Know Your Food- Know Your Farmer Series: E4 Livestock Management

April 22, 2019

Good morning from Bluerock Valley Farm.  It's marketing Monday, the day I try to focus on all things marketing, otherwise I'll wind up scattering it throughout the week.  Let's dive right in, how does healthy soils translate to healthy animals?  Well it's not that simple, as with most things in agriculture, there are several things going on at the same time on multiple levels.  

For example, as a farmer, it's our job to make management decisions on what to directly do to our soils to regenerate them.  Adding fertilizer, spreading manure, sowing seed, cutting down trees, planting trees, shaping the land to retain water, installing or removing fence, mowing or spraying weeds, these are all things we can do to the land.  However when you introduce livestock, you now let the animals have their impact and let their symbiotic relationship with the land take over.

Our management of livestock can have negative and positive impacts on the land and animals.  How many of us have seen a farm with a couple horses or beef cows on it that is grazed to the dirt or worse yet, no grass left because it's all mud.  This poor management leads to stress and sickness of the livestock and the pasture ( yes the land gets stressed also).  However the same farm with proper management, can see vibrant pastures and healthy animals.  

For the sake of brevity, management-intensive grazing and holistic management are a couple of tools the farmer can use to be a good steward of both the land and animals.  Observing the conditions of the land and animals coupled with small daily decisions about fence moves, allows the farmer to increase or decrease the impact his animals have on the land.  Think about the huge herds of Buffalo that used to roam the prairies of the Midwest.  The herd's total weight would be in the hundreds of millions of pounds, trampling uneaten grass into the ground would provide carbon for the soil microbes.  Urine and dung would be applied as the herd moved along further fueling the soil, but did the herd stick around?  No, sometimes the herd would only pass over an area once or twice a year.  This created rich soils that produced a wide range of native grasses.  The herd did not suffer from problems with parasites, pinkeye, or hoof rot because they were constantly moving to fresh pasture.  Today these types of herds are not possible, but we can mimic nature with the invention of portable electric fencing and multi-species grazing.

With a portable electric fence system, you can change the amount of impact an animal has on the ground by increasing or decreasing the size of the paddock and how often you choose to go back to that paddock.  For example, a single 1000 lb cow on 1 acre equates to 1000 lbs/acre of impact, but if you run temporary fencing and cut that paddock in half, you now have 2000 lbs/acre of impact in each half acre paddock.  You get the point, but the flip side to this is the smaller the paddocks, the more frequent fence moves need to be.  As you move on in your pasture rotation, the amount of time you let a paddock rest is determined by how well the grass is growing back, if this rest is long enough it will even break the parasite cycle before the animals return.  Also, the adding of other species to your rotation target different portions of the pasture.  Cows like grass, sheep like grass and forbs, goats like woody plants, pigs will eat anything, and chickens are great at sanitizing.  With a multi-species "flerd" you can target a greater range of pasture when compared to 1 class of livestock.  

As our pasture starts to take shape (remember we are converting a row crop farm to pasture), our plan is to use management-intensive grazing and holistic management to regenerate our soils.  Will we get it right the first time?  Probably not.  Will the learning curve be steep?  Probably yes.  But we will observe and make daily decisions that point to the future.  If you like what you've been reading and want to be notified of updates or when we are releasing products on our farm, please go to the main page and create a free account and sign up for our newsletter.  Also if you like your social media, head over to our Facebook and Instagram page and like and follow us.  Thanks again, and until next time, enjoy your day.

Lance Shore

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