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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Dairy Forage Research

Title: The Fundamentals of a Managed Grazing Program

item Brink, Geoffrey

Submitted to: Electronic Publication
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/23/2009
Publication Date: 4/1/2009
Publication URL: http:////
Citation: Brink, G.E. 2009. The Fundamentals of a Managed Grazing Program. Progressive Hay Grower [online newsletter]. Available:

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The underlying principle of a managed grazing program is to manage livestock in a manner that controls the timing and extent of grazing of forage plants so that the pasture provides a reliable source of forage of the appropriate quality throughout the growing season. Control of when, how often, and how much of the forage plant is defoliated by livestock has a large influence on its productivity. Cool-season, perennial grasses generally benefit from an uninterrupted period of growth after defoliation before being grazed again, which is usually when grass tillers have produced three or more leaves. Producers should consider three factors when trying to determine whether a managed grazing program will work for them: 1) personal goals and philosophy regarding grazing and livestock management; 2) land resources; and 3) type and class of livestock to be grazed. A managed grazing program will usually require additional permanent or temporary fencing and additional time to monitor pastures and move livestock at the appropriate time. Depending on the current condition of pastures, producers may also need to amend soil fertility, construct lanes for livestock movement, and account for soil physical properties such as poor drainage that limit pasture growth. Producers should consider the nutritional needs of their livestock and the contribution of non-pasture feed sources to their diet before implementing a particular grazing program. Perennial grasses typically constitute the major component of managed pastures, although legumes and forbs can improve forage quality, seasonal yield distribution, and the biodiversity of flora and associated fauna. The major advantage of perennial grasses is that the recurring cost of establishing annuals is avoided. Perennial grasses have the potential to remain productive year after year, increasing in density by vegetative reproduction. Some perennial grasses have high tolerance to livestock traffic. Well managed perennial grass pastures are a reliable source of high-quality feed, and stockpiled grass forage can provide feed after growth has ceased in the fall or pastures are covered with snow. Due to their extensive root system and aboveground growth, a permanent sod has beneficial effects on soil properties, such as improved nutrient recycling, organic matter content, and water holding capacity, and reduced runoff. A less tangible benefit of utilizing perennial grasses in a managed grazing program, but an important one from the perspective of general society, is that they possess an aesthetically pleasing appearance in the landscape particularly when associated with grazing livestock.

Last Modified: 10/19/2017
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