Adaptive Management, Multispecies Grazing Improves Soil Health

Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference ManualEven the academics and government guys (but I repeat myself), saw advantages to “multiple classes of livestock” as far back as I can remember. But, of course, they didn’t relate it to soil health but apparently at least a few of them do today. Little by little we will eventually convince the majority. — jtl

by Jesse Bussard, via Gallagher

A Handbook for Ranch ManagersA healthy soil ecosystem is the foundation of a productive, profitable livestock grazing operation and has the power to impart many ecological and economic benefits.

​​​​​Actively applying soil health principles on the farm or ranch and incorporating adaptive grazing management strategies can help producers reap the rewards.​​

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian ViewFor producers new to using livestock grazing to improve soil health, Greg Brann, a Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) soil health specialist from Tennessee, suggests the following 5 steps to get started:

  1. Manage grazing heights. Allow plants to get adequate size, at least 6-8 inches on average, before turning livestock out to graze.​
  2. When forage is growing fast, rotate fast and top graze the upper third (e.g. if canopy height is 8 inches, graze the top 2 inches, leaving 6 inches of residue).​
  3. Use long rest periods combined with short duration high intensity grazing to lessen disturbance, allow plants sufficient recovery time, and distribute manure more evenly.
  4. Designate one pasture or skip a pad​​dock every rotation to serve as a reserve pasture of stockpiled forage for use during drought or winter. Try to graze within 90 days.
  5. Distribute water across grazing areas to encourage better forage utilization.


Cattle Grazing

​ For beginners considering grazing cover crops or other annual forages, Brann says, “Use a single species at first, until you get the livestock numbers right and the rotation down.”

Producers should expect a delay between planting and when plants will be ready to graze. In addition, as cover crops are more sensitive to overgrazing and lack the carbohydrate reserves of The Essence of Liberty: Volume I: Liberty and History: The Rise and Fall of the Noble Experiment with Constitutionally Limited Government (Liberty and ... Limited Government) (Volume 1)  The Essence of Liberty: Volume II: The Economics of Liberty (Volume 2) The Essence of Liberty: Volume III: A Universal Philosophy of Political Economy (Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic) (Volume 3) their perennial cousins, grazing heights should be monitored to minimize occurrence of overgrazing and ensure adequate leaf area for plant regrowth.

While grazing of cover crops is short-lived (+/- 30 days), Brann explains with proper management producers can expect average daily gains as high as three or more pounds per acre, making this an excellent option for livestock with higher nutritional needs such as stockers or feeder cattle.

Combat Shooter's HandbookReconnaissance Marine MCI 03.32f: Marine Corps InstituteThe Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other MisfitsLastly, grazing multiple livestock species together is another opportunity to capitalize on the benefits they impart to soil health. A side benefit from this practice is the addition of a new enterprise to the livestock business and the opportunity to tap into new markets.

Brann used the example of sheep and goats which have pellet-shaped manure compared to the patty shape of cow manure.

“You get a bigger bang from the goat and sheep manure because of the form it is distributed,” says Brann. “It takes five or six sheep to equal one cow, so look at the area they are covering versus that one cow.”

As well Brann remarks, small ruminants generally graze different plants than cattle and require less water compared to their bovine counterparts which lets them travel farther to graze. On a typical farm, he recommends a multispecies ratio of one sheep to two cows or one goat to one cow. Keeping animal ratios in balance ensures the small ruminants do not impact cattle’s grazing.

Using these management strategies and incorporating changes slowly will help put livestock producers on the road to improving soil. The important thing is to continuously be observant and focusing on keeping the all aspects of the ecosystem in balance.

Jesse Bussard  is an agricultural writer based in Bozeman, Montana.​


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Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference ManualPlanned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual. This is the ideal squeal to A Handbook for Ranch Managers.  Although the ecological principles remain the same, what was originally known as “The Savory Grazing Method” now answers to a multitude of different names: ranching for profit, holistic management, managed grazing, mob grazing, management intensive grazing, etc. Land & Livestock International, Inc. uses “Restoration Grazing” under its “Managing the Ranch as a Business” program.” No mater what you call it, this summary and synopsis will guide you step by step through the process and teach you how to use it as it was originally intended. No more excuses for failing to complete your grazing plans.


About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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