Intensive Rotational Targeted Grazing
What is Intensive Rotational Targeted Grazing (IRTG)?
Photo credit: Gary Kleppel, University at Albany
Intensive rotational targeted grazing is an ecologically sound management practice used to control the spread of invasive plants with the deployment of grazers, like goats, sheep and cattle. The grazers are rotated between several plots of land at 2-3 day intervals (12-30 days completes one full rotation cycle among all plots). Within a particular plot, the grazers feed on grasses, plants, woody shrubs, and most importantly, invasive plants that have spread rapidly in the area. The animals graze in the plot until most of the vegetation is trimmed down, then they are herded into a separate plot to do the same thing while the previous plot has time to grow back and replenish itself for the next grazing cycle. This process helps native plants compete with invasive plants by leveling the playing field so to speak.
Planning for IRTG
- Site Selection
Before selecting a site, it is important to understand the basic characteristics of the landscape, including soil type, vegetation, the general terrain, and the climate in that area. IRTG is suitable in a number of different habitats, including forests, wet meadows, old fields, prairie ecosystems, pastures, and other agricultural lands. The landscape must be considered in terms of the overall health of the livestock. To accommodate the livestock, the landscape should include a source of water, or provisions should be made for water to be retrieved daily. Shelter is also an important consideration to protect livestock from predators that may enter the plots. (Photo credit: Dr. Gary Kleppel, University at Albany)
- Livestock Selection
Second, livestock must be selected that are most beneficial to the type of vegetation present. For example, goats will eat a variety of substances, and have the capacity to chew through a large area of vegetation and woody stems in a day; however, goats are difficult to control and maintain within a fenced area. Conversely, sheep are more selective eaters but they are one of the easiest animals to manage. With this being said, proper fencing must selected depending on the animal being used. Electric fencing is most commonly used.
- Plot Creation
Once initial landscape considerations are made, plots are constructed. Plots should be 0.25 - 0.50 acres in size. The more plots constructed, the more successful the management plan will be because livestock can be rotated at shorter intervals so less damage is done to the soil in each plot.
Finally, the landscape must be managed by someone who can herd the livestock into plots, or work with a herding dog. Specialized herding dogs may be bought or leased from a trainer or breeder if necessary. This herd manager should have a good understanding of livestock management, the IRTG protocol, the health of the landscape, and good communication with relevant stakeholders that may become involved with the project, like the general public or interested agencies.
Benefits of IRTG
Photo credit: Garry Kleppel, UAlbany
- Suppresses and controls the rapid spread of invasive plants
- Increases biodiversity - the number of different (native) plant species in a community
- has been shown to increase with grazing
- Requires a small amount of fossil fuel use
- No toxic chemicals are used
- Not dependent on heavy machinery or intensive manpower
- Grazing infrastructure is inexpensive
- High level of control
- The management plan can be discontinued at any time
- Level of expertise to oversee the management plan is basic (high school or college level of education)
- Mimics a natural pattern, so the ecosystem is not disrupted
- The need for grazing is expected to decrease over time as the native plant community stabilizes and soils improve.
Limitations of IRTG
- Not all landscapes are suitable for implementation (cannot be placed along roadways, and wetlands are too wet for the health of the livestock)
- Repeated treatment is necessary for several years
- Can disrupt soil health from compaction by excessive trampling for long periods of time. By using smaller plots, more animals, and a quicker rotation time, compaction problems can be avoided.