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It's Not the Cow, it's the How

So there is one month out of the year that I’m a bit ashamed to show non farm folks our cows and April/early May is it. they’re relegated to their 18x30 shed and 80x80 concreted area while the soil is soft and the grass is still coming out of dormancy. I do this because historically our grasses never had herbivore disturbance this early as the bison would have migrated south and wouldn’t come back up this way until the grass was high. With white folks and the notion of private property, herbivores stay in place and not only do we have to put up hay in the far north but if you want to do right by your soil and grasses, it’s best to keep the hooves and mouths off the pastures until the plants have excess to give. Think of a grass root as a savings account. If you’re wise, you’ll only spend the interest (grass shoot) not the principal (the crown of plant). Not only does grazing too early and too often hurt or possibly kill the plants you want, it exposes your animals to more parasites that live in the soil or at ground level but also the carbon cycling is greatly limited. Planned grazing is only allowing the herbivores onto a paddock when the plants have enough to give and exclude them when they don’t.

A functioning ecological system requires disturbance and rest. This is also how grazing animals properly can sequester carbon as when the plant uses it’s carbohydrate energy stored in its roots to replenish the leaf shoots, it sloughs off leaving organic matter in the soil before it regrows again when the plant is at max photosynthetic capacity.

Set stock grazing is when you have a perimeter fence and animals have continuous access to all plants. They choose to eat their favorite plants first and their least favorite last or never so over time you end up with a bunch of weeds you don’t want and none of the grasses you do, virtually no carbon cycling as the roots of the plants that survive the constant disturbance never get much deeper than the plant gets high and you end up having to use progressively aggressive wormers on your animals to keep them alive as the parasite life cycle is never broken.

I’ve included a picture of my neighbor up the road as a one of the worst set stock grazing I’ve seen and a video of our cows grazing last season in late May. I won’t even go into the ecological/environmental/energetic/ethical shitstorm that is confined animal feeding operations. It’s not the cow, it’s the how.


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