Rotational grazing: How do you DO it?

rotational grazing

You’re sold on the benefits of rotational grazing, but you’re not quite sure exactly how to do it. You can’t create a door from your barn directly into each pasture, so how do you get your goats (or sheep) to the area where you want them to graze? We rotate our does all over our property, and sometimes that means walking down our driveway to the area that we have fenced in with Electro-Net across the yard from the barn.

If you only have a few goats, you could simply put a lead rope on them and walk them to their new area a few times. However, we have had as many as 22 adults and 60 kids to move, and it would take a long time to move them individually. So, what do we do?

  1. We start by putting a pan of alfalfa pellets and grain in the area where we want them to go.
  2. Then we put alfalfa pellets and grain into a feed pan or bucket, open the door to their stall, and hold the pan in front of them so a couple of them can get a bite or two.
  3. You walk slowly holding the pan of feed where they can see it, sometimes letting them take another bite or two, if you need to do that to keep them following you. If one is falling behind you may have to leave it behind for now. If you try too hard to keep them all together, you risk having the ones in front eat everything in the pan before you get to your destination. Go ahead and take the ones who are following you and get them into the area where you have the pan of grain and alfalfa pellets waiting.
  4. Show them the pan(s) of feed sitting in the pasture, and they’ll start eating it while you go back with your pan of grain to get the other goat(s) that fell behind.

The young kids are the hardest. If we didn’t have so many, we’d just pick them up and carry them! But even the littlest kids get it figured out in a few days, especially if they’re dam-raised because they learn to stick to mom. Getting them back into the barn at night is much easier because they want to go into the barn at sundown. This is especially true if you have does in the group who’ve been living in the barn for a couple of years. They know where home is! If you try to do it much earlier than sundown, they won’t be as eager.

After doing this for three or four days, you won’t need to use the pan of feed to get them to follow you. They’ll know that there is a pan of feed waiting for them in the grazing/browsing area in the morning and in the barn at night. Don’t be tempted to stop leaving the feed in the pasture for them. For the number of Nigerian dwarf goats we have, we put out three pans. If you have five or less goats, you can probably put out one pan of feed. The more goats you have, and the larger they are, the more pans of feed you need to have in the new area so that they will stay busy eating it until you get everyone in there.

What’s in the pans?

In each pan of grain I put 5-6 cups of alfalfa pellets and 1 cup of goat feed, so the actual amount of grain that each goat is getting is almost nothing — 2-3 tablespoons. If your goats are not milking, you can use grass hay pellets, such as orchard grass or timothy pellets. They are made by the same company that makes the alfalfa pellets in our area. If you don’t have a lot of goats or a long distance to go, or if you can run as fast as your goats, once they get the drill, you may not need to use much for hay pellets. I just use that much because I’m really slow, so that’s how much I need to have in the pan for them to still have their noses stuck in it by the time I get there to close the door of the barn stall or close the gap in the Electro-Net.

Also, be sure that they’ve had hay pellets before you try this. They will only follow you if they really want the food you have. That’s why I have to sprinkle some goat grain on top. Most goats are not immediately big fans of hay pellets. It takes time for them to start liking them, and some never seem to become fans. However, when there is competition for food, they are always more interested in it. So, they are more likely to want it if there are other goats around than if you simply offered it to them in a pan when they are alone.

 
Click for more information on rotational grazing.

 

Rotational Grazing

 

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26 thoughts on “Rotational grazing: How do you DO it?”

  1. Thank you for the information. I was curious as to why you used the hay pellets as opposed to the alfalfa pellets with your does in milk?

    Reply
    • Thanks for asking. I do use alfalfa pellets with does in milk. Hay pellets could be alfalfa hay or grass hay. I sometimes wrote “alfalfa” and sometimes wrote “hay” to avoid sounding too redundant.

      Reply
  2. Is it cheating to give the goats cheerios (maybe 3/goat) instead of pellets and grain? I ask only because my goats already know that when I shake the cheerios container, it’s treats time and they all come running. They haven’t had pellets in the past, just straight grass hay.

    Reply
  3. I have set up mine like pie wedges ,hay , water and shelter available from the center 24/7 … each section can be opened from the center in rotation …

    Reply
  4. Thank you for the wonderful posts and the helpful videos! What a lovely setup you have!
    We are currently building on 10 acres of undeveloped land, and hope to have Dwarf Nigerian goats. We were thinking of starting with 3-5 does and 2 bucks. I have several questions for you:
    1. I was wondering if you might be able to recommend what to kind of seed mix to cover the cleared areas with in preparation for goats. We were going to do a mix of grasses and legumes, but I know the goats prefer browse. Any idea how I can get those shrubs and small trees in there without actually planting them?
    2. What size paddocks would you recommend, and how often would you rotate them? Would you recommend 52 different paddocks that they go in once a year? While I know that would be best for them regarding parasites, I am concerned about the land getting too overgrown.
    3. In order to keep the “goaty” smell out of the milk, we were planning to separate the bucks. How would you do rotational grazing with 2 groups of separately rotating goats?
    I’m new to all this, and just trying to get my head wrapped around it all! Ha ha ha! Any advice you have I would welcome heartily. Many thanks!

