Thursday, July 7, 2011

Improve Forage & Hydrology By Grazing "Impossible" to Graze Locations

 While holistic grazing programs can improve the biodiversity and hydrology of a pasture the source of erosion usually begins on steep side hills. As these areas are often ignored by cattle, and are hard to fence, so they are left out of grazing plans as being "impossible" to graze. The fact is, it is not only possible to graze these areas, they are prime locations to improve both forage and hydrology of pastures.

While the cattle were being rotated through the pasture in the picture to the left, they were, for the most part, allowed to graze where they wanted. You can tell where they grazed by following the outline of the healthy yellow grass. As soon as the ground began to get too steep, or too rocky, the cattle would ignore it in their grazing pattern.

Upon closer inspection of these rocky areas, there is grass, but it is gray, matted and very unhealthy.
The picture above shows just how sparse and unhealthy this grass is. When it rains, there is not enough grass to slow water down and erosion begins. Notice in the above picture that some clumps of grass have no individual stalks of grass while others have just a few.  In the picture below, I conducted a short experiment the last time cattle were in this pasture. Taking roughly two hundred cows, I herded them up a side hill to graze on steep, rocky ground with the grass in a condition similar to the picture above.

The results of this are in the picture below. Notice the grass is healthier and had much more growth than in the picture above. This is the result of grazing the cattle through this area one time. By utilizing "impossible to graze" slopes such as this you are improving biodiversity, hydrology, and stocking rates. At the very least, utilizing these areas will allow you to run at full capacity (as prescribed by conventional) methods while giving each grazing area once every two years. Feel free to ask questions or make comments below.