free to use carbon footprinting tool which accounts for the farm emissions and soil sequestration to calculate farm carbon footprints.  It can also help you compare your carbon performance against like farm businesses.

The Scottish Government will help fund the cost of consultancy support needed to carry out the Carbon Audit.  Find out more here.

Related Practical Guides

Listen to our podcast: Grazing Strategies: One size doesn’t fit all

In this episode SAC Consulting sheep specialist Poppy Frater speaks to farmers Alex Brewster of Rotmell Farm and Graham Lofthouse of Bankhouse farm about their own respective grazing strategies. Both Alex and Graham are on a journey to improve their grazing but have done so in different ways while dealing with the different challenges of soils, weather and animal behaviour thrown up over the years on each of their farms. Both farmers highlight the importance of finding a system that suits your farm business and that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to grazing strategies.

Download a PDF copy of this Practical Guide

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