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Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence

Greener pastures on your side of the fenceWhen I started experimenting with chicken pastures, I figured that since chickens weren't ruminants and don't graze the same way as cows and sheep, I didn't need to read up on pasture management.  As a result, I managed to make every beginner mistake possible. 

Reading Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence: Better Farming With Voisin Management Intensive Grazing by Bill Murphy spurred numerous epiphanies.  I realized that even if I was just providing prime pasture to grow grasshoppers that in turn would feed my chickens, I needed to use all the tricks possible to get the greatest amount of high quality forage out of my limited pasture area.  The nearly complete lack of growth in my pastures in July and August was preventable, and my chickens could have eaten more if the grass hadn't been allowed to go to seed and turn woody.

In fact, using Bill Murphy's guidelines of creating a pasture that contains 30 to 50% legumes, I might have been able to cut most of the expensive protein supplements out of our chickens' summer feed and simply provided free choice minerals and corn.  On a properly managed, intensively grazed pasture, protein content of the forage averages 22%, which is enough for all grazing animals.  Sure, our chickens couldn't break down the structural carbohydrates in the grasses, but corn (for energy) is much cheaper than soybeans (for protein.)

Management intensive grazingIf you're grazing ruminants, Bill Murphy's book is even more of a must-read.  He uses careful rotation to create a self-maintaining pasture that gets its nitrogen from animal manure and legumes.  Some of the benefits of his system include:

  • Costs as low as 1/6 that of feeding animals in confinement.
  • Higher yields of more nutritious forage than in continuous grazing situations.
  • Organic matter constantly being added to the soil and more soil bacteria and fungi than in any other type of agricultural land.
  • Lack of erosion since pasture is never allowed to degrade and create bare spots.
  • Three or four times as many earthworms as is in tilled soil.  In fact, if you keep legumes populous in your pasture, the weight of the earthworms under the surface may reach twice the weight of the livestock grazing on top!

This week's lunchtime series will cover the highlights of American management intensive grazing, but I highly recommend that you pick up Bill Murphy's book if you have any pasture at all.  This is one of the few books that will have a permanent place on my bookshelf as I peruse the data-rich graphs and tables over and over.

(By the way, the grazing photos in this series are from Throwback at Trapper Creek, whose beautiful and knowledgeable blog turned me onto the notion of high tech grazing.  As usual, click on the image to see the source website.)

Our chicken waterer quenches our chickens' thirst after a long day hunting bugs.



This post is part of our Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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This is another resource for pasture fertility: http://www.greenpasturesfarm.net/articles.php?entryID=2683

Their book and their beef are both excellent.

Comment by Robert Blackburn, Jr. Mon Oct 24 13:49:34 2011
I'm going to a workshop led by Greg Judy this December and am thoroughly looking forward to it! Glad to hear he also has a blog.
Comment by anna Mon Oct 24 14:57:21 2011

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime