ON February 2, Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) invited Niels Scorfield to Northern Ireland to give his third and final workshop, this one was all about regenerative grazing.
Approximately 40 people attended the event held in Cookstown, eager to learn how to improve their pastures and adopt some new management principles.
He covered a little on soil biology from the first workshop again, leading into understanding why roots are so shallow and how a lot of farmers are experiencing compaction and weed burdens. All lead to the road of over grazing.
When a grass pushes out that fresh new tiller, its full of sweetness, so tempting, our livestock will always seek it out first. When we leave them set stocked in a field they will continually chase that ‘sweet sward’.
The roots worked hard to push sugars to this new leaf encouraging fresh growth, then it gets nipped off and the plant has to work all over again to rebuild that sugar supply. It can’t afford to share too much with the roots now, ultimately stunting their development.
New research has also found that plants have cellular memory. The plant remembers that it always gets chomped at a certain height, learning there is no need to develop larger roots to support a larger plant.
The plant’s single goal in life is to produce seed, so this plant will now be trying to throw that seed head at shorter heights, giving the farmer extra labour of topping.
Also when the plant is being fed from above, inorganic fertiliser for example, it also learns it doesn’t need a large root system to mine for its nutrients, they just come!
The value of rotationally grazing our livestock is that ultimately it will grow more grass and that grass will have stronger root systems. This is the turning point for soil health. Those stronger roots are capable of bursting through compaction and helping water infiltrate better.
The timing is crucial also. Move the livestock before that new leaf emerges. This is typically on day 5, but during sunnier, warmer days it can be as quick as day 3 or 4.
We may feel we understand rotational grazing is better than set stocking but are we allowing the land much rest? Niels informed us, “Longer rest periods have been shown to be far and away the cheapest tool to restore the heart of the land.”
Niels advises we try out test plots and have a control plot to compare against, monitor grass growth, ground cover, crown size, rooting depths etc. Learning to observe more, be flexible, invest in reliable temporary fencing and create a simple system that we are more likely to stick to. Niels assures us
“Even if we only do it with one field, stick with it for three years and the proof will be in the pudding.”
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