Rotational Grazing for Cattle

by Cam
Published: Updated:

I wasn’t born into a farming family. So when a friend called and offered to sell us some of his cattle, I had to learn on the spot what to do. After some research, I found that rotational grazing for cattle is a practice I wanted to try.

Rotational Grazing for cattle

Our Cows and Bull

We have a small herd of beef cattle that we raise on our property. They are all purebred Dexter breed. We chose this breed for a few reasons. First one being they are very docile, tame, and great around children. We wanted the children to be comfortable around the cattle, and vice versa.

Second, their meat tastes great. We raise them 100% on pasture, meaning they are grass-fed, grass finished beef. We love raising cows on pasture this way. Third, they consume less volume than a more widely known breed, but still gain a good percentage of weight for the amount they eat. This helps prevent our pastures from being over-grazed, and we hardly have to feed them supplemental hay.

*Quick Fun Story* – (At time of this story, we were maybe a year in to raising our Dexters) A few years ago we were visiting Becky’s sister’s family in a rental they were living in while they were looking for a home to buy. This rental happened to be on the edge of a cattle pasture.

The cows were black angus, and we could see the herd but they were quite a ways away. I had helped my uncles with calving as a kid, but never really been around a full grown angus. I knew the Dexter breed that we were raising were known to be a smaller breed, so I wanted to do some real life comparisons.

So of course, I hopped the fence and started walking towards the herd to get a closer look. Eventually they noticed me, and likely thinking I had food for them started running towards me. As they got close and closer, they kept getting bigger and bigger! My nervousness grew, because it seemed like these giant animals just kept growing.

It seriously felt like if they wanted to, they could trample me and not even realize what they just did, like to a semi truck running into a bicycle. I ran like the wind back to the fence, and the rest of our time there I enjoyed watching the cows from the safe side of the fence :).

That experience helped me realize how nice it is for us and our situation to have Dexters. I’ve never been nervous around our cows, and for that I am grateful.

Our Process

Our herd consists of one bull, three mommas(bred heifers), and typically 4-5 calves. Small, simple, and works well for us right now. When raising beef cows, the prime time to butcher is around 18-24 months.

Cows gestation period is 9 months, like humans. Ours momma cows are on a pretty good rhythm of birthing calves every March/April/May timeframe. This allows us to raise the calves for two years with their mommas, then right after they’ve had a good fill of Spring/early summer grass, they are ready to go to freezer camp.

Rotational Grazing

Before we even had our cows we knew we wanted to to rotational grazing with them. What first got us headed down this path was the matter-of-fact way that Joel Salatin discusses this in his book, Folks This Ain’t Normal. In the book he discusses the pro’s and cons of rotational grazing vs keeping cattle in a single pasture or corral, or worst case, a feedlot.

He’s coined a simple phrase for this type of rotational grazing – “Mob Stocking Herbivorous Solar Conversion Lignified Carbon Sequestration Fertilization.” Whew, try saying that ten times fast!! I’ll explain this fancy term in a bit.

When cows are confined to the same pasture, they tend to overgraze. Also, the manure smell quickly becomes an issue, as it builds up more and more. Not to mention the increased risk of disease as these animals spend more time in their own excrement.

Lastly, let’s not forget the capital expense required to buy hay equipment. Since the corral has turned to dirt, you now need hay for them so they have something to eat.

rotational grazing for cattle

Rotational Grazing solves almost all this. And at a fraction of the cost. I’ve been doing rotational grazing for a few years now, and outside of maybe 2-3 bales of hay I need to feed them in the dead of winter, my only expense is my time it takes to move them from one pasture to the next. That’s it. Seriously, that’s it!

When I rotate the cows, the first thing is does is improves the health of the pasture. When I don’t allow the cows to eat the grass down to the dirt, the grass is able to grow back quicker, stronger, and more full.

