Why do our cattle get fresh grass every day?
June 10, 2019
People have asked us what's different about the way we manage our cattle. One of the major differences is that we move the cattle every day. Why?
First of all, there's something deeply satisfying about watching cattle moving into an untouched patch of grass. As they enter the paddock, you can see the excitement in their bodies as the herd rolls into their new spot. But that's not the only reason we move the cattle at least once a day.
For me, the main reason we move them is to maximize what we graziers call the recovery period. This is the amount of time a plant gets to recover once it has been grazed. If you just turn a cow out into a field for the summer, you can not ensure that the grasses (and other plants!) will have enough time to recover before being chomped on again. Cows love eating young tender shoots!
Once the cattle graze a paddock for a day and are moved, the grasses start to shed the extra roots they don't need now that they are suddenly shorter. This root die-off adds to the soil's nutrient bank and gets churned through the vast and beautiful ecosystem that exists under the surface. To start growing again, they use their remaining roots as a reserve of energy to kick start their fresh growth until they can make enough leaf space to feed the plant using the sun's energy. This is the process that's been developed between grasses and ruminants over their entire co-evolutionary history. Cattle and grass were literally made for each other! At some point, the leaves are actually adding energy reserves to the plant instead of spending them. If the plant is grazed before it can get to that point, its root systems get knocked back even lower than they were before. In the long term, you can seriously deplete the grasses' ability to grow. This is called overgrazing!
To avoid this, we make pastures that have enough feed for one day of grazing, and move the cattle daily to fresh grass and let the rest of the farm do it's thing!