Regenerative Grazing

"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 your grazing to increase the cover of your grasses, the organic matter in the soil and the amount of photosynthesis that can take place. The idea is to mimic nature whose grasslands evolved in a symbiotic relationship involving three players - ruminants, 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 indeed plots of land fenced off for research this decertification has happened without the livestock being present. It's not about the presence of the livestock or indeed overstocking but about how those livestock are managed. There are various examples from some fairly brittle areas of how land managers have been able to reverse desertification using Regenerative Grazing.

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 and maximised the photosynthetic capacity of that land. Together with these plains animals predators evolved, these predators hunted the plains animals 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 - actually a mix of grass, forbs and legumes - and fouled the area with their dung and urine, so they kept moving to get a new supply of fresh grass. 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 giving 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 three times a day). Ideally you want the animals to eat less than 50% of the biomass and trample the rest down. This leaves behind some leaf to kickstart the regrowth and provides organic matter to keep the soil covered and become future soil organic matter, feeding the earthworms and microbiology. The animals only return to the same camp when the grass has had sufficient time to recover.

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 like 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.

This image of the boundary fence on Norman Kroon's farm in the Karoo 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 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.  So the conversation is now meat vs plant rather than what nutrition any of these processed food 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 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 for decades to millennia.

Cattle fed in feedlots is an entirely different matter and the sad reality is that like in the US in South Africa 95% of cattle end up in a feedlot.

If we look at the 5 principles of soil health how well does Regenerative Grazing stack up?

  1. no disturbance - tick , no ploughing or chemical disturbance of the soil and its biology
  2. diversity - tick, a grassland has a healthy mix of grasses, probs and legumes
  3. living root - tick, grasslands have living roots in the soil at all times
  4. armour - tick, well managed grasslands cover the soil at all times
  5. 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 earthworms and insects, 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


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