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Rotational Grazing Systems, Benefits & How Technology Can Help

rotational grazing, rotational grazing paddock design, rotational grazing system
Written by
Sheeda Cheng
March 4, 2024
April 25, 2024

What is the definition of rotational grazing?

In simple terms, rotational grazing refers to a grazing system where animals are moved periodically between multiple pastures. They are then allowed to rest for any given period. 

Graziers have begun to realise the disadvantages of continuous grazing, leading to the growing popularity of rotational grazing.

A Sustainable Alternative to Continuous Grazing

Continuous grazing is commonly seen as the most economical choice and requires minimal daily supervision, allowing for satisfactory individual animal performance and reduced daily management tasks (with conservative stocking rates). 

However, it has its limitations and drawbacks. 

In pastures that are constantly being grazed, the person in charge of the animals has limited options to control their behaviour. These options include the type of plants they eat, how much they eat, and how often they eat.

Rotational grazing is the staple grazing system of regenerative agriculture. It can provide better outcomes for your land, livestock and income stability. 

Impact of Continuous Grazing

Continuous grazing results in selective grazing with certain areas being severely grazed, while others go underutilised. This results in depleted root systems, a decline in plant diversity, the encroachment of more grazing-tolerant/increasing plant varieties, increased erosion, degraded soil, and often sub-par animal performance and returns per hectare. In response to degraded soil health, graziers knew they had to find a way to manipulate grazing pressure to stimulate grass growth, encourage biodiversity, and maintain peak forage quality. 

Necessity is the mother of invention, and so rotational grazing was born.

Rotational Grazing SystemsTerminology

Rotational grazing systems and related terminology can be difficult to communicate concisely. Using standard terminology is necessary for expressing herd density and frequency of moves. 

The Pasture Project provides very useful guidelines around terminology of various grazing systems such as how many cows per hectare and how many days per graze. 

Types of Rotational Grazing Systems

The various “levels” of grazing management defined below are listed in order from the least intensive to the most intensive.

Here are the 5 types of rotational grazing systems:

  1. Slow Rotational Grazing: Two or more pastures with moves from every two weeks to every few months.
  2. Planned Rotational Grazing: Strategic moves every three to ten days to allow for rest and recovery in grazed pastures.
  3. Management Intensive Grazing: More structured system where moves are completed every one to four days. Generally, this requires many permanent pastures in place and temporary fences to create smaller paddocks. Herd densities are typically between 3-14 AU per hectare.
  4. Mob Grazing: Involves significantly higher stock densities (75-300+ AU per hectare) where multiple moves per day are necessary to maintain desired stock densities. Temporary fencing is often used to design small paddocks.
  5. Adaptive High-Stock Density Grazing: Utilises many of the previously mentioned methods of grazing to allow graziers to adjust herd density to match conditions or meet nutritional needs of livestock.

How Plants and Ruminants Work Together

Before we cover the advantages of rotational grazing, we’ll discuss the symbiotic relationship between plants and ruminants.

Grass plants and ruminants have developed together and rely on each other to work at their best. 

It is widely known that grasses can sacrifice 50% of their leaves to grazing animals without affecting their own root growth. In exchange, the plant benefits from the animal's dung and urine, which act as natural fertilisers. 

Additionally, the animal's hooves help to firmly plant the plant's seeds in the ground. This process also allows understory plants to flourish by reducing the density of the overstory, which creates more opportunities for a diverse range of plants to grow. We know that plant growth and root development can be stimulated by defoliation and the hoof impact of ruminants. However, we also know that sometimes too much of a good thing, is a bad thing. This is certainly the case regarding the impact of grazing on grasslands.

Effects of Overgrazing

If a plant is grazed more severely than 50%, it must utilise its root reserves and sacrifice root mass to produce new leaves with which to capture sunlight. 

Plants are equipped to do this, though, and they can put up new leaves in as quickly as five days and use them to capture sunlight. They store that energy again in their roots which restores that biomass below ground. 

