At Cove Creek Farm we use rotational grazing to improve the health and productivity of the pasture.
What is Rotational Grazing?
For many who use rotational grazing, planned frequent movements of livestock on pasture, the goal is to use livestock as a tool to improve the soil and the forage diversity of the farms they manage. Instead of letting animals continuously graze down an entire pasture, the animals are herded into a section of the pasture for a short period of time. Many small farms raising grass-fed, grass-finished beef, lamb, goat, or pastured pigs and chickens, use rotational grazing techniques. The constant movement of animals in tightly packed herds with extended rest between grazings would have been natural for large herding animals. And as was the case in a more natural state, not just the land, but the animals’ health and the quality of meat ultimately produced are winners.
How does rotational grazing improve pasture?
Grass is like an iceberg; the biomass above ground is only a small part of the entire plant. When animals graze plants, the roots die and push carbohydrates up to the base to regrow the plant matter above. This process takes about four days to complete. If animals are left to graze for longer than four days, they’ll graze the new growth. With overgrazing there’s not sufficient root mass to repeat the grass lifecycle. The species of forage the animals prefer (typically grass) will die out and less desirable plants will take over the pastures. Resting pastures generates more biomass, and with extra green matter above ground, the soil doesn’t dry out as easily during the hottest parts of the year. The deeper roots allow for more water infiltration during rains.
Another advantage to rotational grazing is the fertilizer (natural manure compared to synthetic fertilizer) is evenly spread on the pasture with no need for additional inputs. A side benefit is animals become less picky and graze all forages evenly, helping to prevent the less desirable plants from dominating the pasture. Over time, as the pasture improves, the pasture will respond quicker in the spring and the forages will grow later into the fall, extending the growing season.
How does rotational grazing benefit the animals?
The animals are better off, as well. Ruminants, like cattle, sheep, and goats can’t digest the cellulose structure of plants or derive any nutritional value from them without the microorganisms present in their first stomach. These microbes break down the cellulose turning the plant into calories and nutrients that can be digested. And again, there’s a side benefit—the digestive process helps pass beneficial microbes to the soil in the animals’ manure. What’s more, the animals’ guts are more chemically balanced and the production of methane is greatly reduced. Conversely, when ruminants are fed grain, their stomachs become acidic and microbe levels decrease, making it difficult to absorb nutrients from grass.All animals raised on pasture offer consumers improved nutrition options—and this includes non-ruminants like pigs, poultry, and their eggs. Products from grass-fed animals are usually free of hormones and antibiotics, because they aren’t needed when animals are raised on pasture and not in confinement. And a 2009 joint research project between the US Department of Agriculture and Clemson University found that grass-fed beef contained higher total levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s, higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The healthier omega fatty acid ratio and higher levels of CLA are reported to improve immunity and fight inflammation, which decreases the risk and helps aid in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration, psychiatric disorders, autoimmune diseases, and all types of cancers.