What makes our farm regenerative?
Hey Reil Ranch friends!
Regenerative agriculture has been gaining attention in recent years as a solution to the many challenges we face regarding food production.
But often times, these trending phrases or labels can be thrown around and misrepresented or misunderstood.
I wanted to take this opportunity to explain exactly what we're doing on our farm to regenerate (or improve) our soil.
First and foremost, we are working to regenerate our soil by rotational grazing.
What is rotational grazing?
Rather than allowing the cattle to continuously graze the entire pasture, rotational grazing involves dividing the pasture into smaller paddocks (sections) with fence and rotating the cattle through each section.
What's wrong with continuous grazing?
In a continuous grazing system the cattle typically have full access to the entire pasture and tend to choose the plants they like the most and skip the rest. This results in overgrazing, more exposed soil, reduced forage diversity, etc. When plants are overgrazed, it takes much longer for the plant to regenerate.
Here's a closer look, from an excellent article, explaining the benefits in more detail...
Why does this method work so well?
"Adaptive graziers aim to take the top half of the existing forage in each paddock and to leave half. Plants rely on photosynthesis to grow. The more leaf surface area that a plant has, the quicker it will be able to regrow after a grazing period.
By ensuring that the cattle only take the top half of a pasture, producers can ensure that those plants will rebound during the rest period. As plants photosynthesize sunlight, they expand their root systems. Healthy root systems help those plants transmit nutrients into the soil to feed microbial life. The more abundant a root system is, the healthier the soil will be, and the more carbon will be sequestered."
"Adaptive grazing also ensures that manure is spread more evenly through a pasture by methodically grazing cattle through each section in a controlled manner. Manure and urine feed microbial life in the soil, which also supports healthy soil and better plant growth.
Healthy soil is critical to regenerating our farmland because it leads to decreased soil erosion, fights runoff, and supports a greater diversity of pasture plants and wildlife."
"There are a number of wildlife advantages that adaptive grazing provides, too, including increased habitat and less disturbance in pastures when adequate rest periods are given."
"It also has positive impacts on animal health. By rotating to fresh pasture at an appropriate rate, livestock have less exposure to harmful parasites that can lead to severe illness or death."
"Once the livestock are used to an adaptive grazing system, which doesn’t take long, they’re often lined up and waiting readily to move to the next pasture. Adaptive grazing can help lead to low-stress animal handling. The livestock become accustomed to working with people on a regular basis and often act less flighty compared to being managed in a continuous grazing system."
You might be wondering... "how often do you rotate the cattle to a new paddock?"
This is really dependent upon many conditions, including the time of year, weather, how many cattle are in the paddock, etc. Tyler has a grazing chart that he maps out at the beginning of the year. He uses this as a guide, but he ultimately decides when to move the cattle based on observation and assessing the grass during routine pasture checks.
I hope you learned something new today or just enjoyed hearing about how we do things at Reil Ranch!
Thank you for choosing to support regenerative agriculture and family farms.