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Grazing in the Grass

Sheep grazing in the grass is certainly a pastoral scene but keeping a healthy stand of grass for them to graze in for years to come is the real art.

It can be overwhelming trying to manage all the do and do not advice, and interpreting all the grazing lingo out there, when all you wish to do is get the basics on pasture management so you can put your animals out to graze.

We always felt a bit lost in the lingo until we realized that we didn't have to be experts to start and the goal isn't to get it right. We're playing in Mother Nature's playground. The goal is something more akin to aiming for healthy grass growth each year, while striving to make improvements. So with that in mind...

  • Nature is never fixed - she's always fluid. There will not be two years alike for you to get it right anyway. The weather always plays a role in what happens.
  • Stocking density, carrying capacity, animal units, and all the other buzzwords and calculations associated with grazing in the grass will be found in the books Holistic Management, Grass-Fed Cattle, and Small-Scale Livestock Farming. Don't sweat about understanding them all before you start. You'll grasp these terms as you go along.
  • Good water sources are a key feature in a grass based rotational grazing set up. Always consider water sources in your plan. If you can, prevent animals from watering directly from natural wetlands by providing watering stations or piping water to them.
  • If you must water directly from wetlands provide an easy access water point through a portable ramp or building a permanent base. The livestock will use the easy access points and cause less damage to the banks, riparian areas and thus the wetlands. If this is not feasible try to ensure the livestock move often so they do not return to the same watering point, repeatedly causing long term damage.
  • It isn't sheep that kill grass by over-grazing, it is the rancher who forced them to stay on the pasture too long.Sheep bite and clip grass off. They are referred to as nature's lawn mowers and they can graze down to the roots if forced to.
  • Urine and manure are essential components to fertilizing grassland systems and grazing in the grass for years to come. Manure is not only fertilizer but it contains millions of bacteria that enable the breakdown of the manure and trampled grass residue incorporating both back into the soil.
  • When ranchers leave livestock in large pastures for the entire season the animals spread out and the concentrated manure distribution and animal impact that happens when the group stays closer together, is lost. Having manure widely spread allows the animals to come back and graze an area too soon thus depleting the vigor of the grass.
  • Rotational grazing is known to increase the grass volume and biodiversity meaning more species of grass can thrive. And it does.
  • More species of grass equals a larger smorgasbord of food and nutrition sources for your animals. Potentially you could run more animals on the same amount of land. Or different species of animals can graze the same land without land purchases or increasing grazing infrastructure. You also gain in improved land an livestock health.
  • Mother Nature seems to forgive a first mistake and often a second but rarely a third. There is no absolute right and wrong to way to do rotational grazing and you've got a little room to make some trial and error.
  • Finally, don't make grazing in the grass so complicated you can't manage it. While it may seem like a lot of factors to account for the first time you look at it, don't let that sway you. Keep it simple and keep it real. Allow Mother Nature to show you how.

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