    Reply
    • What is currently growing on the land now? Goats are not picky, so unless it is completely barren, you probably don’t need to plant anything.

      Two bucks can be kept in a pen that is made with four 16 x 16 livestock panels and rotated around the property. You can use two panels of the Premier1 ElectroNet to create paddocks for the does. I’d suggest having them on opposite sides of the property so they are far enough away that the boys won’t be driven mad by the girls.

      Such a small number of goats won’t be able to eat down everything on 10 acres in a year. Pastures do get overgrown at times. Your property won’t look like a manicured lawn in suburbia. If you seriously want to plant the whole thing in a grass and legume pasture mix, then you could cut some areas for hay.

      Reply
      • Thanks for your prompt reply!
        We currently have have an old pine forest that was grown for a paper company. Other than pine, there are blackberry brambles, poison ivy, devils walking stick, milkweed, ragweed, tulip poplars, sassafras, spicebush, bracken fern, sumac, dogwood, cherry trees, and the like. We have about 3 acres cleared, and the rest is wooded pine and all that’s listed above. So I was thinking of putting down a mix of grasses, legumes, and chicory to get the bare ground covered. The goats could roam around in the woods eating the poison ivy and brambles down for a while while the rest of the property grows some ground cover. Some of what is growing is poisonous to goats in quantity, I have read (like the bracken fern.)
        Also- I am only familiar with the conventional way of growing and harvesting hay for feeding to animals in the winter. Is there another easier way to get winter feed for the goats? Can I just cut and dry all my weeds, legumes, grains, and grasses somehow and rely on that as winter feed?
        Thank you so much for your insights!

        Reply
        • You can cute hay with an old-fashioned scythe and dry it and feed it to goats over the winter. As far as whether that would be enough for your goats, it depends on how many goats, what breed, where you live, what the weather was like during the growing season, and other variables.

          If they have other food to eat, goats tend to avoid plants that are poisonous to them. And I’ve never actually seen a list of plants that are actually poisonous to goats specifically. Most of the lists are based on other livestock, and they just assume it would be true for goats. About the only things I’ve heard that are really poisonous to them are things that are deadly poisonous to everything, such as oleander. Here is more on poison plants: https://thriftyhomesteader.com/poisonous-plants-livestock/

          Reply
          • We have many of the same plants in our area (Florida Panhandle). We’ve found that bracken fern can deplete thiamine in goats and cause goat polio. We keep a bottle of Vit. B1 on hand and dissolve a tablet and drench if we note
            problems…usually just the kids get it on our farm. Most of the woodsy/stream areas were fenced off a couple years ago and incidence is much less. Only the adults are allowed in the woods.

  5. I want to rotate my goats but I’m not sure what to do about shelter? Do you have a shelter that moves from lot to lot with the goats? I’ve been trying to think of some sort of lightweight temporary shelter I could move around. Or maybe just build a bunch of mini shelters all over the property for them?…

    Reply
    • When we got started in 2002, we created six shelters, one for each pasture. However, several years later we created a shelter in the middle of a few acres, and we had four combination livestock panels around it with a gate on each side. There was only a foot or two between the shelter and the livestock panels. Originally we ran four permanent fences from the corners out to create four different paddocks. To change the paddock, we only had to close one gate and open another. Then more than half of that area flooded one year, and the fence was so messed up that we had to take it down. Instead of putting up more permanent fencing, now we just use ElectroNet temporary fencing to fence off the area that we want to use. And we split it up into eight areas. I’ve also heard of people creating moveable shelters, but that wouldn’t work for us because our area is too hilly, or it’s across a creek and inaccessible by lawn tractor or truck to move a shelter.

      Of course, this also depends on how many goats you have. If you only have three or four, you could just use a plastic playhouse that you could move easily from one place to another.

      Reply
  6. I’d like more information on the use of cattle or livestock panels and the electro net fencing that you referred to. I’d like to be able to take my adult goats into a wooded area overgrown with underbrush and perhaps they would enjoy that as the pastures do not have many trees limbs that they can reach anymore nor does it have brush. How do I use the cattle panels and the electro fencing? How do I secure them? Thank you

    Reply
    • If you have more than 3-4 goats, then the cattle panels would not be enough. I would not use more than four of them, which are in a square and joined at the corners with carabiner clips. Yes, they will stand up as long as they are not on a hillside.

      If you have more goats, then you want the Electronet. It comes with integrated posts that you can push into the ground with your hand. If you have hard soil from lack of rain, you can use a rubber hammer, but we’ve always been able to just push the posts into the ground with our hands. You would need to cut a path for the Electronet using either a mower or a brush hog, depending on what’s growing in the area where you want to put the temporary fencing.

      Reply

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