In the native range, roving herds of buffalo moved across the prairie, grazing it down to the ground, all the while fertilizing it with dung and urine and pawing up the ground as they went. They didn’t return until the area had recovered, and once again become lush and green.
That concept is at the heart of today’s regenerative grazing, and producers will get the chance to go in-depth into this system at a grazing school Tuesday, Feb. 5 and Wednesday, Feb. 6 at the Ernie French Center in Williston.
Steve Kenyon of Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. is returning to reprise a workshop he did this summer. This time, however, he’ll go into more depth on grazing management, pasture rejuvenation, weed control, water systems, winter feeding and cell design.
This will be a how-to approach to regenerative grazing, said Betty Sue Zavalney, with the Williams County Soil Conservation District, which is sponsoring the event.
The cost is $10 per person. For details, call 701-572-6729.
Kenyon rents a pasture in Canada that provides custom grazing for up to 1,000 head of cattle. They are his no-till drill, his fertilizer spread, his combine and heavy harrow, all in one.
In a presentation this summer, Kenyon covered some of the basics of how his system in Canada works at the Bruce and Kathy Brogger/Justin and Sara Loomer Ranch.
During the summer season, he puts cattle to work with intensive cell grazing. The idea is to keep a high stock density in smaller areas, so that he is moving cattle daily. This helps solve a common problem, where cattle seek out only the tasty bits, and leave the rest. That can result in rapid declines in quality of pasture in succeeding years.
With less room, the cattle have competition, and cannot afford to be as picky. They need to eat up everything there.
This intense grazing has another benefit. Rapidly growing plants tend to have more nutrition than older plants, which are squirreling protein and sugars away into root systems, flowers and seeds.
It is not just livestock, however, who need to be fed for a healthy range. It’s also the soil, and more specifically, the organisms that live in the soil.
Leaving more residue behind helps do that. It gives all the microorganisms their share of a tasty meal.
A thatch layer not only helps feed micro-organisms, it helps provide armor for the soil. That protects it from the mini-bomb effects of raindrops falling on bare soil, and also helps keep the moisture in the soil there longer.
The thatch, over time, is broken down by microorganisms and adds humus to the soil. Humus holds up to nine times its weight in water. That translates into drought resilience down the line.
In winter, Kenyon uses bale grazing, spreading a supply of hay across a section of pasture he wants to improve. It looks a little like a checkerboard square from above.
Electric wires partition the areas into four and five-day supplies of feed, and the cattle strip-graze through the paddock, dropping manure all along the way.
All the intensive grazing ultimately helps ensure that forage can outcompete weeds, keeping the cattle and the soil healthy for the long-term.