Benefits of a Riparian Habitat Area

We have measured and fenced off our pond Riparian Habitat Area recently.  In the past, the wet areas on our property were off-limits during the rainy season and we’ve kept the livestock away from the pond when grazing this area.  However we decided to set posts and mark the area more permanently this year.  This will bring a variety of benefits.

What is a riparian area?  Simply stated it is the banks of a creek, pond, river, or other water way. This area is prime habitat for the animals that live in or at the water, the insects and birds, and there are specific plants that thrive in the areas closest to the waterways.

Why is the riparian habitat area important?  Ensuring that the riparian areas under our management are healthy and thriving brings not only benefit to the land and all of the life that lives on that land, but it is good stewardship for those who live nearby and downstream.  A healthy and well-managed riparian area increases the biodiversity on the land by growing the numbers of various insects (most of which are beneficial), birds, robust aquatic life, and cleaner water (compared to water ways that are not managed with riparian habitat in mind).

Insects are  pollinators but they are also food – food for the aquatic life and for birds.  Beneficial insects outnumber insect pests by great odds and they are nature’s solution to insect damage because they consume the bugs that want to eat our crops, harass our livestock, and drive us crazy.  Chemistry has given us pesticides, but nature gave us beneficial insects and when we promote their habitat and ability to live they will do their jobs much more effectively thus keeping our crops and livestock in better shape which makes us happier.

Aquatic life is pleasurable but also necessary.  The jobs of certain fish in ponds is to help keep the water clean and free from vegetative overgrowth and algae in the water.  Fish also like to eat the insects that spend time on the water’s surface and lay their eggs on the water’s edge.  Frogs and fish eat the larvae as part of nature’s cycle of life.

Birds are an important part of the biodiversity on a farm.  Birds will hunt insects, particularly the ones that bite and harass our livestock.  Whether it’s a sparrow or a goose, they are a necessary part of the riparian habitat because they help keep certain populations in check and they spread their fertilizer around as they fly which spreads seeds and nutrients to new areas.  We often see small birds perched on the backs of our livestock as they have a very symbiotic relationship, just like photos of wildlife you may have seen.

Water quality is much improved when a riparian area is maintained properly.  Runoff water that flows into any waterway is filtered by the soil it passes through, but sometimes that water arrives carrying fertile soil from up the hill or other pollution.  As the water passes through a riparian area it is filtered by the plants, roots, soil, and even the tree litter that is laying on the ground, but it is also slowed down so it arrives in the waterway at a more gentle pace.  The water that arrives in the water way is cleaner after passing through the riparian area than if it were to go straight from field or road into the water way.  Nature has a fantastic way of filtering water through soil and vegetation so providing a designated area around the banks of the water really helps keep our water cleaner.

Riparian habitat areas sometimes feel like “a waste of pasture space” but when we can see past the grass that isn’t being consumed by our livestock and spy the biological diversity that is dwelling in that tall grass, and when we understand how it benefits the whole, we probably won’t view those areas as “wasted space” anymore.  It can take time for our perspectives to adjust and for my friends and neighbors who are irritated with the forced and regulated “set backs”, let’s call them Riparian Habitat Areas and learn about how they bring benefit to us in the long run.  Besides, when nature was put into place by our Creator He called all things good in the beginning.  There is much yet to learn from what was called good and we can work toward recreating that natural balance for the good of our land, our livestock, our neighbors, and our selves.  This is one step in that journey.


Additional Reading:

Why Bother With A Buffer?  The Benefits Of A Forested Riparian Buffer Zone
Riparian Zones


Winter Wet Land Update

We live in a wet environment and the last few weeks have been quite wet with flooding all over our region.  Usually we have inaccessible pastures during this time of year due to so much standing water.  However late last summer we replaced an old collapsed culvert and installed a new one under the alley way.  Today we took a walk in the sunshine to see how our culvert project has affected our troublesome locations, and I have to say that we are very pleased!

2017 Pasture 1, collapsed culvert center right

2017 Pasture 1, looking east


2018 Pasture 1 after culvert installation

2018 Replaced culvert on the right

Here we have two sets of photos from standing in the same general location 11 months apart.  To the left of the first 2017 image is the source of all of that standing water shedding from the hill and across the alleyway.  The high spot in the second 2017 photo is where the collapsed culvert was.  The standing water here was 12 to 18 inches deep and spilled into Pasture 2 for quite some distance as well.  This was a common scene as it looked like this for most of the winter and spring, and it took a long while for the ground to dry out enough to allow the cattle to graze through the areas with standing water.

The two 2018 photos gap a bit in the center, but  you can get a sense of how the two years look in the same location.  After a few weeks of heavy rain and flooding, do you see any standing water?  There isn’t any.  (the darker areas in the second photo is exposed soil)  The alleyway culvert is the blue/green spot on the left of the first photo and the replaced culvert is to the right in the second photo.  We walked through the areas that have been the deepest water and though the ground is saturated, it has shed the excess water perfectly.

2017 Alley way, looking west

2018 Alleyway, looking east







This is the alleyway, Pasture 1 is behind the trees on the left in 2017.  It is hard to see from this photo but the standing water beyond the trees is 18 to 24 inches deep at this time of year in our seasonal high traffic alleyway. This is the primary access route from the winter pastures to the grazing pastures for the cattle.  All of this wet is a big reason why it has taken us so long to be able to graze the cattle in these pastures in the spring or bring the tractor into these pastures.  It has been frustrating, to say the least!

The elevation of the alleyway was also raised a bit to allow the culvert to drain the water underneath and toward the second culvert, and with all of that dirt work the exposed soil needed to be re-seeded and covered with old seedy hay.  As we walked through this area today the ground was firm, which told us that we will finally be able to get the cattle to their pastures at the start of the grazing season and mow behind them to manage the pastures much more efficiently.

We have been looking forward to getting this project done for several years now and we’re thrilled to have finally been able to accomplish this necessary task.  When we look at our land it’s hard to believe that our neighbors down the hill are still flooded and that the river is still so high.

Early August Pasture Restoration Update

This year we are working hard to revitalize our existing pastures and to restore some old and unused pastures.  This means we’ve planted 250 baby trees around the entire property in small groves of 3 to 5, we’ve found the old fence line, cleared it, and have successfully re-fenced over half of it in one block, and we’ve been grazing less frequently & refraining from mowing in our existing pastures.

So, how is that working out for us so far?
Great!  Continue reading


As I’ve been observing how things are growing this year I am often reminded of the concept of covering.  With both the Back To Eden gardening methods and  holistic & restorative agricultural practices there has been a steady stream of complementary messages.  One message is that “nature abhors naked soil”.

If nature is how we describe and relate to creation and the structure & order Hashem created our world to thrive within, then we understand that nature abhoring naked soil has a deeper principle.

When soil is left uncovered it sprouts weeds, opportunistic little plants that seem to come from nowhere. They thrive in the uncovered and disturbed soil.  Some of these weeds have no good use and can be toxic.  Yet many that sprout up in healthy yet disturbed soil have a multitude of beneficial uses.  Nature is trying to quickly cover and restore the uncovered soil by sprouting “weeds” where the grass has been killed or removed.  The purpose of these “weeds” is to quickly provide a covering for the soil and maintain life. Continue reading

Pasture Rotation and Grass Compaction

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.


Use vs Rest Observations

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.

Spring Grass Rotation & Supplements

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.

4/2/17 Pasture Update

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.

Planting Trees in the Pastures

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.

Continue reading