In our pastures, we use a variety of animal species: chickens, ducks, rabbits, and a specific breed of sheep known for grazing weeds to help encourage the grasses and native vegetation and discourage noxious weed growth. Using a rotational system is extremely important in all pasture management, but especially so when dry-farming — if left in one large open pasture all summer, our animals would just selectively eat down the tastiest plants until they were so depleted they would not have the strength to regrow, and weeds and undesirables with low nutrition would take over. The number of animals that could be fed each year on our land would decrease. This is what has been happening on farms like ours for a long time, and we aim to turn that around. It’s a work in progress, always! That said, there are a great many hardy and wonderful plants considered “weeds” by some that are great and healthy forages for animals, so we have no problem keeping some of those around. Dandelion, plantain, yarrow, and chicory are all very hardy, and our livestock love them just as we do.
With rotational grazing, the animals are allowed to graze a small section for a brief period of time, allowing the plants to retain enough stem and leaf matter that the following spring they can regrow vigorously (many grass species enjoy this, like mowing your lawn!). Because of the dry conditions, we often only visit a specific pasture once or twice a year to be careful not to over-graze the plants. Over time, we hope to use our plentiful manure to increase the organic matter content of our soil and subsequently the moisture-holding capacity, which would allow for more visits to each part of the pasture in a year without negative impacts.
Over time, rotational grazing increases the amount of animals you can raise on your land, because they all eat different things — sheep and cattle are a classic example, being able to raise sheep alongside cattle with no decrease in the number of cattle per acre. Multiple species benefit one another because a) they typically do no share parasites, so a pasture recently grazed by cattle won’t pass parasites onto your chickens, and b) species like chickens will actually eat the parasites and fly larvae from cattle manure, making that pasture cleaner more quickly and allowing more rotations of cattle on that piece of land in a year and c) there is different composition of nutrients in the manures of different types of animals, so your pastures will be receiving the best of all worlds and grow more vigorously from exposure to several species rather than just one.
We also practice diversified livestock as a risk management strategy for our farm — a farm producing only cattle can be completely devastated by disease or famine specific to cows. A diversified operation is more resilient to the unexpected, and we are all about resiliency and the sustainability of our business and our ability to provide food in our region!