Your pastures provide both a home and nutrition for your livestock, inextricably linking the health of your pasture to the health of your herd. Some pasture damage is inevitable and it’s essential to give them the time and rest they need to recuperate so they can continue doing their job for many years to come.

A sacrifice paddock is an area used to keep livestock to help the regrowth of their pastures and prevent overgrazing. It is a paddock that is sacrificed for the land to rejuvenate. A lot of farmers turn to sacrifice paddocks if they don’t have a purpose-built barn for their livestock.

If you’re looking to set up a sacrifice paddock, wanting to optimise the one you already have or are looking for more efficient alternatives for your livestock during pasture rejuvenation then we’ve got you covered.

What is a Sacrifice Paddock?

A sacrifice paddock or exercise area is a small paddock where livestock such as cows, horses, sheep, pigs or goats are kept during the low seasons or when pastures are not growing at their usual pace and there is no purpose-built facility. Keeping your animals in a sacrifice paddock during this time prevents overgrazing and trampling of your pastures. Quite literally you are sacrificing this portion of land or pasture for the benefit of the rest of your pastures and enhancing the regrowth in these areas to increase productivity well into the future.

Another reason farmers may use sacrifice paddocks is for the health of their animals. Whether they need to recover from an injury or you need to limit their grazing and monitor their feed intake, within a controlled environment a sacrifice paddock can help you nurse your animals back to health.

In some cases, you may choose to provide an open structure built on the sacrifice paddock to protect the animals from the elements. SmartShelters create purpose-built structures to keep your livestock warm, dry and safe while protecting your pastures.

How big should a Sacrifice Paddock be?

The size of your sacrifice paddock will depend on many factors such as: how many animals will be using it and how much land you have to sacrifice throughout the low seasons while the other pastures recover. A sacrifice paddock may be a smaller area than the area that your livestock usually graze.

The smaller the surface area of the paddock the less you have to sacrifice, but keep in mind that smaller areas may cause other issues for your livestock.

What is the best place for a Sacrifice Paddock?

The best place for a sacrifice paddock is as far away as possible from any natural bodies of water. Preferably in a high, dry and flat location with free draining soils. This will reduce the risk of run-off.

If your paddock is sloping or has mole or tile drains it will have a higher risk of run-off so we advise you steer clear of these areas. If the only suitable area on your property is near a waterway you can position a wide fenced grass buffer between the paddock and the waterway as this will help to trap potential sediment run-off.

How do I sustain the health of my animals while in a Sacrifice Paddock?

To ensure the health of your animals while grazing in the sacrifice paddocks you can:

  • Mix in additional footing such as shredded rubber or wood chips as this will minimise the risk of lameness.
  • Use appropriate teat seal and dry-cow therapies to reduce the risk of mastitis in cattle and sheep.
  • Monitor feed intake and maintain a healthy level of food and water for your livestock throughout the time they are grazing in the sacrifice paddock.
  • Compost can also be used to mix in with the soil as if executed correctly, this will soak up any excess water and prevent unwanted drainage and erosion.
  • Prevent any run off from other areas especially if the paddock is located close to the barn.
  • Clear the area of manure regularly to keep it well maintained, fresh and free of bacteria.

What are the Benefits of a Sacrifice Paddock?

A sacrifice paddock is a good alternative to manage your livestock when there is no purpose-built facility to house them during the winter months.

Letting your animals graze on a sacrifice paddock will help the rest of your pastures to recuperate during the cooler months when growth is not at optimal levels due to vulnerable soil moisture, so come springtime the rest of your land will be in prime condition.

For this reason, the use of a sacrifice paddock can save you time and money by decreasing pasture maintenance you may be required to do if your livestock is continuing to graze on your pastures and not allowing them to recover and regrow.

Some farmers also use sacrifice paddocks when it’s dry in the autumn to enhance the regrowth of the other pastures during a shorter period of time.

A sacrifice paddock can be beneficial to your livestock if you need to monitor them more closely for any health reasons.

What are the drawbacks of Sacrifice Paddocks?

It’s important to consider the environment when using sacrifice paddocks. Soil structure can be damaged due to compaction which may lead to impaired drainage properties.

If you don’t have a sufficient position to place your sacrifice paddock, there is the potential that sediment and effluent can run off and enter waterways. For sacrifice paddocks to be successful it is essential that waterways are not contaminated.

Sacrifice paddocks very often become wet and muddy which, if not managed correctly can increase the risk of mastitis and lameness in your animals.

Due to the change in environment, there is a chance that your livestock may not receive their daily feed requirements so this needs to be monitored.

How to avoid using Sacrifice Paddocks

The best way to avoid having to use sacrifice paddocks is to invest in SmartShelters purpose-built off-grazing composting barn.

Not only do they encourage your pastures to thrive, but they also provide a warm, dry and safe place for your livestock, improve herd health, enhance productivity during the winter, prevent nitrogen leaching and run-off into waterways and create a nutrient-rich fertiliser from the bedding which can then be used on your pastures in a self-fulfilling cycle.