When a prescribed grazing management plan is being developed, there are several important factors to consider.
Water is an extremely important part of a grazing plan and the more accessible it is to the livestock, the better. However, this does not mean that every paddock requires a separate stock tank. In some cases a stock tank can be placed in a fence line and serve two or more paddocks, or with some creative fencing, one source of water can supply the entire planned acreage. In addition, by using a main water line with plug-in points and a 100-foot garden hose, stock tanks can be placed in different locations within paddocks thus eliminating trampling losses and mud. The primary concern is making sure that water is available to the livestock at all times and that it is of adequate quantity and quality. Grazing management plans for lactating dairy cattle should include a source of water at least every 300 feet. Other classes and kinds of livestock should have a source of water at least every 1,000 feet.
Under normal northeastern conditions, there are but a very few days during a summer when the lack of shade would be a concern. In fact, providing shade for lactating dairy cows may do more to harm milk production than to help. Livestock are a lot like people in that sometimes things are done, not out of necessity, but out of desire. When a lactating dairy cow stands in the shade on a 75-80-degree day with a cool breeze blowing, it is not because she needs to. It’s because she wants to. Unfortunately, while she is standing in the shade she is not eating and, as a result, milk production is reduced. However, during those few days when temperatures exceed 85 degrees and there is little or no breeze blowing, dairy cows can still graze mornings and nights. During the heat of the day they can be put in the barn or on a pasture with shade. For other classes and kinds of livestock, having them in pastures with shade and water on the hottest days is all that is required.
Shape of Paddocks
Livestock like to cruise fence lines to locate their boundaries or escape points. In doing so, a greater amount of forage is trampled and wasted through deposition of manure and urine. To help reduce these impacts, paddocks should be as square as possible. Rectangular paddocks are also acceptable as long as they are no more than four times as long as they are wide. Although other shapes can be used, in particular when fence lines have to follow natural land forms or boundaries, the use of circles, triangles or other odd shapes should be kept to a minimum. Keep in mind that just because a fence is already in place does not mean that it is in the best place.
Forage growth rates, forage availability, and forage utilization are all impacted by, among other things, differences in forage type, topography, and soil suitability. As a result, paddocks need to be oriented in such a manner that variability is kept to a minimum. In other words, a single paddock should not include steeply sloping hillsides with hilltops and flatlands, soil types that vary significantly in suitability due to wetness, stoniness, inherent differences in fertility, etc., or forage species that differ greatly in growth or yield characteristics. Also, paddocks should not be oriented up and down hillsides. In particular, if the water supply is located at the bottom of the hill, livestock will tend to overgraze the lower slope and undergraze the upper slope. As a result, whenever feasible, paddocks should be oriented on the contour.
Gates need to be located so they do not interfere with the natural movement of livestock as they travel to and from the barn or water. Generally, gates should be located in the corner of the paddock that is closest to the direction the livestock need to travel. If they are not, although some of the livestock will find their way out of the paddock, there will always be a few that will end up trapped in a gateless corner trying to figure out how to destroy a fence.
Laneways should be constructed so that livestock can be easily moved from one paddock to another, to the water supply, and to the barn or other facility. If the laneway is just for livestock movement, it need not be more than 10 feet wide. However, if the laneway is required for machinery access to the paddocks, it needs to be wide enough (especially at the gate openings) to get your largest harvesting or other machinery through. In heavy traffic areas, gravel, shale, crushed limestone, concrete, or other substrate may have to be utilized to prevent livestock from turning the laneway into a wallow. If necessary, a culvert pipe may be needed or a bridge built. Being able to get livestock to the pasture is as important as producing the forage in the pasture.