Animals in the right place at the right time

One of our founding farm principles is the constant movement of livestock to fresh ground. Often referred to as rotational grazing, we use an approach called Holistic Planned Grazing. This method helps to manage the complexities of animal, plant, and wildlife needs on pasture by planning every move in advance on paper. This is especially important for maintaining the balance between ruminants and grass and constant movement is essential for ruminant health. A ruminant is a mammal that obtains its nutrients from plant matter through microbial fermentation in their rumen a.k.a stomach. Common ruminants are sheep, cattle, goats, deer, bison, and elk.

Grassland ecosystems the world over have partnered with ruminants to create symbiotic relationships in order to grow and maintain plant life-cycles and diversity. The harmony between animals and plants isn’t always apparent but it is there nonetheless. For example, ruminants in drier ecosystems where the soil biology slows down or stops due to lack of water facilitate mineral cycles by breaking down vegetable matter inside their rumen, freeing the minerals and nutrients contained within. The minerals and nutrients are then returned to the grass ecosystem in a form that the plants can use, and the cycle begins anew. Grass feeds animals feeds grass.

Cycles like this hinge upon constant movement. In nature the constant threat of predators forces the ruminants to group together, trampling the standing grasses and turning over the soil. This heavy impact on the land makes the trampled grass unpalatable to the ruminants and this is compounded by the fouling of the ground with manure as they graze. This in turn attracts irritating insects like flies forcing the grazing animals to move onto fresh ground.

Regrowth happens almost immediately after the ruminants move away to fresh grass. The many hooves have broken up the sod and pressed grass seeds into the topsoil, helping to establish new plants that are genetically unique and better able to adapt to challenges. Short cropped and trampled grasses now cover the soil maintaining moisture by reducing evaporation and creating opportunities for other plant species like clover or plantain to begin growing, adding diversity to the grassland.

To recreate this type of grazing system on our farm we need a few key elements. First in order to control the animal movement on the pasture and to bunch them up we have replaced predators with electric netting. This netting is light, easily moved and when electrified it keeps the livestock in place and keeps coyotes and bears out. The other important element is planning on paper. Knowing in advance where and when each paddock move is made creates a map that encompasses our farm physically and over time.  When we plan in this manner we ensure that our animals are in the right place at the right time.

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