However, if the fresh sprouting is once again grazed, prior to the roots fully recuperating, it leads to complications. This is when lack of grazing management is actually doing harm and root systems are degraded.

Plants should be grazed no more than 50%…and only one time. 

So how do you convince a hungry cow that she should only eat half of one particularly tasty plant and not graze it again until it’s fully recovered down to the roots? 

Controlling Grazing Behaviour

Livestock grazing behaviour can be partially influenced by controlling two factors: 

  1. Grazing duration 
  2. Livestock density 

Use rotational grazing, in varying degrees of intensity, to manipulate these two factors with the goal of changing animal behaviour.

By changing animal behaviour through fencing and movement, you can prevent the severe grazing and re-grazing that takes place under very slow rotations or continuous grazing management systems. 

Benefits of Rotational Grazing

Here are some of the benefits of rotational grazing: 

Less Selective Grazing

Rather than eating only desirable plants, livestock begin to choose less-desirable plants as well. This decreases the competitive advantage of those unwanted increaser grasses and weedy forbs and allows a healthier plant community to develop.

Harvest Efficiency

You’re able to harvest more of what’s produced on each hectare and waste less of what is grown. At high enough stock densities, animals begin eating weeds and invasive grasses. 

They may not be the most palatable plants in the field, but weedy forbs are often very nutritious!

Soil Health

As plants are given longer rest periods to recover from grazing events, they are better able to replenish and grow their roots. 

Plants naturally shed root tissue annually, so larger root area means that more organic material is being released into the soil every year. This root material feeds microorganisms as it breaks down in the soil to eventually become organic matter.

Forage Production

Forage production can be expected to improve as soil health improves. Soil fertility is directly linked to organic matter content. Soil organic matter also increases water holding capacity in the soil as well, meaning your soil becomes a better “sponge” to absorb the rain that is received and slowly release it to plants.

Drought Resistance

As root systems become healthier, the soil becomes more drought resistant. 

For every inch of soil that roots can penetrate, they access .1 to .2 inches of plant available water. That’s like receiving an extra half inch to an inch of rain if roots are five inches deeper which is a very achievable goal when pastures are managed correctly.

Herd Health

Although often an unintended, improved herd health is a common side effect of rotational grazing. When moving animals more frequently, the grazier sets eyes on each animal much more often than in less intensively managed systems. 

That means illness and other issues can be noticed and addressed in a timelier manner. Not to mention that by rotationally grazing, animals are maintaining a much steadier plane of nutrition as they have access to fresh feed regularly.

There’s No “One Size Fits All” Approach

Naturally, these benefits vary depending on the specific rotational grazing method employed, the prevailing environmental conditions, and the intricate dynamics between grazing animals and the landscape. 

As previously mentioned, not all grazing systems are suitable for every situation. The highest yields can be achieved by implementing more frequent rotations in well-maintained pastures. 

Nonetheless, all plants respond similarly to grazing, and most pastures can benefit from improved herd management. It simply comes down to finding the right balance between the expenses and gains associated with additional infrastructure.

Navigating Growing Seasons with a Rotational Grazing System

As we delve into the intricacies of rotational grazing, considering the nuances of the growing season becomes paramount. Each phase of the growing season brings unique challenges and opportunities for optimising rotational grazing systems.

Pasture growth rates vary across seasons, influencing the effectiveness of rotational grazing. Recognizing these fluctuations is key to implementing a dynamic rotational grazing paddock design that adapts to the changing needs of your livestock.

Spring: Harnessing the Renewal of Growth

1. Early Grazing Strategies

Spring marks the beginning of a vibrant growth cycle. As pastures come to life with lush greenery, properly managing grazing in early spring becomes essential. Start rotational grazing early in the season to capitalise on the rapid growth of nutritious forage. 

This not only ensures livestock have access to high-quality feed but also prevents overgrazing and promotes even pasture utilisation.

2. Pasture Rotation Planning

Develop a strategic pasture rotation plan that aligns with the growth patterns of spring. Divide your pasture into manageable paddocks and rotate livestock through them at regular intervals. 

