Newsletter July 2016: Farming In Circles

            Happy 4th of July! I hope everyone had a chance to time outside enjoying the day with family, it was a great day for grilling out up here in southern Wisconsin.

            Some of you may remember in a past newsletter I had said that our primary concern at Alden Hills is our grass. Since all of our animals are pastured, meaning that they all live out on our pastures, the health and quality of our grassland often has a direct link to the end product that you purchase. I wanted to explain a little more specifically about HOW we raise our animals on grass though. We don't just throw animals out in our paddocks and call it....what I want to talk about is referred to as a “rotational grazing system.”

            Rotational grazing is a way of ranching in which animals are circled through to fresh pasture daily, or every other day, depending on needs. Our layout at Alden Hills is that we have permanent fences around the entire farm and then we run temporary fence lines each day to break off the section that the cattle get that day. For the chickens, since they are much gentler on a pasture, we fence a large section and move them once a week. With this system we make about 3-4 rotations through all of our pastures each summer....which is perfect to give each paddock plenty of time to recover and regrow before it is time to be grazed again.

            Now, why do we go to all this trouble? It certainly would be a lot simpler (and save us a lot of time!) to just keep all our cattle in a big paddock. The benefits of rotational grazing are mainly for our grass, we only keep animals on a section grass long enough so that they can eat their fill and be gone before they overgraze and start compacting the soil. Another reason we rotate is when you move a herd to fresh grass every day they tend to eat everything they can and not just the tastiest plants. This sounds like a unimportant aspect but its crucial for grassland, and animal, health that there is a good variety of forage. Each plant has a different purpose and if certain plants don't get eaten down then they can take over a pasture and throw things out of balance. A great example of this is clover, which is a great nutrient source for cows in small doses but if clover is allowed to go wild it would quickly take over the whole pasture and cows will get sick if that all they eat. Farming is about bringing balance to the land rotational grazing is a big part of that. 

Levi Powers