When cattle are rotated from pasture to pasture they eat the grass and spur new growth, which creates more biomass. Cows then fertilize the land by trampling manure and decaying organic material into the soil. This process builds more humus, adds nutrients to the soil structure, which assists in retaining more water and supports soil microbes. According to a 12 year USDA study of ways to improve soil quality, published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal (2010), moderately grazed areas have more carbon stored in the soil, increase fertility and slow global warming.
Pasture (and Weed) Management
We use a type of grazing called mob grazing. This is a grazing approach that uses a large number of animals concentrated on a small area for a short periods of time. The reasons for using this are threefold: to attain the most animal weight gain per acre (i.e. best utilize the grass we have to produce the most beef); to reduce the overall impact of animals on the forage (i.e. keep the grass in a growing state to grow more grass and keep weeds eaten down to keep them from going to seed); to increase soil health (i.e. more animals in one location deposit more manure which results in increased organic matter, increased soil activity which produces a higher quality forage- it's part of a cycle).
Throughout our years of experimenting with mob grazing on our land we have seen dramatic results.These include more diverse pasture composition, increased soil fertility and soil organic matter, weed control, increased forage density and annual growth as well as an increase in forage utilization. Every year continues to improve.
This system attempts to mimic how buffalo crossed the native prairies back before civilization took over and destroyed the wandering herds. Animals would congregate in large herds, eat forage, deficate and trample an area then would move on and not return until the land had time to regenerate. Historically it's been successful and we're seeing the same results on a much smaller scale at our farm.
We take a holistic approach to land management on our farm. This approach is based on four key principles that highlight the symbiotic relationship between large herds of grazing animals, their predators and the grasslands that support them :
Nature Functions in Wholes
You can't control or change one thing in one area without having an impact on something else in another area.
All Environments are Different
It is crucial to acknowledge nature's complexity and that an action can produce completely different results in different environments.
Properly Managed Livestock can Improve the Land Health
When domestic livestock is properly managed to mimic the behavior of wild herbivores interacting with grasslands, they can reverse desertification.
Time is More Important than Numbers
Overgrazing of plants is directly related to the amount of time the plants are exposed to the grazing animasl and the amount of time that lapses between consecutive grazing events.
(This information is taken from the Savory Institute website with principles developed by Allen Savory at www.savoryinstitute.com)
When we began, we purchased a piece of land that was historically timber ground which had for the most part clearcut more than 30 years ago. We've found several cleated horseshoes in the fields, remnants of a bygone era of horse logging and farming on the property by previous owners. The land was then farmed conventionally with large equipment and chemical inputs to increase yields on poor soils with mostly grain crops. Needless to say, when we acquired it the soils were worn out and needed lots of attention to rebuild as well as big efforts to keep the soils here on our place. We immediately planted the land to a perennial grass and legume mixture to establish some root structure to stop the soils from washing away in huge gullies to the Columbia River and beyond. These principles are helping us to rebuild soils through natural systems and it's working!
We are fortunate to be at the headwaters to our local watershed, which means we don't have any uphill runoff that drains through our property. This equates to eliminating any contaminants from other nearby land owners which could affect our efforts to avoid any chemicals that we find have irreversible damage to our soil life. We make every attempt to retain as much runoff by utilizing vegetation to assist in allowing water to infiltrate and replenish our local aquifer. Water that falls (or melts in the form of snow) on our property becomes Dry Creek, which flows to Bear Creek, into to the Potlatch River, into to the Clearwater River, into to the Snake River which becomes the Columbia River and eventually flows to the Pacific Ocean. We're all connected and play a part!
We utilize animals as a tool to manage our land. The animals assist us by eating forage (and thankfully weeds with abandon) we have planted and transform that amazingly enough into a wonderful product that we can consume, grassfed beef (plus it's tasty and healthy to boot). Grass farming requires healthy soils and careful pasture management in order to provide a healthy and nutritious diet for our animals.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."