Thanks to funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Glacierland is partnering with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to promote managed grazing and expand resources available to graziers in the Lower Fox River, Manitowoc/Sheboygan River, and Milwaukee watersheds (see map). ** The primary objective of this partnership is to reduce phosphorus loading into streams, lakes, and rivers by converting 1,500 acres of conventionally farmed land (annual crops) to pasture land (perennial forage). In addition, the goal is to reduce other nutrients, pesticides, as well as sediment from moving downstream while improving soil health.
What is Managed Grazing?
Managed grazing is a sustainable farming method in which animals graze through paddocks of high-quality pasture in controlled cycles of harvest, rest and regrowth. Moving animals from one paddock to another rather than allowing access to the entire field gives the forage plants time to rest and rejuvenate, increasing long-term pasture production.
Why use managed grazing? (modified from Pastures for Profit):
Economics: According to the Center for Dairy Profitability, graziers typically attain more net farm income from operations (as a percent of income) than organic or confinement operations. Grazing systems were also found to have the lowest cost of production per unit. Both start-up and maintenance costs are less for grazing compared to confinement operations.
Time savings: Farmers can be reluctant to try managed grazing because of the time they assume it will take to move livestock. However, the time it takes to move cattle is minimal if paddock and fencing design is efficient and cattle are moved after a milking. It also reduces time spent hauling manure because most is dropped by cattle on the pasture.
Wildlife advantages: Pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides can be toxic to wildlife. There is reduced need to use these chemicals in managed grazing systems. Populations of native grassland birds have declined significantly over the past 50 years. These birds once thrived in the extensive native prairies that once covered the state. Many aspects of managed grazing can help reverse this decline by providing nesting habitat in resting paddocks.
Increased pasture productivity: Managed grazing can increase the amount of forage harvested per acre over continuous grazing by as much as 2 tons dry matter per acre.
Animal health and welfare: Animals in grazing systems are often healthier than animals housed in confinement. Animals have more space, fresh air, and increased freedom for movement enhances physical fitness and decreases opportunity for injuries. A healthier herd is more profitable and it allows the option of increasing herd size or improving the herd by selecting animals based on higher milk production or reproductivity.
The Environmental Benefits
Managed grazing keeps perennial cover on the land 365 days of the year which holds the topsoil in place and allows water to infiltrate down through the soil profile, minimizing erosion and runoff issues observed on annually cropped land. Water quality downstream is improved because less nutrients, sediment, and chemicals leave the farm. In addition to managed grazing farms having higher water infiltration rates than annually cropped land, the soils have higher levels of organic matter allowing for increased water storage capacity. Increased infiltration and water storage in soils upstream buffers heavy rains and mitigates flood risk downstream.
(Sediment bloom after heavy rains (April 2011) in Lower Fox River & Green Bay)
How Managed Grazing Strengths Our Community
Increasing the amount of local grass-fed meat and dairy will enhance the opportunities to keep our food dollars local. A study done by Ken Meter, a food systems analyst with Crossroads Resource Center in 2011 states that “Green Bay region consumers spend $1.7 billion buying food each year, including $1 billion for home use. Most of this food is produced outside the region. Only $5.2 million of food products (0.3% of the region’s consumer market) are sold by farmers directly to consumers.” In addition, for every one dollar spent locally, there is a 2.6 dollar multiplier effect. Small family farms provide jobs and create sustainable businesses for future generations.
Grass-fed products are also healthy options because the meat is lean and contains a high percentage of good fats – Omega 3s and Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA). The animals are also healthier because cattle, goats, sheep, and bison are designed to eat grass and not much else, whereas feeding them a diet rich in grains creates an acidic environment in their digestive systems, leading to disease and the need for treatment with antibiotics.
Managed grazing reduces the amount of pollutants in our water, providing cleaner water for drinking, recreation, and wildlife habitat.