Last week I found myself justifying to my neighbor that my responsibility to my land includes grazing. Now, we are both environmentalists and we both love the land and respect nature’s way, but she sees nature’s way as untouched and I see nature’s way as stomped on, pooped on and bitten off.
So she asked just how I considered putting my horses out on grass so newly recovered from the 2011 drought to be good land stewardship. I invited her to come over for a hike around the land to see what I have learned from my years in Holistic Management.
• Tilling the Soil – Due to the drought and other reasons, I had not grazed this land in three years. I showed her the hard, capped soil and we found a hoofprint so she could see how within it the soil was softened and there was a tiny catchment for the next rain to have a chance at soaking in and softening whatever seeds might be lurking.
• Planting the Seeds – Just walking on the Earth allows those hooves to push plant-tosssed seeds into contact with the soil so they have a chance at growing.
• Applying the Mulch – I showed my neighbor tons of gray, petrified grass—still standing but brittle and oxidized and doing nothing at all except preventing the sun from nourishing the new growth. The horses knock those decadent stalks over and trample them into the soil where they can do some real good – shading the soil and beginning to feed it during times of moisture.
• And the Compost – Then comes the real gift – the poop and pee of it. She is already familiar with the benefits of organic fertilizer, so I showed her the dung beetles carrying all those nutrients deep into the soil.
• Pruning – Biting the tips off the grasses and forbs stimulates them to grow more leaves and more roots. The bite causes the root to die back a little, and in so doing it excites and feeds the soil food web around those roots, which in turn facilitates more growth and creates new soil.
• A Little Massage – As they walk, run, roll and yank at bites of grass, the horses are putting kinetic energy into the ground and massaging things around a little. The Earth likes it.
• And a nice long nap – Plants need time to recover from being grazed. Roots and leaves grow back at different rates, based on time of year, location and moisture. It takes a little awareness to match grazing and growth cycles.
“OK, OK, I get it,” she says, “but why do you have to have so many fences?”
“Predators! Or rather the lack of them.” I responded. “In nature, predators keep the herds bunched and moving on so they don’t bite the same grass twice. They might not make it back to this spot for a year. I do that with the fencing.”
Her favorite view was of my hillside. She liked it wild and free.
“Sorry to ruin your view……and it IS just temporary.”
“Not at all!” she said, good neighbor that she is. “I am now seeing that fence in a whole new way—as a beautiful electric-streamlined work of art housing the most beautiful of gardeners.”
• Mutual Aid – So many benefits for all come of this grazing process. The mulch & compost on the ground improves the water cycle and the mineral cycle. The roots are pulsing and growing deeper to store water and carbon deep within the soil. Wildlife thrives on the diversity attracted to the health of the ecosystem. The horses are healthy because they move away from parasites and pests and because they have fresh healthy salads to eat and freshly oxygenated air to breathe. And I am happy not to be buying expensive hay.
It’s a win-win-win. How clever of Nature to have thought all this up.