by Chris Baggott

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by Chris Baggott

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Rangeland in Indiana

You might have heard us talk about “Total Grazing” and wonder if this can lead to “Overgrazing”

Overgrazing, Grass fed Beef

Total Grazing isn’t Overgrazing

In Allan Savory’s book “Holistic Management,” overgrazing is described in a way that’s somewhat different from traditional definitions. Instead of focusing primarily on the number of animals and the amount of vegetation consumed, Savory emphasizes the time plants need to recover after being grazed.

Key points from his description include:

1. Time, Not Animal Numbers: Overgrazing is not necessarily a result of too many animals, but rather how long those animals remain on a particular piece of land and how frequently that piece of land is grazed.

2. Plant Recovery: Every time a plant is grazed, it needs a certain amount of time to recover. Overgrazing can occur when animals return to a previously grazed area before the plants have had adequate time to regenerate.

3. Relationship Between Grass and Animals: Properly managed grazing can be beneficial, as it can mimic natural grazing patterns observed in wild ecosystems. The key is to ensure that grazed areas are given sufficient recovery time before being grazed again.

4. Bunched and Moving: In natural settings, herbivores often graze in tight groups for protection against predators and tend to move frequently. This behavior results in intense grazing of an area followed by a long period of recovery—something Savory suggests imitating in managed systems to prevent overgrazing and promote land regeneration.

 

Grass fed Beef in Greenfield Indiana delivery

Indiana Grassland Management

Savory’s holistic approach urges land managers like us to monitor the land, the health of the vegetation, and the behavior of the livestock, adjusting grazing patterns based on observations and the specific needs of the ecosystem. This is in contrast to static grazing plans which might not take into account the variability in rainfall, plant growth rates, and other factors that influence how long a patch of land needs to recover from grazing.

Continuous grazing, as its name suggests, refers to the practice of allowing livestock to graze a specific area continuously throughout the grazing season, without giving the pasture significant time to recover. It contrasts with rotational or managed grazing practices, where livestock are moved through different paddocks or sections of pasture to allow each section time to recover.

Here are some key differences and considerations:

1. Impact on Vegetation: In continuous grazing, because animals have unrestricted access to all parts of the pasture, they will often overgraze their favorite plants and undergraze less desirable ones. This can lead to a shift in plant species composition, with an increase in less palatable or weedy species.

2. Pasture Recovery: Pastures under continuous grazing often don’t have adequate time to recover, leading to soil erosion, decreased soil fertility, and decreased plant root depth. Over time, this can degrade the quality of the pasture and reduce its productivity.

3. Soil Health: Continuous grazing can lead to soil compaction, especially around water sources or feeding areas where animals congregate. Compacted soils can reduce water infiltration, leading to increased runoff and erosion.

4. Animal Health: In a continuously grazed system, parasites can become a bigger issue because livestock are continuously exposed to the same ground. In rotational systems, moving livestock can break the life cycle of certain parasites.

5. Forage Efficiency: Livestock in continuous systems can be less efficient in forage utilization because they might keep grazing on their preferred plants while leaving others untouched. This contrasts with rotational systems where livestock are encouraged to consume a broader spectrum of available forage due to the limited time they spend in each paddock.

6. Flexibility: Continuous grazing systems require less labor and infrastructure than rotational systems. There’s no need for frequent livestock moves or the fencing systems required for multiple paddocks. However, this reduced labor might come at the expense of long-term pasture health and productivity.

In essence, while continuous grazing may seem simpler or more convenient, it can lead to long-term degradation of pastures and reduced productivity. Rotational or managed grazing practices, like those advocated for with Holistic Management, aim to balance the needs of the land with those of the livestock, mimicking natural grazing patterns to promote healthier ecosystems.

Managed Grazing In Indiana

Polywire Use in Managing Indiana Grasslands

There can be significant differences in meat quality between animals raised under continuous grazing systems versus those under rotational or managed grazing systems. Here are some of the potential differences and reasons behind them:

1. Diet Diversity: In rotational or managed grazing systems, livestock often have access to a wider variety of forages as they are moved to different paddocks with diverse plant species. This diverse diet can influence the flavor profile and nutritional composition of the meat.

2. Forage Quality: In well-managed rotational systems, livestock graze on forages that are often at an optimal stage of growth, which can be higher in nutrients and digestibility compared to overgrazed pastures in continuous systems. Better nutrition can translate to better meat quality.

3. Fatty Acid Profile: Grass-fed animals, particularly those on rotational systems with access to high-quality forage, tend to have meat with a healthier fatty acid profile, including higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a more favorable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio compared to grain-fed animals. The meat also tends to be richer in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat that has been linked to various health benefits.

4. Vitamin and Antioxidant Content: Meat from animals raised on high-quality forage can have higher levels of certain vitamins (like vitamin E and B-vitamins) and antioxidants.

5. Stress Levels: The way animals are managed can influence their stress levels. Stress can impact meat quality, particularly tenderness and shelf life. Animals in well-managed rotational systems might experience less competition for resources and fewer health issues, which can lead to reduced stress and, consequently, better meat quality.

6. Parasite and Disease Management: In rotational systems, as mentioned earlier, moving livestock can help break the life cycle of certain parasites. Healthier animals free from heavy parasite loads or diseases often produce better quality meat.

7. Environmental Considerations: While not directly related to meat quality, it’s worth noting that meat produced in regenerative, rotational systems can have environmental benefits, including improved soil health and carbon sequestration. Consumers increasingly consider these factors when evaluating “quality.”

 

This may be more than you wanted to know about how we manage our grasslands.   But if you’ve made it this far, you can see, Grass fed beef isn’t a commodity.  Management matters.

Fresh, Quality, Pasture-Raised.

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