Published: Extension, March 2010
By Mike Gamroth

Often, convenience and bloat management dictate when groups are moved. However, there are inherent group behaviors that should be considered in the design and management of the grazing system. Individual animals differ in health and reproductive cycle, and will behave first as individuals in grazing selectivity. Practicality requires that we manage animals as a herd or flock to improve the efficiency of animal handling.

Herds and flocks often behave according to a leadership hierarchy. This is important to remember when moving animals. Each animal group has leaders, followers, and subordinates. Groups of animals appear to prefer to be able to see each other at all times. So when the lead animal begins to move to water or to a remote part of the pasture, many of the members of the herd move, too. This is an advantage when rotating to a different paddock in rotational systems.

Recent research in Missouri shows that if animals are within 700 to 800 feet of the water source, they can generally see each other and are more comfortable going to water individually in coordination with their own grazing and ruminating preferences. Providing water in each paddock or at several locations in large pastures will improve the efficiency of grazing, animal production, and manure nutrient distribution. In large pastures, grazing animals often prefer to graze near the water source and avoid grazing in distant corners. Some producers place salt and mineral supplements in locations away from the water source or shade to encourage better forage use over the entire pasture.

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