The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Trampling grass to renovate poor pastures

Weedy pastureThe reason I'm so interested in mob grazing (even though we're unlikely to have large livestock any time soon) is the potential for renovating poor soil.  Next week, I'll cover a few other ways that mob grazing can improve pastures, but today I want to focus on trampling.

Remember how I mentioned that Greg Judy plans for about a third of the grass to be trampled into the soil during each grazing session?  If you're renovating poor soil, you may need to trample a lot more.

Greg notes that degraded pastures will generally produce very seedy, poor quality grass the first year they are managed by mob grazing.  He recommends using a very low stocking density so that your livestock can subsist on the bit of high quality grass present, then make sure they trample the rest.  Next year, the grass will be more palatable.

The same theory applies if your pasture has grown up in poor quality weeds.  Greg regaled us with the tale of how he tried to manage a field of cockleburs by grazing hard every spring in hopes of eradicating the problem.  The result?  The cockleburs did better and better each year.  However, once he started ignoring the weeds and managing for grass, cockleburs were trampled down into the litter and eventually wiped out.

Mob grazingYou might be tempted to let some paddocks lie fallow if they're very problematic, but Greg recommends against this.  Remember, your livestock are the ones improving the soil, both with their manure and by trampling down weeds and grass to enrich the ground.  If you have to, give your livestock supplementary feed that they can eat on pasture, but keep them on the problematic ground if you want it to improve.  (And, whatever you do, don't mine out the few nutrients you have by haying!)

Finally, plan your paddock's shape based on the quality of your pasture.  Livestock trample more in rectangular paddocks since they have to mill around to find the food, so make your paddocks long and skinny while you're in the soil improvement phase.  Once you've build up organic matter and your pastures are thriving, you can switch over to square paddocks so your livestock can utilize as much grass as possible.

An informal apprenticeship is the perfect way to learn hands-on skills like milking a cow or fermenting grapes into wine.  Learn how to set one up in my 99 cent ebook.

99 cent pasture ebookThis post is part of our Mob Grazing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Thanks for these several posts on pasture. I've always heard that the best way to improve a pasture is to put animals on it. The advice about storing pasture for winter use is appreciated. We've finally managed to buy our own 40 acres in Wisc. and will be trying to keep a few head over winter for the first time next year. BTW- congratulations on your new exposure at MotherEarthNews. They could use your scientific approach to things over there. Best wishes ---doc
Comment by doc Fri Jan 27 17:56:19 2012

Doc --- There's more to come next week, so stay tuned!

Congratulations on buying your own pasture!

Thanks for noticing us on Mother Earth News. I'm still working out the kinks over there, so you probably noticed the post had some formatting issues. I was waiting to tell people until I got them all ironed out, but am thrilled you noticed!

Comment by anna Fri Jan 27 18:16:39 2012
Facinating info, thank you for sharing it. I don't have any large animals so this may be a dumb question, but how does he force the trampling? Is this done by confining them to a smaller area, or does he actually move them about somehow? Even typing this question makes me feel silly, but I would like to know. He says it's important to the management of pastures, but I don't understand how he controls it.
Comment by Barb in Ca Fri Jan 27 22:07:27 2012
It sounds like a dumb question, but it's actually a very insightful one. :-) Part of the trampling just comes naturally when you put a whole bunch of animals close together in the same space, and even more happens when you use long skinny paddocks so the animals have to walk over the same ground several times to get to fresh pasture. But Greg also makes a point of calling all of the animals to one side of the paddock, then calling them back to the other side before moving them if he wants extra trampling.
Comment by anna Sat Jan 28 11:57:17 2012

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