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Making the official start to rotational grazing

The goats are finally out on pasture and love it. But, it has been a lot of work to get to this point. 

Last fall our pasture perimeter fence was put up right before the first snow in November. We were able to do some late winter grazing, but didn’t rotate since our portable paddock fence can’t be used on frozen ground.  We continued to outwinter (feeding out on pasture, either the plant matter or feed hay) throughout the winter months.  The goats did great eating on the brush and grasses still standing, while naturally fertilizing the pasture. Once spring arrived the goats were back to feeding hay outside, while the pastures greened up. 

Even though the fence was up, the goats weren’t ready to head out to pasture right away. There was  quite a bit of prep work to do: fill gaps at the bottom of the fence to keep the guardian dogs in and predators out,  troubleshooting a grounded electric fence (meaning it wasn’t working properly) and getting the seasonal pasture waterline ready for use.  More importantly, the goats and dogs needed to be trained on the portable electric net that’s used to divide the paddocks.  It took a few sessions over a few days, but the animals learned quickly to respect the fence. 

Now it’s the fourth week of the grazing season.  The goats moved into a new paddock on Sunday. I was amazed how easy it was to move the goats into the paddock. I wasn’t sure how the dogs would do. After I anchored the portable fence gate open, I turned around to look for them.  I didn’t see them, because they had already cruised into the lush grass and were checking out the new fence line.  The animals still have access to the barn, but after the next rotation they’ll be out on pasture full time with a movable shelter to protect them from the elements. 

Here’s how the managed, rotational grazing process works on our farm:

  • Three large pastures are subdivided into smaller sections (paddocks) with portable electric netted fence based on the number of animals and days spent in the paddock
  • Animals move to a new paddock on a schedule of roughly 3-5 days or if they’ve eaten down the paddock sooner. The advice I’ve received is to “take half, leave half” to help aid with proper plant regrowth. By the time the goats return to a paddock, the plants should have had at least 30 days of rest (recovery/growth). 
  • There are several reasons for managed grazing with paddocks versus grazing a whole pasture at once. It encourages a more even consumption of plants and even natural distribution of fertilizer from the goats. This is beneficial for the quality soil and helping with parasite management for the goats. 
  • Hay is cut on the same pastures. We’re still learning the right timing to cut hay, rotate goats and still allow enough plant regrowth for future grazing or cutting of hay. 

Resources that have been helpful:

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