How to Raise Grazing Livestock Sustainably

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Implementing sustainable grazing practices on your homestead can help you to raise grazing livestock in a sustainable and planet-friendly manner…

When it comes to adding animals to your homestead, you may face a dilemma: should you raise large grass-grazing animals like cattle, or are they unsustainable and harmful for the planet, even on a small scale?

While your choice of livestock is, of course, up to you, you may be encouraged to learn that yes, it is possible to raise grazing livestock in a sustainable manner – at least on a small-to-medium scale. However, you have to go about it the right way, or you run the risk of depleting your soil and killing off your pasture over time, thus removing your ability to maintain your herd and the health of your land in a sustainable way.

You may have heard of the term “rotational grazing,” but to truly maintain sustainable pasturelands with grazing animals, many experts now believe you need to take it a step further. This is because simply rotating grazing livestock from one section of pasture to another doesn’t take into account the changing needs of the grasses during different times of the year and different weather conditions.

For example, when grass growth slows in the fall or during late summer drought, overgrazing can kill the grass and compact the soil – defeating the purpose of rotational grazing, and slowly decreasing the health and quality of your pasture over time.

Instead, experts such as Sarah Flack, author of The Art and Science of Grazing: How Grass Farmers Can Create Sustainable Systems for Healthy Animals and Farm Ecosystems, recommend what is often called “intensive pasture management,” or “intensively managed grazing.”

This “Management Intensive” method involves the use of rotational grazing, along with close management of plant health. By keeping an eye on your pasture and taking careful note of growth patterns, weather conditions, and grazing habits, you can rotate your livestock in a way that actually enhances the health of your land, rather than depeleting it.

“When done well, grass-based livestock farming is a beautiful way to have a positive effect on a parcel of land and on a small part of the planet.
–Sarah Flack

Sarah also recommends keeping a diverse mix of plant life in your pasture – from different types of annual and perennial grasses, to legumes such as vetch, alfalfa, and clovers, to “weeds” such as dandelions and other broad-leaf plants. This diversity will help to maintain a thriving pasture, while also improving the health of your grazing livestock.

Below is a chart from Sarah’s book to help “troubleshoot” pasture problems that you may encounter when implementing rotational grazing practices, and grow a more sustainable pasture:

Troubleshooting pasture grazing problems

(Click image to find a larger version.)

 

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