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Why Do We Graze?

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2020 February Issue Newsletter

By Doug Cook, NOFA/Mass Education Events Coordinator

Humans literally evolved to follow other animals around and participate in their environmental systems. There is no wonder we have devoted a huge portion of our society to domesticating animals; we are holding on to the partnership that has historically provided sustenance.  Unfortunately, we are currently working in a system that displaces the true meaning of our relationship with livestock by reducing it to an economic transaction. 

Many livestock farmers know-- and the research is increasingly backing them up-- that animals thrive when they have access to quality pasture and are managed in a manner that stimulates their natural behaviors. Moved regularly through diverse pastures, livestock can transform the landscape.

With some planning, fencing and labor, livestock can significantly affect the biological vigor of our managed lands. When it is done well, all systems will thrive.

A 2018 Civil Eats article, Can Responsible Grazing Make Beef Climate Neutral, quotes Dr. Christine Jones, an Australian soil scientist (and friend of NOFA/Mass), “ ‘The research clearly demonstrates there are no net emissions of greenhouse gas with well-planned AMP grazing, due to the sequestration of soil carbon,’ Jones said. AMP grazing provides ‘countless other ecosystem services,’ she added, ‘including improved biodiversity, erosion control (soil is by far America’s largest export), increased soil water-holding capacity, and greater drought resilience.’”  (AMP, which stands for “adaptive multi-paddock grazing,” is just one of the many phrases used to describe styles of grazing that move herds of cattle through the landscape in denser groups to mimic the ancient migratory patterns of wild ungulates, which co-evolved with pasture grasses). 

Are there ways to graze our animals that will regenerate degraded soils? Have you considered trying your hand at silvopasture? What are the indicators to look for to determine herd health and pasture health? We have a lot of questions and are dedicating this spring to having conversations on farms that we think are working towards, and demonstrate, quality herd management strategies.

Take a look at our spring lineup of on-farm livestock events and mark your calendars to attend:

          Sharp Farmstead Cheeses at Upinngil Farm with Cliff Hatch

Saturday, March 14th, 2020 8am-5pm, Gill, MA

We will make a variety of hard renneted cheeses such as Cheddar, Dunlop, and Gloucester, while discussing everything from pasture management to ideal curing conditions.  Register here.

Rotational Grazing at Sky View Farm:


A cow/calf pair on pasture

Meat CSA and Small-Scale Dairy with Amelia and Will Conklin

Sunday, May 17th, 2020 1pm-4pm, Sheffield, MA

We will tour the farm and discuss fencing systems, choosing stocking density and grazing plans. We will talk about their raw milk production and visit their recently added small-scale dairy.  Register here.

Enhancing Pastures at Lillooet Farm with Nathaniel Higley

Sunday, May 31st, 2020 1pm-4pm, Boxford, MA

We will see how they manage their sheep and goats for dairy production and work to enhance their new pastures. We will also have a tour of their newly constructed milking and cheese production facility. More information and registration coming soon.

Pasture Management and Silvopasture at Square Roots Farm with Michael Gallagher and Connor Stedman

Monday, June 8th, 2020 1pm-4pm, Lanesborough, MA

We will observe and discuss how they use intensive grazing practices with a variety of livestock.  Connor Stedman will speak to the potential of silvopasture in sustaining thriving farm-based ecosystems.  More information and registration coming soon.

Rotational Grazing at Cricket Creek Farm with Topher Sabot

Monday, June 15th, 2020 1pm-4pm, Williamstown, MA

We will take a walk to see how they are practicing intensive grazing practices with their 40 head dairy heard by moving them to fresh pasture two and three times a day. Following, we will tour their dairy facility and speak about their cheese production methods.  More information and registration coming soon.

We are meant to be connected to our food systems; starting with all the microorganisms from the soil to our own gut and the entire biological web in between.  I look forward to continuing the conversation about how properly managed livestock can build resiliency on our human managed land and regenerate ecological systems. If you are looking to dive into more resources, searching the internet for ‘high density rotational grazing’ or ‘management intensive rotational grazing’ along with the terms ‘regenerative’ or ‘carbon sequestration’ will yield plenty of results.  You may also read about grazing in our other articles from this month’s newsletter:

Finding Your Way in the Modern Dairy Market

The Real Climate Change Mitigating Diet

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