Friday, March 22, 2013

Intensive grazing... a new beginning

Today marks yet another new beginning at little sprouts. After researching and planning for 2 years... we finally start our own version of a pasture management technique sometimes intensive grazing.

Intensive grazing is just what the name implies... grazing on steroids. It is a small scale implementation of a grand plan of nature to build and maintain grasslands... called the herd effect.  Grazing animals (herbivores like sheep, cows, horses) are vulnerable to predators in the wild. Their defense is two things... collecting into a tight herd and moving at any hint of danger. Therein lies natures secret to land management and fertility.

Herding is necessary for survival because the individual is safest inside a large herd. An animal off by itself is easy prey. This effect creates a small tight herd that simultaneously tramples, disturbs, and fertilizes a small plot of land. the combined effects of this for short times are not unlike what we do to prepare a garden in the spring.... tilling and fertilizing combined with mulch.

But then movement... the herd must move on. Either for safety, scared from an attack or simply running low on clean food, the herd moves. This is usually within a few days. From the viewpoint of the land, it is stressed and then left to rest and regrow. The plants react by gaining strength, nutrients, and hardiness. Roots deepen, green spring forth, nature rebuilds quickly after a herd passes through.

This effect is what built and preserved open grasslands around the world for hundreds or thousands of years. Large herds rotating around the land building it up as if coordinates by some master gardener. It is only with more modern grazing techniques that this changed... the math formula of "x number of head on x acres of land" is death to a pasture. That type of grazing neither stresses nor relaxes the land. It remains in a steady state of slow decline.

Intensive grazing is a farm implementation of this natural effect. The animals are held in smaller area simulating a herd, and that is moved around the pasture every day or two. Stress and relax the land to promote growth, fertility, and robustness.

Our own version of this will initially include sheep followed by ducks followed some seeding and rest. Eventually we hope to include hogs in this mix for some extra deep "disruption of soils".  With the ducks will be adding moisture, and then right when the ducks move on, sprinkling of new seeds. This gives is the added benefit of some irrigation at a critical time in a small area at a time. Its not really irrigation though, it is only watering of livestock (ducks) while they happen to be on land that would benefit from irrigation.

This model is inspired by both joel salatin and the savory institute. The latter of which speciliazes in restoring barren infertile desert land into fertile pasture and forests. The research we did into this shows some absolutely incredible results.

So today... here we go! We have our own version of moveable herd containment, and a plan. Surely there will be many modifications along the way but I am confident that in the end we will see results as improvement in these old clay soils.

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