Deferred grazing – a tool to build farm system resilience

// Feed Planning and Strategies

Deferred grazing is a tool that can be used to combat drought, rejuvenate pastures, improve stock health, mitigate against sediment loss, reduce cost and take the stress out of farming.

sheep grazing

A three-year research project to quantify the impact of deferred grazing on the pasture, the soil and the farm system has highlighted the benefits of a practice once regarded as lazy farming.

Deferred grazing is the practice of resting pastures from grazing from mid- to late spring until late summer / early autumn.

The trial, which was carried out by AgResearch (led by Katherine Tozer) and Plant and Food Research, was run on trial sites on three commercial farms in the Bay of Plenty and Northern Waikato. Scientists sought to understand more about the effects of deferred grazing, how to successfully apply it and why it works.

 Benefits identified

  • Maintaining pasture quality over the whole farm. By removing some paddocks from the grazing round, the stocking rate is increased over the rest of the farm. As a result, the spring feed surplus is better utilised and pasture quality is maintained.
  • Providing a feed wedge at the end of summer. This avoids the cost and workload of buying in and feeding out supplementary feed. A standing feed wedge available at the end of summer is particularly useful in drought years.
  • Increases pasture persistence. This is due to increased tiller populations of perennial ryegrass and other desirable perennial pasture species when pastures are opened up in early autumn. It can occur via reseeding from the seedbank or from the growth of new tillers from existing plants.
  • An increase in clover populations after a long -deferred period. Other research has shown that when deferred pastures are grazed and “opened up” in late autumn, competition can lead to a reduction in grass tiller populations, and clover populations can increase.
  • Reduced facial eczema spore counts.
  • Deferred pastures had reduced facial eczema spore counts, compared with grazed pastures.
  • While the risk of facial eczema may be lower in the deferred paddocks than in other paddocks, spore counts may still exceed the threshold above which treatment for facial eczema is necessary.

Participating farmer comments

‘This is a low-cost approach to saving feed until a time of need, no harvesting costs or additional fertilizer costs, deferred grazing will make a significant positive benefit to my farm profitability as well as improving soil health and pasture performance in the deferred paddocks’.

‘It gives me great confidence to know this practice is now underpinned by science. This year (2020) in the drought I deferred 10% of the farm, it was an absolute godsend knowing I had this huge feed wedge up my sleeve to get me through the drought and also knowing facial eczema spore counts would be low compared with other paddocks gave me peace of mind.

‘Deferred grazing is a vital and proven management practice in my farming operation.

The deferred grazing project has put science credibility behind our farmer hunches and experience.

If you are a pastoral farmer, I challenge you to experience the benefits of this highly profitable summer management tool’. 

‘I don’t have to stress about making hay or silage all I do is shut the gate and wait until late summer/early autumn to mob stock/ break fed off, knowing I’m rejuvenating those paddocks is a good feeling…more time for fishing and surfing yeeehaaa.

For more information on this project, check out the webpage: Deferred grazing: Summer pasture management - AgResearch

For a summary of findings and advice, see the Deferred Grazing Handbook

This project was supported by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Bay of Plenty and Waikato Regional Councils, Ballance Agri Nutrients and The Ministry for Primary Industries.