Soil degradation usually begins with the loss of soil cover, which consists of both living plants and decaying plant debris (e.g. mulch). The consequences are: damaged water and nutrient cycles, reduced solar energy flow and reduced biodiversity.
Sustainable land cover needs a natural, intact ecosystem in which animal influence also plays an important role. Grass and cattle have evolved synergistically together over many millions of years. Where large herds of cattle moved across vast areas of the landscape, fertile soil has developed. An ancient co-evolution of grass and grazers. The animals ate the grass, affected the soil by their movements, and left behind feces and urine. This balance has been destroyed by keeping livestock in pens or by the extreme reduction of livestock herds through hunting. The most important product of grasslands is needed for keeping livestock at a high production level - grass. But if the intact ecosystem tilts and the condition of our soils deteriorates, less grass is produced - an important component for creating a balanced climate is missing.
If we take nature as our model, consider its principles and processes, and learn grazing methodologies, we have a chance to manage our land sustainably again.
"Having the right animals with the right behavior in the right place at the right time for the right reason" is the all-encompassing phrase if Viviane Theby, instructor of the Savory Institute's Holistic Grazing Management, has her way.
Here, a status survey of the individual situation on each pasture is the first step in a comprehensive implementation. Concrete ecological monitoring is used to record the state of soil degradation. The grass is closely observed. Which different grasses are on the land, growth curves and the state of flora and fauna biodiversity are determined. For animal impact to have a positive effect on the land and soil, the selection of animals must fit the ecological system. Cows, for example, do more with the grass than eat it. They trample it, lie on it, churn up the soil, and use their wet mouths, droppings, and claws to work the grass back into the soil, where microorganisms can in turn process it into fertile humus.
In the natural balance of grazers and grasslands, animal movement in particular has a significant effect on soil development. At a certain stocking density and strength, animal herds were hunted by their natural predators and thus kept in constant motion. This resulted in natural grazing periods and, from this, natural recovery periods for the land areas.
"We don't graze, we encourage growth," Viviane Theby says during her course. Constant observation of plants is an absolute necessity here. Each plant system has its own recovery times and this time must be strictly considered for sustainable growth. Plants need critical leaf mass for effective photosynthesis for strong growth. Overgrazing of pasture has exactly the opposite effect here. So the animals must move on according to their behavior, according to the conditions of the area at the right time. Only then can the important recovery period result in increased grass growth. So if we drive a herd to a new grazing area, as hunters would actually do naturally, the ecosystem can remain in a natural balance.
So, ultimately, if we want to protect and conserve grasslands, animal impact must be brought back into consideration and implementing methodology. Grasslands need animal impact as close to nature as possible because it has a positive effect on their natural ecosystem processes.
Nature is complex, and to date we humans have only a limited ability to fully comprehend its intelligently linked systems. But we can start by making nature our partner and example of best methodology.
Help us protect our grasslands and create new ways of farming for tomorrow! Save our nature with us!