USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is completing a 10-year study on grazing practices. The study focuses on the two systems of grazing, season-long grazing and intensive rotational grazing, looking at how the systems affect cattle foraging behavior, diet quality, and yearly weight gain in semi-arid, extensive rangelands.
The study showed herds in the multi-paddock rotating system feeding in more linear pathways instead of moving around looking for greener grass and selecting bites of more digestible vegetation. They also fed slower, spent more time on the same patch of grass, and didn’t turn their heads around much while feeding, compared with steers in the continuous grazing system. These behaviors of less selective foraging resulted in a lower diet quality, reducing weight gain during the growing season.
Results, published in Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment, show that large herds grazing in small, homogenous paddocks have little opportunity to move around in ways that let them feed on high-quality diet.