Rotational grazing is the perfect R&R for tired pastures, says a Purdue University extension beef specialist.

It rejuvenates pasture grasses and legumes worn out from constant livestock feeding and traffic, says Ron Lemenager. The system, which allows livestock producers to extend forage supplies or carry more animals per pasture, is growing in popularity, he adds.

By dividing a grazing area into smaller pastures or cells or paddocks, Lemenager explains, the animals can graze an area for no more than five to seven days, and then let that area recover for about 28-40 days.

"When you have a rotational grazing system, you can stretch your forage supplies because the plants are healthier and their ability to recover is much, much greater."

In a traditional continuous grazing system, cattle can overgraze young, more-lush forage plants as they regrow and ignore mature forage. Continuously grazed pastures risk poor regrowth potential and weeds can crowd out desirable grasses and legumes.

When managed correctly, rotational grazing provides enough forage growth early in the grazing season for producers to harvest feed for later use from one-fourth to one-third of the grazed acreage, Lemenager says.

"After you've made your first cutting off of approximately a third of the land base, you can work that into the grazing cycle in the second or third rotation," he says.

To move to rotational grazing, Lemenager advises, "split your pasture in half so that you've got two cells. Then you can take those two cells and split them again."

The number of animals a producer should graze within a cell depends on the paddock's size and the number of grazing cells. Kept your water supply in mind, too.

"In an ideal world, you'd like to have water within 800’ of the farthest point in the pasture to maximize grazing efficiency. That gets to be tough in some of our pasture areas, particularly as we get into summer months, when streams and spring stop flowing."

Make sure the water resource is of adequate size, so all animals can drink their fill, Lemenager says. “When grazing cattle don't drink enough water, forage intake, milk production and weaning weights will be reduced."

Producers should also ponder forage mix and fencing when switching to rotational grazing.

Lemenager recommends 50-70% grass and legumes making up the remainder.

"If you've got some paddocks with a high legume content, delay moving animals into those areas until later in the day," he says. "Wait until the dew has dried from the leaves to reduce the risk of bloat."

Paddock fences do not have to be elaborate. "You can get by with a single-strand hotwire connected to a wooden post on each end and fiberglass line posts to make it very economical," Lemenager says.

For more about fencing, visit the Purdue Fencing Information Web site at www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/forages/rotational/fencing/fencing.html. For more on beef production, log on to: http://www.ansc.purdue.edu/beef/.