Defining Grazing Systems: Continuous, Rotational and Time-Controlled (1/3)

All this week on Table Talk we will look at the theme of Grazing Management

Grazing Management has been defined by MLA as “the total process of organising livestock to make the best use of the pastures grown, or managing the frequency and intensity with which livestock graze pasture.”

More simply, it can be defined as “where and when to move grazing animals”.

Grazing management is not just an important part of managing animals, but also plays a vital role in managing plant growth, soil, water and nutrients.

Most graziers are likely aware that there are many terms out there when referring to different grazing methods and philosophies.

Set stocking, continuous, rotational, intensive rotational, time controlled, holistic, ultra-high density, strip, cell, techno, mob, tactical…. The list goes on.

It can be confusing, particularly as there remains contention around definitions and there is no cookie cutter approach to each. But there is immense value in the fact that there are a vast range of approaches and methods as it adds choice and flexibility for producers depending on their system and environment. Many graziers use a variety/combination of grazing approaches on their properties and the flexibility of a grazing enterprise is what makes it appealing to many different managerial approaches.

Today, we will introduce three key stocking/grazing methods.

  1. Continuous/set stocking
  2. Rotational grazing
  3. Time controlled grazing

Continuous Grazing

Continuous grazing refers to a system whereby livestock have unrestricted access to a pasture throughout the grazing system. There is minimal movement of livestock and the pastures are infrequently spelled, if at all. Benefits of this system are that it requires minimal labour and is simply to apply, but it can lead to over or under utilisation of pasture. MLA notes that set stocked continuous grazing systems should be conservatively stocked to minimise the decline of preferred native pasture species and land type.

(University of Kentucky)

Rotational Grazing

Rotational grazing refers to the movement of stock throughout a series of paddocks on a regular basis in a regular sequence. Stock are often moved on a calendar basis.

(University of Kentucky)

Time Controlled Grazing

Time Control Grazing, unlike rotational grazing, is not calendar based. Instead, stock moves are based on pasture growth rate and its requirement for rest. This grazing management strategy may help to improve pasture condition, increase carrying capacity, assist with drought planning, improve animal performance and increase grazing profitability. However, it does require a high level of management and may require paddock layout changes and subdivision.

There are many methods of time control grazing, including strip grazing, cell grazing, high density grazing, and the Savory grazing method.

Grazing Chart – (On Pasture)


Below is a table from RCS Australia that outlines clearly the sub methods and key defining characteristics of the three approaches.

Created from information from RCS Australia


Between Rotational Grazing and Time Control Grazing there is also an additional method, “Multi-camp Rotational Grazing Systems”. Under this method, there are two key sub-systems:

  1. High Utilisation Grazing: includes Acocks/Howell system, short duration grazing, non-selective grazing, crash grazing and mob Grazing. Involves greater than 7 paddocks per herd. Each paddock is severely grazed before moving to the next, generally on fixed calendar moves.
  2. High Performance Grazing: Controlled selective grazing. Involves greater than 7 paddocks per herd. Each paddock is lightly grazed for a short period so that only the most palatable plants are grazed. Ungrazed, low successional plants eventually due out. Generally, calendar based moves.

Stay tuned for our next articles in this series, where we dive deeper into the value of livestock, different methods of time controlled grazing, and what research conducted is saying about different grazing methods – the good and the bad.

What strategies do you employ on you property? Why? What have been your experiences and results? Please let us know by commenting below.