Rotational Grazing: The Sustainable Choice

The simple act of moving cattle between pastures to maximize grazing offers cattle producers many benefits, including decreasing feed costs, lowering weed pressure, improving cattle health and performance and contributing to the sustainability of the grazing land. Constantly moving herds with rest periods between grazing is a more similar approach to how animals grazed before settlers moved into the area. While rotational grazing may look different across farms and ranches, the benefits outweigh the cons.


Sustainable Grazing

Since cattle are harvesting their own feed, there are fewer labor costs and time spent harvesting and feeding stored forages, resulting in lower feed costs. Rotational grazing can reduce hay requirements by 60 to 80 percent. Depending on the maturity stage of plant growth, rotational grazing can offer high quality feedstuffs that are packed with protein and digestible energy, which increases gain and animal health. Healthier herds result in fewer veterinary expenses.

When a plant is grazed, the roots die and push carbohydrates up to the base of the plant to regrow the plant matter above the surface—a process lasting four days. Resting pastures produce more biomass, leaving soil protected during hotter seasons.

Grazing is a great strategy for destroying undesirable weed populations that can take over pastures during overgrazing. When cattle rotationally graze, there are few limits in their diet selections and access is limited to preferred areas and plant species, limiting intake and selectivity. In well-managed, controlled grazing rotations, grazing efficiency is increased to 65 percent.

Diverse and mature pasturelands provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators, which are critical for healthy ecosystems and healthy prairie. By allowing cattle to graze, beef producers can find a use for unproductive cropland that can’t be used to grow traditional row crops.

Reducing GHG Emissions

One way that rotational grazing helps improve sustainability is through reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Cattle produce methane as a byproduct of their digestive process. When cattle eat higher quality forages through rotational grazing, those forages are easier to digest, resulting in lower emissions.

In addition, manure and organic matter are distributed more evenly across the pasture, which adds more nutrients to the soil. Manure accounts for 12 percent of GHG emissions from the agriculture sector. Spreading manure over the pasture instead of concentrating it in one area helps reduce emissions and results in reduced fertilizer costs.

Overgrazing leads to exposed soil, which releases carbon. By allowing the soil to recover through rotational grazing, carbon stays in the soil. When plants are allowed to rest and regrow, they establish deeper roots, improving soil health and structure. This means that soil is enabled to better retain moisture while being protected from water and wind erosion. Rotational grazing pastures are then more resilient to climate impacts, such as drought or heavy precipitation, while also protecting waterways from nutrient and sediment runoff. Restricting where cattle graze also helps improve water quality by preventing an influx of excess nutrients.

One often-overlooked benefit of rotational grazing is that ranchers don’t have to look across many acres of ground just to check on their cattle.


Armstrong, J. and Heins, B. Grazing & Pasture Management for Cattle. 2023. University of Minnesota Extension.

Beck, P. Benefits of Rotational Grazing. 2021. Drovers.

Bertrand, S., Roberts, A., and Walker, E. The Climate & Economic Benefits of Rotational Livestock Grazing. 2022. Environmental & Energy Study Institute.

Blose, M., Friel, M., Hale, C., Hirzel, M., and Campbell, B. Ag-Note: The Benefits of Rotational Grazing. 2018.

Sparacio, M. Benefits of Rotational Grazing. 2019. Cove Creek Farm.

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