At Boatright farms stewarding and restoring the land is important to us. We want to ensure that the land we manage will be better for the next generation than it was for us. To explain how we restore the land I will primarily discuss the cattle. To find out how the sheep and goats fit in see the Meet the Animals page.
High Density Grazing
We use high density grazing as one of our main tools for land restoration. Basically, high density grazing is moving the cattle frequently to a fresh sward of grass. The animals are on this sward at a very high density (a lot of animals but a small grass sward) for only a short period of time. The high density of the cattle ensures that much of the forage is trampled to the ground as a mulching layer. Typically we want the cows to consume only 1/3 of the grass in the sward and trample the other 2/3. Once the cattle have eaten 1/3 of the grass they are rotated to a new sward of grass and the old sward is left to fully recover.
The mulch is the key to restoring the land. The mulch….
- Protects the soil from the sun conserving moisture
- Helps slow rainwater which allows it to better infiltrate into the soil
- Helps establish new grass seedlings
- Is broken down by earthworms into new soil
- Increases the organic matter content of the soil
In addition to trampling forage to the ground, cattle at high densities create something called herd impact on bare ground. Their hard hooves pound the capped bare ground, breaking the hard pan and stirring the soil, which allows new seeds to establish in what was before a hostile environment. These seeds are then mulched and fertilized by the cattle without any external inputs.
Wildlife thrive on our managed farms because there habitat is improved. The cattle are only on a small portion of the farm at any time so the wildlife are not pushed off or threatened. In addition the wildlife have many types of forage available to them. They can stay ahead of the cows in the tall grass or behind the cows sampling the newly regrown grass. In the fall, turkeys follow the cows digging bugs out of their manure pats, and in the summer quail nest in the tall grass cones that are left behind after the cows graze an area (not all of the forage is ever trampled to the ground). In addition we stockpile grass for winter grazing for the cattle, but the wildlife also freely help themselves to it as well. This especially helps the deer by ensuring there is sufficient forage all year long.
Native species also thrive in a high density grazing system. Because the cattle are on only a small area for a short period of time. The area often has 60+ days of rest before the animals return. Such long rotations allow native species to express themselves. Also, the herd impact allows new plants to establish, and the high density grazing system selects for diversity not a monoculture system. Using high density grazing on our farms we have seen an increase in warm season grasses as well as wildflowers and native forbs.
Putting It all Together
When all the components of our livestock management and high density grazing are combined on a farm, a system is produced that…
- Increases the organic matter content and depth of the soil.
- Increases land fertility.
- Benefits wildlife.
- Encourages the growth of native species.
- Conserves water.
- Produces more grass and thus more food each year
- Requires no outside inputs.
In short we are healing the land while producing more food for our community.