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Grazing Management

Cows for Clean Water

Photo of Cloverleaf Grass Farm by Jonathan Kilpatrick, SFA

We believe grazing animals are vital to ecological function, primarily in the development of biologically rich and naturally fertile soil.  Our land was once dominated by large groups of migratory animals who helped build the abundant prairies and savannahs of the Midwest. While we reasonably can’t return these migratory herds and flocks back to our landscapes, we can replicate these habits and positive impacts on a smaller scale. To do this we must mimic natural systems, favoring acute, short term disturbance patterns with long periods of rest and recovery.  

The Challenge

Most of our meat is raised and processed for efficiency and low cost. The result of this efficiency is artificially inexpensive meat, eggs and dairy, which hides the costs to the environment, human health, and small-town economies. 


The Opportunity

Through a better understanding of native ecosystems and with technological innovations in fencing and watering systems, we can now more efficiently use livestock as a driver for soil health.  Adaptive grazing management seeks to mimic patterns of migratory herbivores to restore ecosystems and farm economics.  


Benefits of Adaptive Grazing Management

By following a few basic principles we can:

  • Graze more animals on the same amount of land

  • See greater pasture production and weight gain

  • Improve soil biology and fertility

  • Create better resilience to drought and extreme rain events 

  • Reduce parasite pressure on livestock

  • Improve animal health

  • Reduce purchased inputs and improve farm profits

  • Improve soil health and increase soil organic matter (SOM)

  • Sequester carbon

  • Increase wildlife habitat

  • Protect water quality and landscape hydrology

Adaptive Grazing Principles

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More Details on Adaptive Grazing Principles

   Observe pasture conditions and grazing behavior and avoid taking more than half the sward.  Watch grazing behavior as a sign when to do paddock shifts.

·         Diversify forage by frost seeding or drilling, based on pasture assessment. Incorporate multiple species of livestock. Silvopasture, or the intentional integration of woody plants, forage and livestock, has huge potential to diversify landscapes and improve animal wellness.

·         Allow for adequate recovery of paddocks.  Grasses should have reestablished a tip on the blade before re-grazing. Plan for a minimum of 9 paddocks and utilize portable fencing to manage stock density.

·         Avoid overgrazing to preserve soil cover.   If forage production gets ahead of grazing, increase stock density to allow for more trampling of over mature grasses.

·          Manage for desired impact.  Short term, acute disturbance in the form of heavy grazing can be beneficial if adequate recovery is allowed.

·         Switch up rotational patterns and paddock shifts. If possible utilize water and mineral locations to increase impact on sites where weeds or woody species are a problem.

Let's Talk About Cows and Clean Water

Contact us for an on-farm consultation. We know the best conservation plans are developed in the field. Our goal is to learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and discuss strategies to improve your system. We can also direct you to cost share funding options, marketing resources, and farmer to farmer networking opportunities.

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