Why Planned Grazing?

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 far in advance. Currently we have
three main herds of 1,800 to 2,200 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 pastures. 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 in each pasture. With a grazing
plan written out months in advance and even with the inevitable, minor 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 roughly 30 days. In the winter months when growth is slow or nonexistent the
plan calls for 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 our crew working steadily. Hence the 40 head of saddle horses. The cows have
learned well that when a human 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 usually some stragglers. We ride most 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 consume meat from those animals are becoming more obvious as our
understanding of these issues grows. Grass, to be healthy, needs to be grazed. Soil, to be healthy,
needs plants growing in it that are periodically disturbed then allowed to regrow. This graze/rest
cycle stimulates more plant growth which stimulates the growth of bacteria and other microbes that
soil requires to be healthy and alive. Grazing, done correctly, promotes regrowth of forage plants and
the action of hooved animals plants seeds, breaks up capped soils, knocks down standing plant
material so it’s in contact with the ground to 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. Our primary goal 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *