When it comes to grazing livestock, says pasture management guru Sarah Flack, quality forage leads to healthy herds.
Of course Flack’s approach is anti-feedlot, but she doesn’t believe it’s enough to simply turn animals out on the same patch of grass season after season. “Rotational Grazing,” in which livestock is circulated among several paddocks, represents a step up, though it’s not ideal because the pastures’ “recovery periods are kept the same length, even when plant growth slows,” writes Flack. “Pasture quality will decrease each year due to overgrazing damage, increased weeds, and rejected forage.”
Instead, she advocates for the “Management Intensive” method. Despite the intimidating name, the system is basically rotational grazing with the “of course” twist of paying close attention to plant health. Animals are rotated among paddocks more frequently and in a carefully considered way that allows pasture to recover and sprout anew. And livestock isn’t merely grass-fed, but nourished by a diverse mix of annual and perennial grasses (crabgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, fescue), legumes (a category that contains beans, as well as alfalfa and clovers), and forbs (pretty much everything else, including weeds like dandelions).
We’ve excerpted Flack’s detailed diagnostic (below) to help you recognize and address a whole host of problems that can a affect your pasture – and ultimately your animals and the environment. As Flack puts it: “When done well, grass-based livestock farming is a beautiful way to have a positive effect on a parcel of land and on a small part of the planet.”
A chart for troubleshooting pasture management from Sarah Flack’s book, The Art and Science of Grazing. Click to enlarge.
Adapted from Sarah Flack’s book The Art and Science of Grazing: How Grass Farmers Can Create Sustainable Systems for Healthy Animals and Farm Ecosystems (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016) and printed with permission from the publisher.
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