The cow waste(poop and pee) is natures fertilizer, adding nutrients into the ground, further aiding good growth of the grasses. I’m not one to toot my own horn, but it’s easy to look at a Google map of our pasture compared to neighboring pastures and see the “green” difference. Raising cows on pasture , and rotating them has so many benefits.

Fencing and Moving Cattle in a Rotational Grazing System

Lots of people ask about how exactly I manage the rotational grazing with cattle, and what goes into that. I’ll explain that all right here and now. Our 52 acres has a functioning perimeter barb-wire fence that was there before we bought the place. Every paddock I setup for the cows has this perimeter fence as one side of it.

cows on pasture in a rotational grazing system

Over the course of a year I make maybe one and a half “laps” around the entire property. I have between 20-30 different paddocks that I move the cows thru, but only 2-3 of them are ever “set up” at any given time.

I use three strand electric polywire fencing, with fiberglass fence posts that I push into the ground every 15-20 ft. . This is all controlled by a 5 mile solar fence charger that I bought from Premier One.

When I see the cows need moved, i.e., the’ve eaten enough of the pasture grass in their existing paddock, I prep their next paddock. This usually takes me an hour or two. I push in the fiberglass step-in fence posts in a line, then string the electric polywire thru these fence posts.

I usually need to do this on two new sides since the perimeter barb-wire fence acts as one side, and their existing paddock acts as one of the other sides.

After I have created a new paddock, I open the fence between the two to let the cows in. Since the grass is always greener on the other side, the cows are usually super excited to move to their new area.

PolyWire from Tractor Supply that I use, but any farm-specific polywire will do.

Fiberglass Step-In Posts from Tractor Supply that I use

Once they are in and pre-occupied, I then move their mineral block over, their water tub, and then turn the fence on. I move fences for them once a week typically. I know some people that move their cows daily. I’m not quite to that point yet, but may get there soon.

The paddock sizes I have them in have enough pasture to keep my cows fed for the time I have them in there. And in case I’ve mis-calculated, the cows are usually the first to let me know. If they are done with their current pasture, they’ll start moo-ing at me whenever I step outside. They know!


Water is where I admittedly can make some improvements in our rotational grazing system. Currently I can supply water to 50% of my paddocks via retention ponds and/or running a short hose from one of the existing water hydrants around the property, The other 50% of the paddocks I truck water in on a small trailer with a IBC tote strapped to it.

Definitely not ideal, and it’s one of the least enjoyable parts of moving the cows for me. I have a project in the works to get water lines ran to key points on the property to where I will have water accessible from any paddock I have the cows in. I can’t wait!

Future Plans

I have no plans to build a cattle empire that totally upends the beef cattle industry, at least not right now. Raising enough beef so that we can sell what we need to cover our costs raising them is a plan that works for us right now. And these costs are not much in reality. The largest cost is what the butcher charges. A few bales of hay each year “just in case”.

Rotational grazing for cattle and raising them on pasture is such a joy for me, personally. Knowing where our meat traveled 300 feet from hoof to plate is such a wonderful feeling. Knowing I am improving the ground we are stewards over with natural, simple practices is a big reason I do this too.

Our ancestors worked the land like this, heavily relying on their livestock to help in the process. I am doing the same in our day, using the cows to strengthen the soil while giving them the nutrients they need that will in turn give our family the mealtime nutrients we need. It’s a near perfect process when you think about it, and. great one to be a part of.

Click here to read about how we raise our pigs on pasture too!

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Hilary February 5, 2024 - 12:18 am

Thank you SO SO much for this post on rotational grazing with your cattle!! I am so grateful for all of the information you provided!! Very informative and super helpful. Many thanks!!

PamR February 5, 2024 - 11:04 pm

My husband LOVED his cows. We did rotational and have enough pasture that they never returned to a piece sooner than 30 days. This broke the parasite cycle and we never had problems with either internal parasites or flies.

Our winters are much longer here in New England and we had to feed hay from November to May. We didn’t have enough acreage to stockpile into the winter months.


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