Regenerative Grazing

Ing. Marek Pytlík
January 27, 2022
Regenerative grazing

There are many ways to graze cattle. However, the best method to improve soil quality is regenerative grazing. Do you know what to make of this term? In this article, we will describe its principles in more detail.

Regenerative grazing, especially in vulnerable environments, leads to soil regeneration by dramatically increasing the organic matter content and the number and condition of microedaphone in the soil. It also leads to higher yields, better water retention and an increase in the diversity of the plant and animal community. These fundamentally support the health of the ecosystem and the surrounding landscape.

The origin and meaning of regenerative grazing

In the past, the most fertile soils were created by large herds of migrating ruminants. The herds grazed in a certain area, then moved on and did not return until the next year. It is this intensive but short-term disturbance of the vegetation that leads, among other things, to minimal soil compaction and provides a sufficiently long period for recovery and regrowth of the vegetation. Regenerative grazing attempts to simulate this primordial pattern. And the great news is that it can work in any system, whether it is permanent grassland, annual crop or intermediate crop.

The purpose of regenerative grazing is to mimic as much as possible the natural migration and grazing of herds of wild herbivores (bison, horses, aurochs and others) that used to move daily from place to place in our landscape and graze in compact herds for their protection and safety. It is therefore grazing that is intensive (large numbers of cattle on a small area) but short-lived (the herd often moves to new locations).

Differences and similarities of different types of grazing

The most common grazing type in our conditions is continuous grazing. In this type of grazing, animals are left in a large paddock for a significant part of the season. However, this type of grazing is highly destructive both for the productivity of the pasture and ultimately for the soil, as it leads to soil compaction, uneven distribution of excreta and urine, grazing of the vegetation, stripping of the soil surface, erosion and, in susceptible areas, desertification.

Slightly better off is rotational grazing, but this does not result in an even distribution of excreta, as shown in the illustration. In most cases the vegetation is overgrazed.

Regenerative grazing is very close to mob grazing or strip grazing. The key difference is the amount of ungrazed vegetation, as we describe further below.

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Figure 1. Differences in grazing methods. As can be seen from the illustration, by making the paddock smaller, the density of animals per area increases, but at the same time the length of time the cattle stay on the area decreases. Towards the right, a higher increase in organic matter can be observed, which translates into further positive impacts on the soil, plants and the ecosystem. These include higher water retention capacity, higher microbial populations and activity, higher yields and higher biodiversity.

Strip grazing

Regenerative grazing is typically characterized by dividing pastures into smaller paddocks that provide short duration, high stocking rates followed by a reasonably long period of rest and recovery for the stand.


Figure 2. Schematic division of the pasture into sub-ranges.

The area of each paddock is determined by herd size, length of grazing and amount of biomass of the vegetation. It is common practice to set out one-day paddocks, but the interval can be extended to two or three days. Of course, it depends on what suits you and what works best for your land.


Figure 3. Higher concentrations of animals in the paddock are typical for regenerative grazing.

The right level of crop salvage is key

Overgrazing or repeated grazing of plants is not so much related to the amount of cattle on the pasture, as is generally assumed, but to the length of time the crop is exposed to cattle. If cattle stay too long in the paddock or return too early, a certain percentage of plants are weakened by overgrazing.

The plant responds to grazing by secreting more root exudates into the soil to support the symbiotic soil microbiota, which in turn helps it acquire macro and micro nutrients. This helps the plant to re-grow.

When the plant is overgrazed, it reacts differently. It is forced to interrupt this "cooperation" in order to conserve energy for its own survival, and its regrowth then takes much longer.

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Figure 5. The growth curve of grasses. During grazing, it is necessary to leave enough biomass on the plant so that it does not fall into the left third of the graph. Ideally, no more than 50% of the mass should be removed so that the plant stays in the middle part of the curve, when growth and regrowth are fastest.

However, this does not happen with proper regenerative grazing management. Part of the vegetation is grazed, part trampled and part remains not grazed. This, together with the excreta and urine left behind, creates an ideal environment for improvement soil fertility and quality.

