Utilising deferred grazing to mitigate winter feed costs in livestock farming

Monday, 28 August 2023

In a world where sustainable agricultural practices are increasingly important, deferred grazing is a valuable tool for livestock producers. By carefully managing grazing fields, farmers can tap into the natural potential of their pastures to reduce winter feed costs, enhance animal health, and promote ecological wellbeing.

One of the major challenges livestock producers face is managing feed costs, particularly during the harsh winter months.

In the pursuit of sustainable and cost-effective solutions, many farmers are turning to deferred grazing – a strategic pasture management technique that offers a promising way to alleviate winter feed expenses while benefiting both the animals and the land.

Deferred grazing involves intentionally preserving some grazing land during the growing season.

Instead of allowing animals to graze freely, a designated area is cordoned off, allowing vegetation to mature and accumulate biomass in late August/early September. This allows a grass wedge to build up, and the untouched area becomes a reserve of high-quality forage to be utilised from mid-November.

This method taps into the natural growth cycle of the land, allowing plants to thrive, enhancing nutrient content, and providing an abundant source of winter feed.

As autumn grass growth rates can vary considerably, you need to be flexible in your approach when it comes to when and how much land to set aside.

In some cases, there may be an impact on next season’s early grazing – do not compromise this. Take this into account when deciding which areas to use – any fields that are underperforming now could be used, as an April reseed will correct compaction issues and enable stock to be kept out later.

The quality of the grass is important – a good percentage of leaf and live material is needed.

Reasonably dense swards are preferable to protect from weather damage and minimise soil damage, so longer-term leys or permanent pastures are ideally suited.

Some producers who utilise deferred grazing divide the stock into small groups to minimise soil compaction. Because of this, it has similar labour requirements to housed cows.

Only select animals in good body condition for this system – do not select old or thin cattle. Also, consider how exposed the site is to harsh weather, as maintenance energy requirements will be higher in wet and windy conditions.

Benefits for winter feed costs

Reduced reliance on bought-in feed

Deferred grazing is a proactive approach that mitigates the need for forage or other concentrate purchases during the winter. By allowing forage to grow naturally, farmers can use their own land to provide essential nutrition, minimising reliance on external feed sources.

Enhanced nutritional value

As plants mature, their nutrient composition changes. The forage from deferred grazing areas can have a higher nutritional value than overgrazed pastures. This means livestock can receive the required nutrients without costly supplementary feeds, contributing to healthier animals and lower feed expenses.


While the initial setup of deferred grazing areas requires planning and careful execution, the long-term benefits outweigh the effort. The savings on purchased feeds, reduced labour for harvesting and feeding, and improved animal health all contribute to a more cost-efficient operation.

Improved animal health and body condition

Higher-quality forage from deferred grazing can help maintain optimal body conditions in livestock during the winter. This reduces the risk of weight loss and minimises the incidence of health issues, saving on veterinary expenses.

Sustainable soil management

Deferred grazing promotes healthier soils. Allowing portions of the pasture to rest and recover prevents overgrazing and soil compaction, improving soil structure and nutrient cycling. This, in turn, enhances the land's ability to support better forage growth in subsequent seasons.

Resilience to climate variability

Deferred grazing can improve a farm's resilience to climate-related challenges. By stockpiling high-quality forage, farmers can weather feed shortages caused by droughts or extreme weather events.

Integration into rotational grazing

Deferred grazing can be seamlessly integrated into a rotational grazing system. This holistic approach optimises forage utilisation, promotes regrowth, and maximises pasture efficiency, creating a self-sustaining cycle of high-quality feed production.

Further information

Deferred grazing/all-grass wintering (AGW)