Rotational Grazing Management Internships

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1995: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed rations, grazing - rotational, watering systems, feed/forage
  • Education and Training: mentoring, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, agricultural finance
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, public participation


    Project objectives:
    1) To document and demonstrate the potential productivity and profitability of utilizing intensive rotational grazing management for raising dairy replacement heifers in southeast Wisconsin.
    2) To provide practical experiences and training in rotational grazing systems management to a young farm intern.
    3) To increase the impact and educational outreach of the rotational grazing research component of the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial.

    We maintained, throughout summer, an intensive rotational grazing system and got good productivity results. The heifers that we raised on the grazing system all look healthy and are in good body condition. The average body score is about 2.8. we weighed the animals at the beginning and end of the trial to monitor their rate of gain. We ended up with an average rate of gain of 2.25.

    Through utilizing interns from Michael Fields Agricultural institute (MFAI) we met our goal of providing experience and training in grazing systems to numerous interns. The degrees of training ranged from merely setting in corner posts, to running wire and putting up lines, to trying end insulators. There were a total of 9 individuals who were trained in the various intricacies of fencing.

    We took an even bigger step this year with the size of our grazing groups. This year it was much more reflective of a conventional grazing farm. Our initial group goal in the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping System Trial (WICST) paddocks was twelve animals. This in itself was up from two animals in 1996. However, when we moved to the large pastures we had a group of 27 animals.

    I attended a field day at a local intensive grazing farm belonging to Altfrid and Sue Krusenbaum. This was towards the beginning of the project, so I was able to see how his fences and watering systems were set up before we completed our own. His farm is an out wintering, rotational grazing farm. Therefore, there were a number of differences between his set up and the one at LAC. However, seeing his farm enabled me to visualize a successful rotational grazing system.

    The first cut of pasture was taken off as hay in the 22 acres that we used for the trial. The animals had 4,219 pounds of gain. The average price for breeding size heifers the week of October 7, 1997 was $77.50/hundredweight. Whey you consider that we used the hay fields for 3 months out of the 6 month growing season that comes out to a value of $297 for the gross margin return per acre.

    4219 lb x 77.5/cwt = 3,269.72/ 22 acres = $148.62 per acre x 2 = $297 return per acre.

    35 acres were fenced for rotational grazing; however, we only utilized 22 acres for this trial. The pasture was divided into 12 sections, each about 208 ft wide and 624 ft long. These in turn were divided into thirds. The animals on trial were only given eight out of the twelve sections. The other four were used by other animals on the farm. We made two complete rotations through the eight sections of pasture. Another pasture was fenced as well, with the same dimensions, and the animals were given three sections in that pasture. W started the project by giving the animals’ one third of a strip each day. However, we had some troubles in that our animals were being spooked in some way and would run through the fences. There were two occasions where the animals got out completely and were housed in the heifer barn. The first time it happened they stayed in the heifer barn for 2 days and consequently were fed some silage and hay round bales. The second time they were in the heifer barn for a total of 4 days and were fed silage and round bales. At this point we took another look at our set up, and made a few adaptations. Because the animals continued to run and break through the fences we gave them the entire 208 ft by 624 ft section. Until this point we were only using 1 wire to divide the sections. We added another wire and placed the fence posts closer together. The combination of making the fence lines more sturdy, and giving the animals more room to run if required, virtually eliminated our problems. We also took the time to remove 4 of the animals we felt were causing the most problems. They remained in the heifer barn, and were removed from the trial.

    The system we used for watering was a portable water tank and a couple of float tanks. We would fill up the 500 gallon tanks, which were on a wagon, and drive it out to where the heifers were. We hooked this up to a 55 gallon float tank and filled up a 75 gallon tank. This kept the animals watered in a reasonable way. There was a problem with the watering area getting trampled and pasture getting wasted. However, I feel the positives out weight the negatives. We have a watering system that can be utilized in any pasture system that can be disconnected or reconnected at any time. We didn’t have to worry about setting any water pipes, of pipe freezing, getting broken or springing any leaks. As long as the portable tank we kept full and we didn’t let the animals run out of water, we didn’t have any problems.

    There was one grazing intern that carried out most of the daily activities required. There were 9 other interns from MFAI that assisted with the fencing, and other Lakeland Agricultural Complex employees assisted with the sorting, weighting, and feeding from time to time. On a normal day it would take about 15 minutes to take out grain and check on the heifers. If the portable water tank needed to be refilled that would take an hour and a half from the time it was unhooked and brought into the farmyard to the time it was hooked back up to the float tanks. However, during the hour that it took to actually fill up the tank, numerous other duties could be performed. The tank needed to be refilled about every 2-3 days depending on the temperature and weather. In the beginning it took a little bit longer to move the heifers from pasture to pasture, usually about 15-20 minutes. But, they soon learned the routine and it only took about 5 minutes to move them at the end of the trial, providing the paddocks were adjacent. For the first 4 weeks the animals were given a new section of pasture every day. From that point on they were moved every 3 days, providing they had sufficient pasture. Approximately 41 hours were spent throughout the trial on the daily care of the heifers. We were charged $1,254 for rent of the land.

    The supplies used in this project ranged from newly purchased fencing supplies to old supplies recycled from the farm. A new fencer was purchased, and switches to turn power off and on. We used a figure of 5 years of depreciation for the poly-wire used, and 20 years of depreciation for the high tensile wire, fence posts, fencer and other supplies to calculate the costs of fencing supplies. We also factored in the costs of labor on the fences. The total for fencing came to be $227.

    The animals were fed 110 pounds of grain a day. There was a period of 6 days total when they were in the heifer barn, where they didn’t receive this grain. There was also a 4 day period where they only received 66 pounds of grain. Based on the enclosed grain ration sheet it was calculated that the price per pound was $0.08499. The total cost of grain fed for the 86 days for the trial was $664.79. We also provided them with mineral lick tanks, which cost $147.50. The initial cost per pound of gain is $0.38. However, we need to consider fencing costs, land rent and labor spent on daily care of animals. These values are as follows:

    Category , Total Cost, $/head/day, $/lb of gain
    Grain , $664.79, $0.34 , $0.15
    Depreciation of fencing , $227.00, $0.11 ,$0.05
    Land rent , $1,254.00, $0.63 ,$0.28
    Labor , $436.87 ,$0.22 , $0.10
    TOTAL , $2,582.66 ,$1.31 , $0.58

    In 1996, the ration the animals were given figured a rate of gain of 1.9. The cost was $0.83 per day per animal. This comes out to $0.43 for cost per pound of gain. However, the animals on the lot had different types of costs that needed to be factored in. the costs for hauling of feed, bedding, and hauling of manure all need to be considered into the cost per pound of gain. The basic costs were as follows:

    Category , $.lb of gain
    Feed cost , $0.43
    Feeding , $0.10
    Bedding , $0.02
    Manure/cleaning ,$0.06
    Total cost/lb of gain ,$0.61

    I feel that this was a very successful grazing project. We had healthy and happy animals at the end of the trial. Our average rate of gain was 2.25, which is an excellent reflection of how well the animals did on this system. The total cost per pound of gain was $0.58, while for the previous year it was $0.61. This lower cost supports my opinion on the benefits of setting up a rotational grazing system.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.