"If we had viewed Earth from space for thousands of years, we would describe humans as a desert-making species." - Prof Elisabet Sahtouris
What it Regenerative Grazing
In large part conventional grazing is just turning your animals out onto your grasslands and letting them graze where they like and as frequently as they like. Regenerative grazing is managing where and for how long your animals graze to increase the cover of your grasses, the organic matter in your soil and the amount of photosynthesis per plant. The idea is to mimic nature whose grasslands evolved in a symbiotic relationship involving four players - ruminants, their predators, grasses and the soil microbiome.
For years livestock have been blamed for desertification of the countryside but the evidence does not support this accusation. If you look at both conservation areas and plots of land fenced off for research this decertification has happened without the presence of any livestock. Desertification is not about the presence of livestock or overstocking but about how those livestock are managed. Indeed it is with livestock and planned grazing that land managers have been able to reverse desertification.
Large grass eating animals and the grasslands evolved side by side and together they created an ecosystem that covered 30% of the earth's land mass, maximised the photosynthetic capacity of the land and by sequestrating carbon in the soil created the world's most fertile soils. Together with these ruminants predators evolved, these predators hunted the ruminants and as safety in numbers was the best survival strategy they bunched together in tightly packed herds. Because they were packed together they quickly ate and trampled the all the grass and fouled the area with their dung and urine, so they kept moving to get a new supply of fresh grass (actually a mix of grass, forbs and legumes). The end result - tightly packed herds that were constantly on the move. They would head off to greener pastures, leaving their dung and urine to stimulate the soil microbiology and they would only return at some distant date having given the grass time to recover.
It is this situation that Regenerative Grazing is mimicking. Using the electric fence to create a tightly packed herd on a camp that is large enough to provide the forage the animals need for the period they are in it (generally a day but some farmers move their animals multiple times a day). The animals only return to the same camp when the grass has had sufficient time to recover.
Each grazing plan is context specific but basic starting points are:
1. animals should not be in a camp for more than 3 days (or they will start going back to new growth)
2. best results are achieved with 30+ camps (this ensures sufficient rest and recovery time for the grass, in brittle environments each camp is only grazed once a year / year and a half).
As farmers get experienced they achieve better results with higher densities - with the animals packed tightly together - and some farmers change camps 4+ times a day.
The results that have been achieved with Regenerative Grazing in incredibly diverse environments are remarkable, from lush paddocks in England to desertified woodlands in Zimbabwe and arid regions of New Mexico and the Karoo in South Africa. The growth of the grass, the density of grass plants, the soil cover and the soil organic matter all improve, maximising photosynthetic potential and in many cases farmers have been able to more than double their stocking rates.
The boundary fence on Norman Kroon's Karoo farm is an iconic example of the potential power of Regenerative Grazing
Here is another boundary fence image this time from a farm in Padua Park Station in Australia
Video: Fat cows moving camps
Cows, Carbon Cycles and Carbon Emissions
"All of biology, all of life, is carbon cycles." - Dr Zack Bush
Today as the heat around climate change rises cows are now being blamed for heating the world with the burps and manure. This is reductive science and does not take into account that herbivores eating grass is a biogenic cycle rather than a dead end emission. Cattle eating grass is an entirely natural process that evolved with its own carbon cycle, this process is not a net emitter of carbon into the atmosphere - thats not how nature designs things. Evidence shows that if cattle are grazed in a regenerative manner they balance out the greenhouse gasses they emit with the CO2 that is captured during the photosynthesis of the grass that they eat.
The real discussion should be around regenerative versus degenerative agricultural practices but Industrial Agriculture has shifted the conversation to meat vs plant based diets. As with cereal the profits on processed plant based foods are huge, highly processed foods are monuments to man's hubris. So the conversation is now meat vs plant rather than what real nutrition any of these processed foods actually contain and how destructive their production processes are to the environment and soil.
Regenerative grazing, by fixing the carbon cycle, also helps to fix the water cycle by improving the infiltration rates and water holding capacity of the soil. Through fixing the carbon and water cycles photosynthesis potential is maximised and via transpiration this contributes to cooling the planet.
It is clear that the only conceivable safe and long-term solution for carbon drawdown is through global ecosystem restoration. This will include forests and wetlands, but particularly, also, grasslands, including prairies and savannas, where carbon is sequestered through the roots of perennial plants and bound in organic soil compounds.
If we look at the 5 principles of soil health how well does Regenerative Grazing stack up?
- no disturbance - tick , no ploughing or chemical disturbance of the soil and its biology
- diversity - tick, a grassland has a healthy mix of grasses, forbs and legumes
- living root - tick, grasslands have living roots in the soil and the grasses have leaves for photosynthesis at all times
- armour - tick, well managed grasslands cover the soil with plants and litter at all times
- integrate animals - tick
Aside from improving the grasslands, decreasing erosion, increasing carbon sequestration and increasing water infiltration Regenerative Grazing is also good for wildlife. The diversity of the grasses, the longer grasses, the productivity of the soil microbiology, the increased insects and the increased flowers for pollinators all combine to improve the environment for the local wildlife.
Other names for Regenerative Grazing:
- Holistic Planned Grazing
- AMP - Adaptive Multi-Paddock Grazing
- High Stock Density Grazing
- Mob Grazing
- High Intensity Grazing or Ultra High Intensity Grazing
- Planned Rotational Grazing
Video: Regenerative Grazing
JOIN THE MOVE
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