This approach encourages uniform forage utilisation, prevents selective grazing, and allows grazed areas to recover adequately between rotations.

3. Weed Management

Spring growth often brings about an increase in pasture weeds. Integrate weed management practices into your rotational grazing plan to maintain pasture quality. 

Target weed-infested areas during rotations, ensuring that grazing animals contribute to weed control by selectively consuming undesirable plants.

Summer: Mitigating Heat Stress and Maximising Forage

1. Rotational Grazing During Heat Peaks

Summer comes with challenges such as heat stress and potential forage scarcity. Mitigate heat stress by scheduling rotations during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. 

This not only benefits animal welfare but also optimises forage intake as livestock are more likely to graze during these periods.

2. Preventing Overgrazing

As pastures may experience slower growth due to heat and reduced rainfall, preventing overgrazing becomes crucial. Adjust stocking rates and rotation frequency based on forage availability. 

Consider supplementing with stored forage or providing access to alternative forage sources during periods of slower growth.

3. Water Management

Ensure access to an ample water supply, especially during hot summer months. Strategically position water sources within rotational grazing paddocks to encourage even distribution of grazing activity. 

Adequate hydration is vital for maintaining livestock health and supporting forage intake.

Autumn: Transitioning and Forage Harvesting

1. Transition Period for Pastures

Autumn serves as a transition period from the heat of summer to cooler temperatures. Capitalise on this phase to allow pastures to recover and regenerate. 

Adjust your rotational grazing schedule to provide adequate rest periods, promoting the growth of cool-season forages.

2. Forage Harvesting Opportunities

Consider incorporating forage harvesting into your autumn rotational grazing plan. Harvest excess forage as hay or silage to create a reserve for winter feeding. 

This not only ensures a reliable feed supply during the colder months but also prevents overgrazing and maintains pasture health.

3. Overseeding and Pasture Renovation

Autumn is an opportune time for overseeding and pasture renovation. Introduce improved forage varieties to enhance overall pasture productivity. 

Implementing these practices during autumn allows for establishment before winter. This sets the stage for robust growth in the following seasons.

Winter: Strategic Management in Challenging Conditions

1. Selecting Winter Forage Species

Winter poses unique challenges with colder temperatures and potential snowfall. Choose winter forage species that can withstand these conditions, providing a continuous source of nutrition for grazing animals. 

Adapt your rotational grazing plan to prioritise areas with winter-hardy forages.

2. Supplementary Feeding Strategies

In regions experiencing limited pasture growth during winter, supplementing with stored forage or concentrate feeds becomes essential. Incorporate strategic supplementary feeding into your rotational grazing system to meet the nutritional needs of livestock and maintain optimal body condition.

3. Managing Snowfall Impact

Snow cover can impact pasture accessibility. Plan rotations to ensure livestock have access to forage despite snowfall. 

Consider temporary fencing adjustments or providing access to sheltered areas with available forage. Strategic management ensures livestock can graze even in challenging winter conditions.

Other Considerations

Strategic Strip Grazing for Maximum Impact

Introducing the concept of strip grazing allows for more precise control over livestock movement, ensuring that specific areas are grazed strategically. This method aligns with the principles of managed intensive rotational grazing. 

As a result, you optimise both forage utilisation and pasture health.

Long Rest Periods

Implementing long rest periods within rotational grazing systems is a delicate balancing act. While it promotes pasture recovery, it necessitates careful planning to prevent overgrowth and potential inefficiencies in forage utilisation. 

This is sometimes referred to as “rotational resting.”

High-Intensity Rotational Grazing

For those seeking to push the boundaries of rotational grazing, high-intensity rotational grazing emerges as a promising approach. Exploring the nuances and benefits of this advanced method provides insights into its potential for maximising forage utilisation and overall pasture health.

