An old idea in our home is the concept of leaving the grazing animals in their paddock long enough to “force them to eat it all” before moving on. This is one concept that came from the big ranches up north where my husband spent his early 20’s working as a ranch hand. Before going overseas, and when we had more cows than we do now, when I was busy with the children and not as involved in the livestock side of things as I am now, this was a statement that was often heard.
However, we’ve restructured our small farm and I’m the primary “farmer” while the hubby works long days with an intense commute! Even before I became the sole farmer in the family, we had moved away from the “make them eat it all” concept.
As you can see, they have left a nice amount of foliage behind and this is okay! We are building soil and harvesting the grass via our grazing livestock who recycle the grass back into the soil. Our perspective has changed over the years and we are excited to see how our land and our animals will respond to our evolving concepts.
The same concepts at work with the poultry, though in this location the grass is so tall that the birds simply cannot graze it. Their tractors sailing through this sea of reeds is pressing the grass down and compacting it with the top dressing of manure.
They are almost at the grassy nole where the juvenile hens will be able to explore outside of their tractor for the first time. The water trough for the cows are just across the fence from this little nole and the older hens will do their work with the manure left in the alley way. While they reside on this little nole they will add their manure to the straw strewn about as a cover over the sparse grass that is growing in the sandy soil here. This will not be their permanent home for the grazing season, just for a little while as they help build some soil in this location and move on to another spot.
Maybe you’ve seen some of those photos or videos of a pasture after a group of heavy grazers has moved through and maybe you, like me, cringe a little. This update discusses the apparent “devastation” from heavy grazing & manure deposits followed by day ranging poultry – and a bit of reassurance that it’s really okay. Everything recovers!
Modern ideas say that when land has been overgrazed that it requires a long rest period to recover. But what we’re actually seeing is that long rest periods actually cause desertification. What is rejuvenating to the land is proper grazing of large groups of herbivores, contrary to modern thinking.
Here are two short videos on our homestead, one a month ago and one this morning. The alley way is a heavy use area with the water and salt station. During the grazing season when the cattle are in this area there is very little vegetation and a lot of mud. The rested area has always performed poorly.
This video is from March 20 – Use vs Rest
This video is from April 16
In another area we have similar conditions and no volume of watering in the summer months has ensured grass growth. We were puzzled as to what was going on there and we assumed that the blue clay was at the surface in those locations and causing the grass roots to dry out, even in spite of our watering attempts. However, when we planted tress on that nole we discovered that the area is actually deep with sand. Sand! We would have never expected to find sand here. But like this location, that area has little to no topsoil and I spread a few bales of straw there as well. See this video for a description of that location.
I have spread the barley straw bales around these two locations concentrating on the areas with the least ground cover and ensuring that any manure is also covered. In a few months we’ll see how the areas are responding and if the straw cover helps to develop a bit of better soil and vegetation in those spots. I do still intend to move the animals through this area at least twice this grazing season and there currently there is a mating pair of geese that are investigating this little nole for a nesting spot. We’ll see how that goes.
When grazing animals on spring grass it is not uncommon for their manure to get quite runny. This digestive upset can’t feel very good. Some time ago it was recommended to me to add apple cider vinegar to the water when moving them to fresh grass in an effort to help reduce any digestive upset and the super watery manure. I did notice positive results with the cattle two years ago and because of that I have added ACV to the water tubs whenever I change their feed.
When rotating the animals through their grazing paddocks, it’s critical to remember the “take half, leave half” principle. Graze no more than half of the foliage leaf length and move on. This helps the grass and other forage plants to continue their growth and rebound from the grazing period faster. To take more than half of the plant seriously damages the plant at the root level, so “take half, leave half” every time.
The kelp we’ve been offering free choice to the flock has been very well received. We are using Throvin Kelp.
Our family spent two years focusing on overseas projects and in that time we sold our herd of cattle and downsized our flock of sheep considerably . Since we’ve returned to the farm in full, livestock prices have jumped significantly and we haven’t been able to run the volume of livestock that we once did. This means that large portions of our pastures have not been grazed for a few years, this block below being the final section of under grazed pasture in recent years. This year we intend to fence the perimeter line for sheep & goats so we can run everyone together with daily pasture rotations. It’s a big task! On Sunday we measured the perimeter fence that needs to be replaced – 1,000 feet of 4′ – 2″ x 4″ mesh. Our perimeter line crosses a seasonal creek in 3 places, and nothing is flat. But we’ll bite into this project and chew like crazy – it’s just how we do things, I guess!
After we got our bearings in the southwest pasture, we took to planting the last of the native tree order we received the last weekend. It turns out we had 150 trees to plant, I had thought it was a few less than it turned out to be. That’s a lot of trees! But they’re all in the ground and we’re hoping they take root nicely. As we neared the end of our planting, the dog and cat who had been following us through the fields were still playing and getting tuckered out too. I thought our readers might enjoy a few seconds of watching two buddies playing together.
This weeks update is about our pasture revitalization project of tree planting. Last fall I took a permaculture course and the information I learned there confirmed my earlier desire to plant some small groves of trees in the pastures. There are a variety of reasons to plant native trees in our pastures, some of them being seasonal shade and wind blocks for the livestock and shade for the clay soil we have. We live in a mild, non-brittle climate so our animals are not accustomed to temperatures much over 72*, which is our average high temperature in July and August. During the peak of the summer months the daytime temperatures can get as high as the upper 90’s, and in the direct sunshine,that sure is hot! Personally, I love the heat. But I’m alone in this infatuation with high temperatures. My husband, my soils, and the animals are much less excited than I am. It is hard on the animals as they get stressed and lose weight, and it is hard on the soil as it heats up and begins to go dormant and all soil life moves down to cooler temperatures.
A few days ago I did a video in the sheep & goat pen where I made a few observations. Several days later it’s apparent that spring is coming!
There is a popular theory that mankind has caused desertification through over-grazing and that the solution to this desertification is pulling the animals off of the damaged land and letting it rest so it can return to its natural state. It’s a nice idea, but it hasn’t worked.
Alan Savory has noted, many times, that around the globe where this theory has been implemented that the land which was damaged by over-grazing and then let to lay fallow has not recovered but instead it has continued in its lifeless trajectory. The theory is a failure, as can be seen when one looks at the globe with Google Earth.
What Mr Savory has observed in his years of study and global travels is that livestock use is critical to land restoration. Continue reading