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At Drumanilra Organic farm we are starting to implement a system for managing land and livestock known as Holistic Planned Grazing or HPG.  Here is a brief outline of what this involves and some of the benefits.

Natural Systems are Complex and Self-Organising

Holistic Planned Grazing fits into the broader context of Holistic Management which recognises that nature functions in wholes not parts. Individual parts do not exist in nature, only wholes and these form and shape each other.  Natural systems are complex and self-organizing. Everything has a job or a role to play.  In holistic management, rather than just focusing on one part or problem, we consider the consequences of any solution, within the context of the system as a whole.

Holistic Planned Grazing – What is it?

HPG is about getting the animals  to the right place at the right time, with the right behaviour, and moving them on before they take that second bite of a plant. This requires extra infrastructure such as permanent and temporary fencing and water points.

How it Works

When animals enter a new pasture, they select plants for maximum nutrition and energy.  As most of the energy is in the growing tip, they generally graze the tops of the plants first. If they are allowed to stay in the same paddock, they will return to graze the plants a second time and so on until the plants are grazed to the ground. The result is overgrazing.  Overgrazing is not related to the number of animals in a given area, but the time the plants are exposed to the animals. If the plants are exposed to the animals for too long, the most palatable species will be overgrazed, and the less desirable species, avoided by the cattle, will gain an advantage.

When plants are overgrazed, their only option is to get their energy from the roots to regrow.  This results in shallow roots and thus limited access to water and nutrients. If the plant is allowed to retain green material, it can get its energy from the process of photosynthesis.  This allows for quicker recovery and better root development.

Mimicking Nature

In HPG, we move cattle onto fresh ground daily.  We aim for high stock density consuming 30 – 40% of the available forage. The residual forage gets trampled to the ground, mixed with dung and urine, and is consumed by soil biology.

This is how herbivores move in the wild: large herds bunched together and continuously on the move from predator pressure. In the case of HPG, we use electric fencing to mimic that pressure from predators.

The Advantages of Holistic Planned Grazing

In farming, we are always trying to maximise photosynthesis.  If you consider a pasture as a solar collector, then the more leaf area, the more solar energy can be captured.  This results in more photosynthesis and more carbon flowing into the soil.  This feeds soil biology, which in turn feeds the plant.

So, the advantages of HPG are:

  • By allowing for longer rest periods and avoiding over-grazing, you maximise forage production.
  • You also enable better root development, which in turn aerates soil and creates better soil structure.
  • The animals get maximum nutrition from fresh clean pasture every day.
  • Because the cattle are grazing higher forage cover, rather than close to the ground, the worm and parasite burden reduces.
  • Because there is always dense ground cover in the form of living plants, or trampled litter, the soil is always protected. This buffers against extreme weather conditions, preventing evaporation in drought conditions, and erosion during heavy rainfall.

Our Organic Dexters

With Holistic Planned Grazing, there is some initial set up, and investment in infrastructure for fencing and water, but once in place, it doesn’t take much time to move cattle on a daily basis.  Animals very quickly get used to moving, because they know they are getting fresh clean pasture every day!  We think the system will have huge benefits for the health of our herd of organic Dexters and for the management of our land here at Drumanilra.  Not to mention for the quality, nutritional value and taste of the Dexter Beef which we sell online, direct from the farm, and will be supplying to our new Farm Shops and Cafes.  We look forward to reporting back on how we get on!

Noel Higgins

Farm Manager, Drumanilra Organic Farm