Small Hectarage

Addressing the challenges of limited space, rotational grazing cattle on small hectarage demands a strategic and efficient approach. Tailoring the rotational grazing system to smaller landscapes requires a keen understanding of stocking rates and grazing densities.

Rotational Grazing by Livestock Type


Cattle farming stands to gain numerous advantages from rotational grazing. By dividing large pastures into smaller paddocks and rotating cattle through them, farmers prevent overgrazing and ensure proper grass recovery. 

This not only enhances pasture health but also improves the nutritional quality of forage available to the cattle. Additionally, rotational grazing aids in reducing soil erosion and promotes natural vegetation regeneration.


Sheep, known for their voracious grazing habits, thrive in a rotational grazing system. By controlling the duration and intensity of their grazing in specific areas, farmers can maintain a balanced pasture ecosystem. 

Rotational grazing proves particularly beneficial for sheep by helping control internal parasites, ultimately leading to healthier and more productive sheep.


Goats, with diverse dietary preferences, are well-suited for rotational grazing. This method allows farmers to provide goats with a variety of forage options, preventing selective grazing and promoting a balanced diet. 

Rotational grazing is especially effective for weed control, as goats target and consume undesirable vegetation.


Horses, too, can benefit significantly from rotational grazing. By implementing a system that allows controlled movement through different grazing areas, horse owners can prevent overgrazing, promote pasture health, and manage the overall well-being of their horses. 

Rotational grazing provides horses with diverse forage options, contributing to their nutritional needs while ensuring sustainable land use practices.

Embracing Technology in Rotational Grazing Management

Want to try your hand at rotational grazing or take your strategy to the next level? This requires not only a deep understanding of grazing methods but also the integration of technology for optimal management.

The benefits of rotational grazing, combined with the advantages of technology, create a symbiotic relationship that optimises investments. From evaluating cattle rotational grazing diagrams to analysing data-driven benefits, technology becomes an invaluable ally in ensuring the success of your rotational grazing system.

Embracing a rotational grazing paddock design may involve initial costs, such as additional water and fencing infrastructure. Whether opting for permanent or temporary fencing and fixed or mobile water tanks, these investments are essential for the long-term benefits. 

Successful businesses understand the importance of measuring increased production and returns when implementing new methods. To ensure success, a robust recordkeeping and planning system is crucial from the outset. 

Knowing the current pasture performance allows for informed projections, ensuring that the implementation of changes, like installing cross-fencing, is justified by adequate returns.

Manage Your Intensive Rotational Grazing System with MaiaGrazing

Implementing effective grazing strategies requires experience, knowledge, and the right tools. Grazing management tools can aid you in optimising grazing practices, maximising profitability, and enhancing soil health to retain and build soil carbon.

Enter MaiaGrazing, a tool designed to empower graziers by tracking grazing data, creating forecasts for future stocking scenarios, and monitoring improvements in land performance. 

Precision Analytics

This user-friendly platform adjusts for variance in rainfall, providing accurate analytics that reflect your farm or ranch's current position. 

Benchmarking against past performance, especially under different rainfall conditions, becomes invaluable when adopting more intensive management practices. It's important to recognize that not every piece of land is suited for the most intensive management, and decisions should consider costs and return on investment.

As we intensively manage a system, precision becomes paramount—a principle applicable to any successful business. Similar to other sectors, the agriculture field gains an advantage by monitoring stock, expenses, and market circumstances to maintain competitiveness and sustainability. 

While agriculture faces the unique challenge of grass inventory dependent on rainfall, the principles of maximising profits remain consistent. 

In an environment where herd inventory and livestock feed requirements can rapidly change, coupled with unpredictable rainfall, having a reliable system like MaiaGrazing becomes essential to keep pace with these dynamic conditions.

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MaiaGrazing offers insights into the best rotational grazing systems for your individual farm. It also will help you to:

  • Maximise your livestock’s potential
  • Boost carrying capacity of your land
  • Optimise paddock yield
  • Minimise feeding costs
  • Capture data for seasonal planning and adjustment
  • Manage practices that build and retain soil carbon

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