When people think 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 Multi-Paddock (AMP) Grazing Principles Management system. Dr. Richard Teague, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, defines in this way: “Adaptive multi-paddock grazing is a more effective form of rotational grazing in which one paddock is grazed at a time while other paddocks recover and livestock numbers are adjusted as needed to match available forage as conditions change.”
AMP involves managing livestock using multiple small paddocks to provide periods of short duration/high stock density grazing followed by adequate forage rest and recovery periods. The purpose is to mimic as closely as possible the predator-influenced herd migrations of wild ruminants such as ancestral bison and elks. The tendency for many graziers is to keep to a planned schedule, but Mother Nature frequently 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. As Allen Williams says, “Adaptive grazing also means being adaptive to the people! You don’t have to move cattle everyday; it could be every other day, or once a week – it is what works best for you and what works best for the land.”
Prior peer-reviewed research by Dr. Teague shows that north central Texas ranches practicing AMP grazing principles have been able to sequester an additional 12 tons of carbon per acre over a ten year period when compared with more conventional grazing practices. Results from a Mississippi study conducted by Dr. Allen Williams and the Arizona State University School of Sustainability show that with just 5 years of AMP grazing, significant results can be achieved in terms of building soil organic matter, soil carbon, and overall soil health. Immediate observations were that root structure and development, including root depth and mass, were significantly greater with AMP management. In addition, there were noted differences in soil texture, aggregation, and apparent soil life with earthworms present in the soil of the AMP farm. AMP grazing appears to yield results and benefits that far exceed more relaxed grazing rotations. The ability to build such significant differences within a relatively short period of time make AMP grazing an attractive tool for land improvement and remediation.