Regenerative Agriculture – Holistic Management to Plan Grazing
On our family farm, Simon Hare is passionate about the way he farms and how he manages the pasture fed shorthorn herd. He believes if you understand and work with the land and livestock, you can improve the land and the farms natural ecological processes. This improves soil health, forage production, the lands carrying capacity, healthy livestock, and the final product … our quality tasting pasture fed beef.
Simon uses a method called holistic management to plan the grazing of the beef herd on the farm.
In the 1960’s Allan Savory a Zimbabwean ecologist and livestock farmer made a significant breakthrough in understanding what was causing the degradation and desertification of the world’s grassland ecosystems. Livestock had long been blamed for creating deserts, but Savory realized it was how those livestock were managed that was the problem, and it was the management that had to change and so he developed Holistic Management. Read more about this here
Holistic Management provides a framework for decision-making allowing us to understand the ‘whole’, amidst complexity rooted in the fundamentals of ecosystem processes. It uses a number of planning procedures including planned grazing, land planning, financial planning and ecological monitoring.
Looking at the ecosystem process is key to reading landscapes and helping identify the earliest indicators of soil and ecosystem health or degradation.
Did you know?
If you mimic the natural behaviour of wild herds, grass productivity can be increased?
Allan Savory says his theory of livestock management replicates, and aims to restore, an ancient cycle. The original vegetation of the world’s grasslands co-evolved with enormous herds of Cape buffalo, elephants, bison and other large grazers. These animals stayed in compact herds to protect themselves against predators and moved often to find grass unsullied by their urine and dung. Because they grazed for only a short time in any area, the forage plants rebounded rapidly, fertilized and watered by the animals’ excrement. Their hooves trampled desiccated and inedible plants, thus increasing sunlight and nutrients for “good” vegetation and breaking up hard soil crusts, creating conditions conducive to water infiltration and seed germination. The crushed leaves and stalks from less desirable plants provided natural mulch that retained soil moisture and prevented runoff during rainstorms. The livestock’s excrement added nutrients to the soil and further improved its ability to retain water. In turn, better soil produced bigger and thicker grasses that could support more animals. Better soil also harboured more carbon. Read more about this here
Grazing Rotations Planned
Simon plans the grazing on a rotation basis by moving the shorthorn beef herd from field to field, trying to mimic the natural behaviour and rotational patterns of wild grazers as described above.
He plans the grazing by charting the fields on the farm, looking at ecological and environmental factors that would influence the grazing. This then provides a clear picture of where the livestock need to be and when.
The plans take into account the time that a plant is exposed to a grazing animal so that the plant’s recovery is planned. Forage quantity is monitored to prevent overgrazing.
The cows graze the long healthy swards for short periods, whilst the dung, urine, and old plant matter are trampled, this incorporates organic matter into the ground. This all helps to build carbon in the soils.
Using holistic grazing allows the grass to replenish its nutrients and offers the cattle the benefit of other plant species rich in essential vitamins and minerals drawn from the soil.
Did you know?
Well managed livestock are earth’s natural regenerators
Simon builds in recovery periods for the land into the planned rotations, allowing the land to rest for long periods before being restocked. This takes into account the time needed for certain species of grass to fully regenerate. This helps towards the land improving and being healthy. He lets the grass grow over a foot tall and almost going to seed before putting the cattle back on. This provides them with a feed source that provides all of the nutritional components they need. Dependent on the time of year, grass recovery can take between 25 days when the grass is growing fast in warmer conditions, to 60 days when the temperature is cooler.
Timing is critical. After being browsed by the animals, the plants draw on nutrients stored in their roots to regrow leaves, and that new foliage provides energy that allows the plants to replenish their root systems. Overgrazing occurs if livestock feed again before this cycle runs its course, which can happen even with traditional rotational practices. The root systems weaken, eventually causing the plants to die. In regenerative grazing, animals return to an area only after the vegetation has fully recovered. Read more about this here
Leaving the grass to rest for longer periods builds resilience in the soil. More energy is harnessed from photosynthesis, creating a stronger and deeper root system. This improves water infiltration and storage capacity, reducing flooding as well as making the grass more drought-tolerant. “Well-managed livestock are earth’s natural regenerators”. When you regenerate soil, the entire ecosystem works more effectively, as described by holistic management experts Christopher and Sheila Cooke of 3LM at a Farmer’s Weekly Graze event
It is very important to ensure there is no bare land as this can lead to soil erosion and the loss of the nutrient dense topsoil, which therefore directly relates to the nutritional value of the crop grown.
Did you know?
Pasture is better for our environment
Properly managed livestock grazing sequests more carbon into the soil. The family farm land is all down to grass pastures now.
The carbon footprint of grass farms is significantly lower than that of farms where cereal crops are grown to feed animals. Grassland helps capture and store carbon so less is released into the air to harm the atmosphere. Grazing animals return nutrients and organic matter back to the ground as they deposit their dung, ensuring the soil remains healthy and fertile. Read more about this here
Regenerative grazing systems can improve soil health which in turn lead to even better forage production and improved animal health and nutrition. Healthier animals lead to societal benefits like reduced dependence on and lower resistance risk to anthelmintics and antibiotics and possibly to improved human nutrition. Read more about this here.
FOOD YOU CAN TRUST
We want to make you aware of where your meat comes from, so you can choose to buy your meat based on our story and principles. Make your purchases from farms practising regenerative agriculture.
Our superior quality pasture for life beef is available to purchase online here and delivered direct to your door 🚚.
If you live locally to the farm shop, we are based just off the A66 outside Barnard Castle, you can pop in and visit our butchers.
We will leave you with a thought provoking quote from Allan Savory:
“Ultimately, the only wealth that can sustain any community, economy or nation is derived from the photosynthetic process – green plants growing on regenerating soil.”