Grazing management to increase vegetation and rainfall
Wheeler SWCD works with NRCS to assist landowners and managers with grazing management.
In the Northwest, drought, increased temperatures, and extreme precipitation events are expected to intensify. Impacts from climate will limit productivity of farm and rangeland operations because of increases in livestock heat stress, soil erosion, and nutrient runoff into waterways, as well as reduction in forage quality and quantity. Using management practices that consider climate change can help to maintain productivity in the face of these challenges.
Grazing management influences the effectiveness of precipitation. Plant cover and healthy root systems result in better infiltration of moisture into the soil. Overgrazing can cause drought-like conditions even with average precipitation. The effects of drought are intensified at poorer range conditions. Rangeland in fair condition is often more severely affected by drought than rangeland in good to excellent condition. Range condition also influences the rate of recovery in forage production after drought.
Rotational grazing could help ranchers, pastoralists, and farmers to mitigate and adapt to some climate change impacts. Rotational grazing involves the frequent movement of livestock through a series of pasture subdivisions called paddocks. This frequent movement allows plants to rest and regrow to grazing height while livestock graze other paddocks. The length of grazing and rest periods is ecosystem dependent and differs depending on forage yield. Each paddock must contain forage, water, and adequate shade. Rotational grazing has been implemented with livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, and horses.
Advantages to rotational grazing:
•Improves soil structure, biodiversity, cover, organic matter, and carbon sequestration
•Prevents overgrazing, reducing runoff, limiting soil erosion, and improving water quality
•Increases pasture drought resilience
•Better distributes nutrients from manure throughout a pasture
•Increases forage for livestock and animal productivity
•Reduces costs and increases profit
•Results in fewer herd health problems
•Makes livestock tamer and easier to move (with continuous handling)
•Reduces pesticide use
•Can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock by eliminating manure storage facilities, improving forage quality, and sequestering soil organic carbon in rangelands
Disadvantages to rotational grazing:
•Requires more fencing and labor (though virtual fencing is an effective alternative to traditional fencing)
•Requires water and shade to be accessible in each paddock
•May result in soil compaction and degraded water quality if livestock are not moved regularly
•May increase internal parasites in irrigated rotational pastures (compared to rangelands)
•May only be effective on rangelands when combined with lower stock density