Getting Started with Grazing

Here are the best tools and tips to make grazing work for you.

Curious about grazing? Or maybe you’re already giving it a try? We’ll be honest – we think grazing is pretty great. But there are few things you can do to ensure it works for your situation. 

As beginning grazier Paul Schaller told us, “the most important thing is getting other people’s opinions – learning what other farmers have experienced, what they found useful, and what they found a waste of time.”

There are a lot of online resources available for beginning graziers. We’ve picked out some of the most useful resources for the state of Wisconsin and nearby regions. 

Connect with fellow graziers

As you get started grazing, nothing will be more valuable to you than talking with other graziers, and grazing specialists, in your area.

Wisconsin is fortunate to have a number of active grazing networks and grazing specialists. (See here for outside of Wisconsin.) You can also chat directly with some of the state’s most experienced graziers in the GrassWorks Ask-A-Grazier Facebook group and email list. (GrassWorks is a membership-based nonprofit organization of graziers throughout the upper Midwest. If you get a chance, check out their annual GrassWorks Grazing Conference.) Upcoming pasture walks, field days, and other grazing events are listed on the GrassWorks events calendar and on the Green Lands Blue Waters forage webpage

Are you a grazing specialist or technical service provider? Email us to learn more about the G-Team, a statewide network of grazing professionals.

Photo by Jacob Grace.

Figure out the financials

Grazing has to make sense for you financially. Production levels are less important for the future of your farm than your profitability. If you have been managing livestock for a while, the Center for Integrated Agricultural System’s Livestock Compass developed by Grassland 2.0 collaborators can help you make sense of your numbers and look for ways to improve profitability. The Pasture Project’s Pasture-Raised Beef Calculator provides five-year cash flow projections and a value calculator for purchase and sales decisions (it is designed for beef but can be modified to be appropriate for any pasture-based animal production). Grazing specialists Serge Koenig and Aaron Pape have developed a Total Grazing Analysis spreadsheet to run the numbers on various grazing options, including winter feeding or marketing grass fed beef. Are you thinking about direct marketing meats? You can use the Cornell Meat Price & Yield Calculator to help you set prices for your products. A number of cost-share programs are available to graziers through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and more – contact your local grazing specialist to learn more. And check out the new Midwest Grazing Exchange to find landowners or graziers interested in custom grazing partnerships.

Learn the mechanics

Maybe you want to know more about how grazing actually works? What kind of fencing equipment do you need? When should you move? How do you make sure your watering system is ready for a week of 90-degree weather? You can learn more about the nuts and bolts of grazing with these resources:

Guide to Rotational Grazing

Pastures for Profit: A Guide to Rotational Grazing is a free UW-Madison Extension guide providing an overview of every aspect of managed grazing. The University of Minnesota Extension also have a Grazing Systems Planning Guide which can be a great resource.

Grazing Fundamentals

The Pasture Project’s Grazing Fundamentals Video Series provides an excellent farm’s-eye-view of important grazing concepts and equipment. They also have a video tutorial on fencing systems and watering you can check out.

Grazing Manuals

Books like the GrassWorks Grazing Guide or Jim Gerrish’s Missouri Grazing Manual provide a good foundation for folks looking for additional information. Also, ATTRA, also known as the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, has a Grazing Planning Manual and Workbook with checklist and templates to get you started.

Also, several publications – Graze Magazine, The Stockman Grass Farmer, and On Pasture – can keep you updated on news in the wider grazing community. You can also check out the reGenerative Grazing Group on Facebook to get quick feedback on questions from the field and the Working Cows podcast which has information on a wide-range of grazing-related topics.

Attend a training

A variety of trainings are available to build your grazing knowledge. The Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers provides both classroom and online instruction in grazing and pasture management through the University of Wisconsin’s Farm & Industry Short Course program. The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA), a two-year work-based training program, pairs apprentices with mentors to gain hands-on job experience. DGA’s Managed Grazing Innovation Center (MGIC) offers six online classes that are open to the public. Wisconsin NRCS offers a three-day training for grazing technical service providers. Check with your local tech college too – several Wisconsin technical colleges offer classes in managed grazing. 

Or maybe your big question right now is, why graze? On the Stories page of our website, you can hear farmers throughout the Midwest talk about why they decided to graze (and why a few of them didn’t). We recommend starting with this video of our advisory member Bert Paris

Were you looking for resources here that we’re missing? Please let us know how we can help support good grazing in the upper Midwest.