The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Pasture occupation and recovery periods

Pasture recoveryOne of the tricky parts of rotational grazing is figuring out how long to let your livestock stay in a paddock (the occupation period) and how long they need to be somewhere else before they can come back (the recovery period.)  If you get the recovery period wrong, you may end up with only a third as much forage from your pasture, and if you get the occupation period wrong, your pasture will be dominated by unpalatable plants.

The occupation period will depend on how many animals you have in the paddock --- fifty chickens will eat the grass down to 2 inches faster than five chickens will.  In a perfect world, you should graze small enough areas that the occupation period is only a day or two long, but up to six days is okay.  Occupation periods over six days are problematic since your animals will start to be selective about what they eat and will graze new growth, which eventually makes the plants your animals don't like take over the pasture.

Recovery periodThe recovery period depends on the season.  Lush spring pasture may grow fast enough that it's ready to be grazed again in two weeks, but the cool season grasses in most of our pastures slow down as summer sets in.  This graph shows the recovery period for an intensively grazed pasture in West Virginia, with recovery periods ranging from a low of 11 days in June to a high of 44 days in October. 

Bill Murphy stresses the point that you have to learn your own pastures and not depend on his facts and figures.  The best way to determine the proper occupation and recovery period is to keep an eye on pasture growth every day.  When the grass has grown up to three or four inches tall, move your chickens in.  When they've eaten it down to one or two inches, move them out.  That way you won't end up with the pasture problems I'll discuss in tomorrow's post.

Our chicken waterer never spills on uneven pasture.

This post is part of our Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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