Grazing Management Considerations  

April, 2022
Allie Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County

Feed costs typically account for the greatest percentage of total enterprise costs in a cow-calf operation. Grazing, as the primary feed source, can help reduce costs for your operation. The first step is management. We often hear about pasture management, but let’s talk about grazing management specifically.  There are a few factors to consider if you are looking to achieve optimal forage utilization and animal performance:

  1.  How close to graze? This decision will have the greatest impact on pasture and animal productivity. Leaving adequate leaf mass after grazing is crucial for regrowth. The recommended stubble height depends on the forage variety. Not all forages are the same. For example, Bahiagrass can be grazed to 2 inches, while tall, bunch grasses should be grazed to a taller stubble height. (See Impact of Grazing Methods on Forage and Cattle Production, Table 2 for stubble height chart).

  2. Stocking Rate - Stocking rate is the most critical component in grazing management. Stocking rate is the number of animal units grazing a given area of land (e.g. - # of animals/acre). This rate is based off of grazable acres. Areas with excess brush or trees, surface water, and/or ranch roads should be excluded when calculating the amount of land suitable for grazing. Other factors to consider when determining stocking rate are forage production, nutritive value, species composition of pasture, and season. There’s a correlation between stocking rate and animal performance. Too low of a stocking rate would leave the forages underutilized which is not economical, while too high of a stocking rate would result in overgrazing and low animal gain. The goal is to determine the zone where the optimum output per individual animal gain and output per unit of land area intersect. The stocking rate must match the pasture’s carrying capacity, animal nutrient demand, forage availability, season, and grazing method. Overstocked pastures can lead to overgrazing, resulting in slow regrowth, decreased root systems, increased weeds, and poor stands, not to mention reduced animal performance.

  3.  Grazing Method: Continuous or rotational grazing?

Continuous grazing is a method where the cattle have unrestricted and uninterrupted access to a specific piece of land throughout the grazing season. Cattle have free access to selectively graze, and choose how often and how close to graze a plant. It does not allow for the pasture to rest and may not allow adequate residual leaf and carbohydrate reserves for pasture regrowth. However, this method requires less input costs and management decisions compared to rotational grazing.

Rotational grazing is when cattle are rotated between two or more sections of the pasture, called paddocks. The producer manages the time period of grazing and pasture recovery. When grazed at the proper stocking rate and rotating at ideal stubble height, rotational grazing helps with pasture persistence. Despite requiring more labor and management, as well as more initial investments, such as fencing and water sources, rotational grazing has many benefits. This grazing method can result in improved pasture longevity, increased stocking rate, increased grazing efficiency, and more uniform distribution of excreta by the cattle. It is important to note that grazing and pasture rest period will vary depending on the season.


Grazing management can influence animal performance, pasture performance, and economic returns. This tool can lead to increased forage yield and quality, stand longevity, and grazing efficiency. Choice of grazing management also affects the animal’s milk and meat production, weight gain, and can reduce feed costs. There is not a one-size fits all management program. An effective grazing management plan will consider how close to graze (stubble height), stocking rate, and the grazing method (continuous or rotational). It’s important to understand the relationship between cattle and forage availability. These factors can lead to more efficient use of forages and ultimately impact economic returns. Tracking information throughout the grazing season can help you evaluate your grazing plan and fine tune your plan for optimal forage utilization and animal performance.


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