In general, for adequate regeneration and longer grazing periods, it is best not to allow cattle to graze more than 50% of the available biomass of the stand. For example, if the average height of the stand is 60 cm when animals are allowed into the paddock. They should leave the paddock when the average height of the vegetation is 30 cm. For optimum regrowth and maximum crop yield, it is recommended that cattle do not graze stands below 15-13 cm.

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*Figure 6. Effect of aboveground plant loss with respect to crop establishment. Comparison of different grazing methods to show the effect of grazing intensity on plant regeneration rate.

Vary grazing intensity and interval

It is advisable to vary the grazing load by varying the intensity of livestock units per hectare during one season and in subsequent years. Each different stock density has a specific purpose and a specific impact on the soil and its surrounding biota.

It is also very important not to graze the pasture every year in the same way. For example, if you usually start grazing in paddock A, then move to paddock B and then C, try starting in paddock C, then moving to paddock D, or even skipping a few paddocks and following with paddock G, etc.

Changing the order of grazing individual paddocks during each season brings extra diversity to the ecosystem and avoids routine and possible stagnation. This change is especially important for plants that only grow during a certain part of the year and thus get room for a longer growing season or the end of their life cycle and seed production.

It is also advisable to vary the resting time of individual plots. For example, if you normally allow 30 days of rest, you can allow 60 days for the selected paddocks. This change has very positive effects on soil biology. Obviously, it is not possible to give every paddock this extra rest period every year, but once every 3-4 years is sufficient to achieve reasonable results.

It is also essential to vary the amount of grazing and therefore the height of the vegetation to be grazed.

If you usually aim for a forage height of about 30-40 cm before grazing, try waiting until the stand reaches 50 cm. Most importantly, generally practice a 50-50 approach, leaving 50% of the biomass in the paddock at each grazing. However, there are exceptions to this rule. There are times when it is advantageous to graze less or more forage. It is recommended that you never let the stand graze below 13 cm unless you are deliberately switching from an intercrop to a subsequent crop.

Species diversity

Each species of livestock leaves different types of microorganisms on the soil and plants. This contributes to an increase in the number and diversity of the soil microbiome. If you graze more than one species of livestock (which is great in itself), it is worth varying the order in which they enter the pasture. You may think that you always have to graze cattle first, then sheep or goats, then chickens or pigs. There are reasons for moving some species in a particular order, but sometimes it is advisable to break that order and let the smaller species in first and then the cattle. You don't have to do this too often to get good results.

Summary - recommendations for regenerative grazing

There are a few recommendations to follow for regenerative grazing:

  • monitor and vary the grazing height, do not overgraze,
  • vary the stock numbers in the pasture,
  • do not rotate cattle in the same pattern every year,
  • vary the rest periods of the pasture,
  • where appropriate, vary the order in which the different species of livestock enter the pasture.

When moving to regenerative grazing, you need to think in advance about the size and order of the paddocks, taking into account the number of animals and your capacity for more frequent grazing. It is also necessary to provide suitable conditions for the animals in each of the paddocks currently in use (especially access to water).

Conclusion - the effect of regenerative grazing and its impact on the sustainability of cattle farming

Cattle farming is known for its economic intensity and, in certain parts of the world, for its negative environmental footprint.

But as another of our articles describes in more detail, regenerative grazing is a solution to reduce the negative impacts of livestock farming and even contribute positively to the state of the land and landscape.

Even over a short period of time, within a few years, regenerative grazing can achieve significant results, particularly in increasing soil organic matter and overall soil health. Studies have also shown more robust and faster development of plant root systems, including root depth and weight (compared to other grazing methods). This has a positive effect on reducing soil compaction, improving water absorption capacity and preventing erosion.

We hope we have made you interested in the topic of regenerative grazing. If you are interested in learning even more about it, we recommend the Savory Institute's e-books, especially #8 Basics of Holistic Grazing Planning and #9. The Origins of the Holistic Grazing Plan.

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