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Soil Health Resource GuideGrazing/ Animal Health

Adaptive Grazing Management

By December 10, 2019July 14th, 2020No Comments

When people hear of grazing forages, they often think of fencing the whole field with one location for water and mineral and continuously grazing the whole herd until all the forage is eaten. This type of grazing can be destructive to soil health and productivity as it leads to compaction, bare soil, and uneven distribution of manure and urine nutrients. The solution is to introduce an Adaptive Grazing Management system that involves smaller paddocks, multiple water locations, and more frequent moving of animals. 

The tendency for many graziers is to keep to a planned schedule, but frequently Mother Nature throws curve balls and best laid plans do not always work. With adaptive grazing management, there is no preset schedule. It is based on reading the conditions of the land and forage, assessing the needs of the livestock, and planning the grazing appropriately. When intensively grazing small paddocks for a brief duration, any mistakes are limited to very small areas.

Adaptive grazing management is looking at how native ecosystems function and mimicking it with domesticated animals. Our rich prairie soils were built by large herds of bison grazing in compact groups to avoid predation. These herds would “mob graze” an area and then move on, not returning until the next year. This intense but brief disturbance creates minimal soil compaction and stimulates plant regrowth during the long period of healing and regrowth.

Adaptive grazing can work in any system whether it is perennial grasses or annual cover crop forages. Adaptive grazing also means being adaptive to the people! You don’t have to move cattle everyday, it could be every other, or once a week – it is what works best for you and what works best for the land.

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