Benefits of multi-paddock grazing management on rangelands: Limitations of experimental grazing research and knowledge gaps
The benefits of multi-paddock rotational grazing on commercial livestock enterpriseshave been evident for many years in many countries. Despite these observations and theresults of numerous studies of planned grazing deferment before the mid-1980s that showbenefit to species composition, most recent rangelands grazing studies suggest thatrotational grazing benefits neither vegetation nor animal production relative to continuousgrazing. Detailed comparisons of research methods and practical experiences ofsuccessful practitioners of multi-paddock grazing systems identify a number of areas thatexplain why such different perceptions have arisen. Consistent with producer experience,published data from small paddock trials on both temporal and spatial aspects of grazing management indicates the potential for significantly higher production under multipaddockrotational grazing relative to continuous grazing and conservative stocking.While research findings often suggest multi-paddock grazing management is notsuperior to continuous grazing, researchers have not managed trials to answer practicalquestions such as: how good is this management option, where is it successful, and whatdoes it take to make it work as well as possible? In contrast, successful ranchers managestrategically to achieve the best possible profitability and ecosystem health. They usebasic knowledge of plant physiology and ecology generated by research within anadaptive, goal-oriented management approach to successfully implement planned grazingmanagement.Published research and experience from ranchers have indicated that the followingmanagement factors are the keys to achieving desired goals: (1) Planned grazing andfinancial planning to reduce costs, improve work efficiency and enhance profitability andenvironmental goals; (2) Adjusting animal numbers or having a buffer area available sothat animal numbers match forage availability in wet and dry years; (3) Grazing grassesand forbs moderately and for short periods during the growing season to allow adequaterecovery; (4) Timing grazing to mitigate detrimental effects of defoliation at criticalpoints in the life cycle of preferred species inter- and intra-annually; (5) Wheresignificant regrowth is likely, grazing the area again before the forage has matured toomuch; (6) Using fire to smudge patch-grazing imprints and manage livestock distribution;and (7) Using multiple livestock species. In all these areas, management is the key tosuccess.Many researchers have failed to sufficiently account for these management factors,either in their treatment applications or in the evaluation of their results. To define thepotential impact, researchers must quantify the management strategies for best achievingwhole-ranch business and ecosystem results under different grazing management.Conducting research on ranches that have been successfully managed with planned multipaddockgrazing for many years, together with systems-level simulation modeling, offercomplementary approaches to traditional small-paddock field research. These methodsare particularly applicable where logistics preclude field experimentation, or whenassessing impact over decadal time frames. This chapter discusses these points, suggestsareas of research that may explain differences in perception among land managers andresearchers, and provides information to achieve the full potential of planned multipaddockgrazing management.