Hi I’m Tricia an organic gardener. I grow
organically. For a healthy and safe food supply, for
a clean and sustainable environment, for an enjoyable and rewarding
experience. Did you know that pastures can be good
for the environment? Today we’re going to talk about a pasture management system called managed intensive rotational
grazing. This means you get more forage, you can
graze earlier in the spring and you can graze later in the fall. The
benefits of this system include: soil and plant health which equals lower
feed costs for your animals, better water retention, better water
filtration, CO2 sequestration and topsoil creation. Those are all your “ations”. The first step is to
walk your pasture and take note of its condition. Pay attention to what species of grass
and legumes like clover are populating your pasture.
Do they show a balanced growth or is there one species outgrowing the rest. Pay attention to the
pastures location, drainage and soil type. Check out our
blog for a link to the USDA’s web soil survey, which provides
detailed soil information. Pay attention to how your animals are grazing
the pasture. Are they overgrazing one area and under
grazing another part? The key concept to managed intensive
rotational grazing is to divide the big pasture up into
smaller pastures, typically about eight or more. And this
allows the grasses to regrow at the optimal time. This pasture
management system allows you to mimic the natural behavior of herd animals. In the wild the herds stay
together, mow down the grass and then move on to
richer pasture. Your pastures can be divided with either permanent fencing or temporary fencing. Electric portable
fencing is a great low cost way to divide your pastors temporarily. Be
sure and set aside an area in your pasture that we call the sacrifice area. It’s an area that you’ll hold your
livestock when otherwise you’d let them out into
the pasture and they could damage the pastures, such as in wet weather. There are several
layouts that work well with this managed intensive rotational grazing. Some examples or layouts are a central
sacrifice area where there’s water and then gates out
to different segments. Another popular layout is a long
rectangle with a central lane and shared water troughs. The important
part is that each of the grazing areas have access to
water. When it comes to actually using your pasture it’s important to wait till the average
height of grass is six to eight inches before allowing the animals in. At six to
eight inches the grasses started storing carbohydrates and its slow down its growing. It’s young and
tender enough to be palatable and it has stored enough energy to
re-grow. Take measurements in several different areas within the
pasture and then average these measurements together and
don’t measure the grass by straightening it up make sure and
measure as it’s laying down. It can be beneficial if you have
multiple types of animals such as cattle horses and sheep, to
succession graze them. These animals eat different things and do not
suffer from the same types of parasites. Succession grazing can help you make
sure the pastures grazed evenly and help spread the manure of the other
species around to fertilize the pasture. Allow the animals to graze until the
grass gets grazed down to about three inches. This leaves
enough of the grass so it can easily photosynthesize and re-grow. It’s important to rotate the
animals based on the condition of the pasture and not by the calendar. After rotating your
animals out of a pasture notice whether they’ve grazed down evenly
or not. If not you may want to mow or weed eat to
about five inches. This encourages grass and legume growth
that’s more palatable and prevents the forage from spending its
energy on forming seed heads. Harrowing or dragging is a
routine task that should be done to help spread the
manure and this should be done in dry weather and it will help prevent the
spread of pests and disease. In dry weather any
parasite eggs in the manure are dried up and exposed to the sun. In wet weather
harrowing can spread diseases and parasites instead of controlling
them. Periodically you should do a soil test. It’s likely that if your manure is
being incorporated into the soil things are okay but you never know if
you might need a little bit extra help. If you have issues in your pasture such
as weeds check out our pasture trouble shooting
video. A well-managed pasture is an asset to the environment. So manage
your pasture and grow organic for life!