Guest Blog by Dick Richardson
HMI Certified Educator Dick Richardson of Grazing Naturally took some time to explain the difference between the Grazing Naturally System and Holistic Planned Grazing as there has been some confusion between these two systems for graziers.
This information is partially from an article titled “Spring Grazing: Managing the Season of Contrast” that was originally published on Dick’s website and is used by permission. The rest of the article is from an email exchange to further elaborate on the points Dick made in his original web article.
In northern regions (of Australia) October (spring) spells the onset of what is traditionally a mostly hot and dry few months that can be interspersed by periods of stormy humid conditions. These intermittent and often isolated storms may produce enough rainfall to stimulate fresh shoots in some grass plants at the same time as enhancing the deterioration of existing dry feed. The hard work done through priority grazing during the growing period can be highly beneficial here where the areas of better quality dry feed may provide better animal performance and heavily browsed plants like this Seca stylo (forage legume) plant below could provide some high quality protein supplement where adequate moisture allows.
It also reinforces the need to revisit non-growing season plans, potentially on a regular basis to maintain stocking rate in line with carrying capacity. It also may require decisions to be made about feed allocations depending on feed quality changes.
Key to a sound non growing plan in to have a good measurement of feed available which can be easily and quickly achieved using the STAC method. For those who prefer a more interactive experience, view this short video of the STAC in practice.
In contrast, October for producers in the southern regions sees them in the midst of the growing season where temperature is beginning to have less of an effect on limiting growth and moisture is either adequate or inadequate to keep up with the growth rate. Matching stocking rate to carrying capacity is focused on growing as much feed as possible of high quality and diversity of species.
Grazing Naturally sees a key part of this as being a focus on keeping as much of our pasture in a vegetative state as we can, thereby guaranteeing some very high quality feed being available when growth ceases. The main aim of this is by keeping more plants vegetative we save on soil water and extend the green season while producing feed of higher digestibility. Some additional bonuses of this “priority grazing” technique is the increase in soil carbon that results from microbial activity building humus – a process stimulated by actively growing vegetative plants exuding sugars into the soil and lower methane production in the digestion phase.
The long term ecological benefit of this method is increased soil water holding capacity and nutrient storage and exchange ability.
Navigating through this period can be nervy when you are being fed contradicting viewpoints and one of the most classic errors is to speed up stock moves when the growth rate increases. Fast growth – fast moves mantra only results in lighter, more selective, grazing through the prime growth period allowing the less desirable plants to rob the water and nutrients from the soil to the total disadvantage of all the desirable plants. Under-utilization of the pasture results in poorer quality feed being produced throughout the sward and a shorter green season.
Why is it a classic error to speed up stock moves when the growth rate increases? This principle is one of the major differences between the Grazing Naturally method and Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG).
HPG suggests faster moves when growth rates occur. Faster moves always result in lower grazing demand. A lower grazing demand means that selectivity is increased and the less desirable plants rush on while the more desirable plants are reset / retarded into slower growth. Some important things then occur.
1. The ungrazed plants become reproductive, stop conditioning soils through root exudates and increase water and nutrient use by more than fourfold, thus thieving the resources from the more desirable plants. Usually water and or nutrients are the most limiting resources for productivity in grazing ecosystems.
2. In tall grasslands, the ungrazed plants shade out the desirable plants by over shadowing them.
3. In wet areas and in humid tropics, the more desirable plants are smothered by humidity and are often attacked by viruses and rusts as well as the decomposing saprotrophs as noted below.
4. Excess leftover plant material from less desirable plants then ends up at soil surface creating seedling impairing mulch and a major feed source for the decomposer organisms to feed on creating ideal conditions for the germination of woody weeds, shrubs and trees.
5. In Mediterranean climates point 4 applies during the over wet winter months when evaporation is limited. Points one and two majorly affect and overpower the more desirable plants during the mad dash of growth during the short spring periods in climates where the season shuts off really quickly like nearly all the winter rainfall areas of Australia and Southern Africa.
6. Spikey and difficult seed heads, often the reason for lower desirability in plants, then hinder the animals’ ability to select the more desirable plants going ahead causing major animal performance issues.
The final outcomes of speeding up are:
- Depressed animal performance
- Increased shrub, woody weed and tree invasion of grasslands
- Die back of root systems, soil acidification and the destruction of soil structure.
- Buildup of too heavy a litter layer and therefore mulching
- An increase in less desirable species over more desirable species
- Decreased effective root exudates driving the development of the humus compounds and soil structure.
The Grazing Naturally method is not based on the Rational grazing methodology which lead to the development of cell grazing and HPG. The Grazing Naturally Method, The Venter-Drewes Method, and standard adaptive grazing used by many intuitive graziers and was and still is the go to basis for herders and shepherds across the world. Natural Grazing revolves around animals keeping certain areas in optimal grazing condition, while other areas are naturally spelled into the dormant periods or subsequent slow growth periods.
So when growth speeds up, rather than speeding the moves up, the stock will simply return to the ‘priority’ area (paddock) sooner allowing the whole of the other areas to get away in a level playing ground situation. When growth slows down, the grazing simply extends further into the available feeding areas (paddocks). This keeps some whole areas (paddocks) in prime growing and nutrition conditions and reduces water and nutrient use with more time for growth and soil conditioning through root exudates.