Have you ever heard the idiom “watching grass grow”? Most likely you have. And, if you have heard that idiom, or used it yourself, most likely you were implying that whatever it was you were comparing to “watching grass grow”, you considered that thing to be very boring. Well, what if I told you that not only can “watching grass grow” be interesting, but actually listening to someone TALK about grass growing would have people listening with rapt attention for nearly two hours? You probably wouldn’t believe me. I might not believe me either except that I witnessed it with my own eyes. This occurred about a week and a half ago when County Road Cattle and the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) teamed up to host a Rotational Grazing Field Day just outside of Albert Lea, MN. You can read more about County Road Cattle at www.CountyRoadCattle.com. One of Growing Hope’s board members, Marty Little, is one of the founders of County Road Cattle, so we are a little bit excited about his new endeavor… But, for today I really just want to focus on how listening to someone talk about grass growing can be so exciting.
You see, County Road Cattle is an organization that raises, well, cattle. There’s more to it than that (again, see their website…), but one of the key elements to raising quality cattle is providing them with quality grass on which to graze. This is where the excitement about grass comes in to play. You see, what County Road Cattle, and the NRCS, supports for feeding cattle is something known as “Rotational Grazing.” It is basically what is sounds like – rotating the cattle to graze in different areas of a farm. These various areas are known as paddocks. And, each of the paddocks are prepared with intentionality, from attention to soil and water quality, to exactly what kind of grass is grown in each paddock, to how long the cattle are allowed to graze in any given paddock.
One of the speakers at the event, Greg Wood of BitterSweet Acres in northwest Iowa, talked about his family’s philosophy regarding rotational grazing. He said that they use a “take half, leave half approach”, which basically means once the grass in a paddock is approximately 12 inches tall, the cattle are moved in to graze until they’ve eaten about six inches of the grass. They are then rotated to a different paddock where the grass is 12 inches tall. Rotational grazing. It is this process that keeps the grass so healthy, and thus makes for healthy cattle.
Another speaker at the event was John Zinn of the NRCS. One of the things John talked about was how, by examining cow manure, you can determine to what degree the grass being eaten by the cattle is having a positive impact on their overall health. The NRCS is also instrumental in helping folks who want to get started with rotational grazing by helping them plan the layout of their farm, and also what grasses to plant in which paddocks. John pointed out that the grasses have to have variety because cattle can get satiated with one particular kind of grass in much the same way as we humans can sometimes complain at mealtime, “meatloaf again?!” Variety is the spice of life! For cattle and humans!
Here are a few benefits of rotational grazing:
*provides high quality feed consistently
*increases soil organic matter over time
*increases rainfall infiltration by reducing compaction and *better soil structure
*increases available water holding capacity
*reduces reliance on purchased fertilizers through better manure distribution
A perfect comment to drive the message home was made by Chris Wood, son of speaker Greg Wood. As Chris puts it, “We raise cattle, but we have to raise grass first.” If you ever have the opportunity to attend a rotational grazing event, I would encourage you to do so. If nothing else, you will certainly learn that watching grass grow is FAR from boring!
Have a great day, my friends!