On Thursday the 21st, Joel spoke for 6 hours on Pastured Livestock. To keep things to a reasonable length, I’ve broken that very intense day into a couple of posts. Here’s what I jotted down on the subject of Grass and Grazing:
-grass is 95% water, 5% soil. Earth is supposed to gain weight (a reference to building soil).
-grass grows on a sigmoid curve. Joel refers to the bottom of the curve as the “diaper stage” – the grass is too watery for good nutrition, too fragile to withstand grazing impact. The steep, upward curve of growth on the graph is called the “teenage stage”, grass in this stage is good for grazing, it regrows quickly, has lots of nutrition, is resilient. When the curve levels off at the top of the graph, before it curve down again – that is called the “retirement home stage” of growth. The grass is mature, growth has slowed down or stopped.
-Grass tastes best, is at it’s most nutritious at the sweet spot – the transition point on the curve between teenager and retirement home growth stages.
-the goal of intensive grazing management is to maintain the teenager growth stage, without violating the Law of the Second Bite.
-all the deep soils of the world were built under prairies because the metabolic cycle of grasss is faster than that of trees, though the growth curve is similar.
-grasslands build soil, but do require soil disturbance – historically in the form of burning (either wildfires or human induced), and mob grazing – often influenced by predation.
-the University of Nebraska has a 2 acre prairie that they manage with fire, the grass is 12 ft tall. The reference in Little House on the Praire (was it actually Plum Creek?) to Ma’s worry that the girls would get lost in the tall grass is a reference to this type of grass, not what we think of as tall grass today.
-It is a human mandate to use herbivores to prune grass properly, to stimulate more biomass production than would be stimulated in a static state.
-animals always eat dessert first, so continuous grazing means unpalatable species will eventually become dominant, and the others will disappear.
-Grazing management uses bio-mimicry, copying the predator/prey relationship. Electric wire is the predator.
-The three M’s of grazing: Mobbing, Mooving, and Mowing. (personal note: please see Redemption Farm’s excellent summary of the three M’s).
Mobbing: cows only “work” (eat) for 8 hours, they spend the rest of the time ruminating (lounging, while they regurgitate and chew their cud). Mobbing encourages them to eat everything evenly. What they don’t eat, they will trample, which will still create biomass. We want them to eat eagerly and efficiently, but not stressed, and to maximise their ruminating time. It takes 2 months for cattle to learn to graze aggressively, if they’re not born to it.
Moving: (Joel joke – mooving) – wild beasts (bison, buffalo, etc) move daily – predator pressure, fresh grass, to get away from flies attracted to their manure. If they stayed, they would violate the Law of the Second Bite, and prairies would not build soil. Use electric wire to mimic this movement.
Mowing: cattle are great big fermentation tanks with four wheel drive. Feeding them food that has been fermented already (sileage, haylage) makes their stomach environment too acidic, and therefore a breeding ground for things like e coli. Their stomach is designed to do it’s own fermenting, from fresh grass.
-need to design a landscape that attains the the 3M’s. On most farms, there will be unalterable features – access lane, house/buildings, ponds, etc. Use electric fence on both sides of the access road, allowing at least 16 ft for the lane, because of the cattles fear of the wire. This will be a route to move the cattle up and down the land without going through pasture. Use landscape features by surrounding them with permanent fence. Between these features and the access road, you can create homogeneous paddocks with temporary electric wire. Put gates in corners, even though for equipment you would prefer to put them about 10 feet away from the corner. If you do that, calves will bunch up in the corners and panic and not go through the gate -so put gates in corners.
-there is starting to be a trend toward taking advantage of older forage (stockpiled grass) toward the end of the grazing season – this is grass approaching or in early retirement home stage. It looks terrible – tall, yellowing, gone to seed, but can extend the grazing season without the cattle losing weight. Every day you don’t have to feed hay is good.
That’s it for grass/grazing notes – I have more that I’ll post in a day or two related to stocking density, watering systems, etc.
For detailed info on what I recorded above, read one of Joel’s earliest books “Salad Bar Beef“. Stockman Grass Farmer is a journal all about grazing practices. Youtube has some great footage of Jim Gerrish (electric fence/paddock set up) and Greg Judy, another huge grazing guru in the farm world. The original that the others all derive from is Andre Voisin’s “Grass Productivity” – it’s pretty scientific, ie don’t choose it for bedtime reading, but it’s information dense. “Greener Pasture on Your Side of the Fence” by Bill Murphy is a much easier read, and might be easier to find through your local library. This was the kind of stuff I went to learn, so you’re welcome to seek clarification on what I wrote, but I probably can’t answer questions requiring expertise or experience! If you have a favourite print or web source of grazing info, please share in the comments!
Tomorrow is pigaerators…aren’t you excited?