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Gain a new view of your pastures’ forage potential

Five ways to maximize the power of a simple grazing exclosure to help truly know what you can grow.

It’s all too easy to bypass what we see – or fail to see – in the places we frequent the most.  

Noble Research Institute regenerative ranching advisors Will Moseley and Steve Swaffar say a grazing exclosure – a small, fenced area inside a grazing unit that livestock cannot access that gives the rancher a direct view of what and how much was grazed around it – is perhaps the simplest method to help see the potential of our land’s production.  

“We get in our routine, we overlook things, or don’t see what’s really out there,” Moseley says. “But once we stop and put an exclosure up and take a fresh look at what’s going on there, you can learn a lot.” 

How to build a grazing exclosure 

An exclosure can be as large or small as the materials you have available dictate, but Moseley recommends fencing off an area at least 3 feet by 3 feet. It doesn’t need to be any bigger than 6 by 6. Build it with whatever you have available – four cattle panels work well, or try a 16-foot hog panel bent into a square or circle, anchored by a t-post. 

Whatever you use, be sure it’s tall enough that your livestock – be they cattle, sheep, goats or other species – can’t reach over the top or access forage below or through the fencing. Sunlight also needs to penetrate the exclosure to allow photosynthesis.  

Select a location in your pasture that is a good representation of the forage growing there – not the best, but not the worst — and near a regularly trafficked area. Be sure to avoid actual pathways to the water tank or gates or close to a fence line, and set up the exclosure before you graze the surrounding pasture or paddock.  

Putting your exclosure to work 

The observations you might gather from a simple exclosure are as varied as the materials you can use to build it. Here, Swaffar and Moseley offer five ways to use an exclosure as a powerful assessment of your grazing potential:  

1. Potential forage production and animal consumption: At the end of the grazing event, measure the amount of forage standing in the exclosure against what’s left outside, and you’ll have a quick assessment of what your animals consumed. This is the biggest reason for an exclosure, Swaffar says. “You really want to know, what was the potential forage production in that pasture, and did I actually take the best advantage of it?”



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