The Blue Head is cross fenced into over 70 pastures ranging in size from 10 acres to almost 3,000 acres and we move our herds through them on a schedule planned well in advance. Currently we have three main herds of about 2,000 head each. Using the principles of Holistic Planned Grazing developed by Allan Savory we calculate how many pastures each herd will require, how long the rest period needs to be between grazings for adequate recovery of the grazed plants and how long the herd needs to spend in each pasture. The ideal (seldom achieved) is for each plant to be either bitten off once or stepped on by a cow in the brief time the herd is present. With a grazing plan written out months in advance and even with the inevitable alterations to the plan we can know if we will have adequate feed in the event of drought or other circumstances that can affect a ranch. Knowing how much grass is needed, monitoring how much is growing and being prepared to re-plan if it becomes obvious that the two aren’t lining up gives a rancher a wonderful peace of mind. We can predict long in advance if it appears we need to reduce cattle numbers, find more pasture or take other steps to react to adverse conditions.
In the spring, summer and fall, when conditions allow rapid plant growth we like to aim for a recovery period of 25 to 30 days. In the winter months when growth is slow or nonexistent the plan calls for 50 to 60 days of rest between grazings. For much of the year a herd will spend just one day in many of the pastures and never more than a few days. Obviously moving that many cows that frequently keeps us busy. Hence the 40 head of saddle horses. The cows have learned well that when a human in an ATV shows up and opens the gate it means fresh feed and most of them move to the next pasture on their own but there are inevitably some stragglers that linger in the woods and thickets. We ride almost every day to keep those caught up with the main herds.
The connections between healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals that eat those plants and the health of humans who eat those animals are becoming more obvious as our understanding of these relationships grows. Grass, to remain healthy, needs to be grazed. Grazing, done correctly, promotes regrowth of plants. Soil, to be healthy, needs plants growing in it that are periodically disturbed then allowed to regrow. This disturbance/rest cycle stimulates more plant growth which stimulates the growth of bacteria and other microbes that soils require to be healthy and alive. The action of hooved animals plants seeds, breaks up capped soils, knocks down standing plant material so it’s in contact with the ground and can break down more readily and allows better moisture penetration. There is a marvelous symbiosis between large grazing animals and the tiny microbial creatures that is crucial for the health of the life in the soil that feeds the plants that feed the animals that feed humans. A primary focus on the Blue Head is to learn more about those connections and how to use our livestock as tools that promote ever more healthy soil, plants, animals and people.