Community Grazing

We’ve convinced another of our neighbours to join our grazing community. “What’s community grazing?” you ask. Let us explain, but first a short lesson about how grass grows…

e7db8cc3-e067-4c0d-99da-545aca836b4eGrasslands respond really well to short-duration, high-intensity grazing. An individual grass plant has roughly the same amount of roots below the ground as leaves above ground. When grazed, the green leaf matter is removed and the plant compensates; an equivalent amount of root matter dies back and is incorporated into the soil as organic matter. So grazing actually improves the carbon content of the soil, which in turn improves fertility and water holding capacity.

The crucial step is to give the plant adequate time to recover. Once grazed, the plant uses stored energy to grow new leaves and roots. The new leaves start to photosynthesise and manufacture sugars to replenish the used up stores. If the plant is re-grazed during this critical period, it will again have to draw on it’s already depleted energy stores. It will be weakened and, if it happens repeatedly, may even die.

There’s also other benefits to long paddock rest times. Seldom visiting the same grazing sites means that parasite life cycles can be disrupted, for example.

So the trick is to hit the paddocks hard and fast and then give them a long time to recover.

Think of the zebra and wildebeest migrations in the African savannah; there are hundreds of thousands of animals, all moving in a fairly dense herd and not leaving much behind. The savannah is able to sustain these vast animal numbers because of the migration; plants are bitten once and have ample time to recover and regrow before the herd comes back.

The density of animals is important. Too few animals will take a while to graze a paddock down, so individual plants may be grazed multiple times. Animals also have the opportunity to pick and choose their favourite plants and leave the rest. If plants aren’t grazed they get coarse, stalky and less palatable, so over time the less desirable species become dominant.

This is the basis of our grazing regime: having enough grazing density so that paddocks aren’t selectively grazed and diversity and palatability are maintained; moving the animals on to a fresh paddock before they get a chance to come back for a second bite of the same plant; and long recovery times.

A couple of years ago one of our neighbours noticed the effect this was having on our land. His ewes and lambs joined the flerd and the two paddocks on his 200 acre property are now part of the rotation. So he’s gone from having 100 sheep moving between two paddocks, every couple of weeks, to 150 cows and calves and 1000 ewes and lambs, for a few days in each paddock every six months.

And so community grazing was born (Note: this is not a new concept, people have been grazing in this fashion all over the world. It’s a fairly novel concept in our area, and in Australia more generally).

Now we have another neighbour on board, another 200 sheep and 400 acres to add to the rotation. The extra sheep mean each paddock is grazed for a shorter time, and the extra paddocks mean each is visited less frequently. And we get to work together, rather than isolated on our individual properties. So the whole community benefits.

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