Regenerative grazing is the use of grazing animals, chiefly herbivores, but also omnivores such as swine and chickens to a lesser extent, to restore and regenerate ecosystems. Akin to rotational grazing, restorative or regenerative grazing involves bunching livestock together in tight herds. Flocks and herds must be confined to areas small enough to apply sufficient grazing pressure on plant communities to achieve even grazing (where all species are affected through grazing and trampling). Grazing stock must also be excluded from grazed land for an adequate recovery interval.
Several methods can be used to bunch herds together including, electric fences, "hard fencing", herding and the presence of predators.
God’s Design for Savanna and Grasslands
In order to restore grazing land, we begin by observing the patterns which hold natural ecosystems in balance. The characteristics of these incredibly productive natural systems serve as a model and framework.
- Grasslands are characterized by deep, organic soils with high water retention
- Grasslands harbor biodiverse and productive plant and animal communities
- Herds of herbivores pressured by predators are observed bunched and continually moving across landscapes
Definition: A pattern in which biodiversity and plant density is declining due to overselection of palatable forages by grazing animals. Favored plant species are repeatedly grazed without a sufficient recovery interval, eventually killing the plants and shifting the balance of species toward less favored species. This eventually leads to oxidizing soils, declining moisture retention of landscapes and desertification.
In natural systems, despite very high densities of grazing animals, overgrazing is not observed. Overgrazing is caused by:
- Under-stocking of land
- Wide-area dispersal of livestock rather than bunching
- Sedentary practices with few/infrequent movements of herbivores
This grazing interval must be appropriate to the rate of vegetative growth of the pasture plants, keying in on the desired species: grasses, legumes, shrub or tree browse forages, or even weeds. In rapidly growing pastures, very short intervals are required such as moving daily or even more frequently. Where growth is slow, intervals as long as one or even two weeks are possible.
A critical control point is to adjust the duration of the grazing interval to:
- Prevent the “second bite”; where an animal returns to a regrowing plant and grazes the regrowth
- Control the “Zone of Repugnance”
- Achieve a healthy pressure and trampling effect, but not enough to destroy
Benefits of Regenerative Grazing
Rapid graze-down and trampling results in benefits for plant and soil microbe communities when coupled with a good recovery period.
- Grazing Effects:
- “Leveling the playing field” for plant biodiversity: favoring species that are capable of rapid vegetative regrowth
- “Sloughing” (root/shoot balance) increases soil carbon & microbial habitat in the rhizosphere (root zone)
- Maximizing vegetative growth by preventing senescence (old age dormancy) in pasture plants
- Trampling Effects:
- Improving soil structure through “herd effects” - soil and plant disturbance
- Planting through hoof action - causing good soil contact for seeds
- Soil shading, moisture retention and regulation in soil surface micro-environment due to trampling
- Nutrient “flush” at the right time for plant regrowth through concentrated dunging
Herd and Herdsman Benefits
Regenerative grazing has benefits to livestock and herdsmen, increasing herd health, productivity and profitability.
- Short grazing and long recovery intervals minimize intestinal parasites (which reproduce on the ground)
- Increasing long-term diet diversity improves protein availability as favorable forage plants increase
- Improving pastures support increased carrying capacity and larger, more productive herds
- Opportunity for silvopasture with perennial pasture plants, shrubs and trees (which unmanaged herds may kill)
- Deeper, richer soils with more organic matter, moisture retention and nutrient availability over time
- More productive and biodiverse plant communities over time
- More ground water stored, slowed, less runoff and erosion, increased reliability in stream and spring flows
Keys for Application
- Bunching and excluding strategies: tethering or hobbling, shepherds/herdsmen, hard/living/electric fence types
- Eliminate the “second bite”
- Graze “60-30-10” eaten, trampled, standing - adjust based on “key species”
- Enforce appropriate recovery time!
- Observe interactions and adjust
- Introduce “randomness”
- Kraaling: enclosing animals at night for safety and to concentrate dung for agriculture uses
- Understand stages of vegetative growth
- Encourage use of multiple grazing and support species; the “flerd” poultry, pigs, wildlife