INCREASING INTEREST IN FOOD PROVENANCE

Over the last couple of years, thanks to many popular books and TedTalks, podcasts, newspaper articles and television programs, we have noticed an increased interest, by even non-farmers, in various grazing strategies. This is a great thing because the more people engage with how their food is produced, the better.

As a result, we are often asked about our grazing.

Yes, we time control the grazing in our paddocks – we do this to enhance the soil, maintain 100% ground cover and increase species diversity. The next question we get is how often we move our sheep. The answer is, “Well, it depends”.

Unfortunately, this frustrates almost everyone, but it’s the truth. There are no recipes, no set-and-forget plans.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Here are some of the things that determine how often we move the sheep or how long they are in one paddock.

1. The grass. What sort of state it is in? Is it very short? Is it growing strongly? How fast it is growing? What type of grass is growing? Is it grass we want to phase out of the paddock – Then we will put the sheep in and graze it hard to stop it flowering and setting seed. Is it grass we want to proliferate? Then we will keep the sheep out of that paddock to let the plant set seed.

2. The weather. This affects the grass growth but it also drives where the sheep would be best protected if cold or windy weather or if it’s very hot.

3. Shade. How much shade is in the paddock? If it is very hot, then we will want the sheep in the paddock with sufficient shade. If it is cold, we want them in a paddock that will better catch the sun. Some times of the year, the grass grows really well in shady paddocks. Other times it languishes.

4. The season and the aspect of the paddock. This of course, influences grass growth. Depending on the season, the grass grows either faster or slower in the west-facing paddock for instance. Depending on how dry it is, the paddock lower down the slope will grow grass faster, etc etc. If it is very wet we don’t want the sheep in that paddock as it can cause issues with their feet.

5. Whether we are lambing or not. There needs to be sufficient shelter for new lambs – it is also very handy to have them lambing in a paddock closer to the house so we can do regular checks and help with lambing if needed.

6. Whether we need to get them into the yards to do a stock take, mark lambs, or conduct some other livestock management task.

Sheep in the yards for lamb marking

7. Paddock Size. I don’t know why I have put this as number seven; it is a major factor in determining how much time animals are in any paddock.

8. The weeds that are in the paddock. Some weeds the sheep will help us control by them eating the weeds. Some weeds we deal with mechanically using a whipper snipper and we don’t want the sheep in the paddock when we are doing that. Some weeds are ok for the sheep to eat at one stage in their growing life but become toxic later in their growing cycle.

9. Proximity to summer. Paddocks near the house are often grazed quite hard before summer really sets in as fire protection for us.

10. And sometimes the sheep decide where they want to be! Sometimes, because the fencing has failed…

You see, it’s complicated!

It’s not moving them every so and so days. It’s so much more complex than that – it is about observation and knowledge of your land. It’s all about observing the environment, observing the grass, taking note of the weather, knowing which direction is which, observing how the animals are doing, knowing the grasses and weeds you have and how they grow in different seasons, knowing which paddocks get wet, knowing which paddocks provide the most protection in which wind direction, and so many more things.

Dogs, Lambs & Paddocks

It’s a whole set of nuanced observations, not a diary entry or what so and so said in a book.

This is the delight and the challenge of farming. Really trying to get to grips with your place and how it works and applying carefully, and in a nuanced way, the full range of alternative agricultural strategies that are out there.

People ask us who we ‘follow’ – Salatin, Savory, Seiss, Andrews?  Holistic Management, Natural Sequence Farming, Permaculture, Biodynamics, Regenerative Agriculture?  There are three answers to this question:

  1. Everyone, and, all of them,
  2. No one, and, none of them,
  3. We follow our land.

Does that mean we don’t acknowledge the work of many bookwriters? No it doesn’t. There are many interesting and thoughtful approaches to deploy out there. We have read the books and, attended the classes, done the masterclasses. And we have re-visited the books and the classes again and again. We think that the best way to incorporate the knowledge that others have created is to apply it with care and reflection to your specific situation and environment otherwise it’s just mindlessly following a recipe.

DO WE STUFF UP?

Yep! Everyone does, but few will tell you that. And if you stuff up the trick is to analyse what happened so that you can learn from your mistakes.

BOOKS WORTH READING

Here are just some of the books that inform our farming practices.

  • Arias, P F et al, Farming Democracy, Finsbury, 2019
  • Evans, M, Soil, Murdoch Books, 2021
  • Evans, M, On Eating Meat, Murdock Books, 2019
  • Lindenmayer, D, et al, Wildlife Conservation in Farm Landscapes, CSIRO, 2016
  • Lindenmayer, D, What Makes a Good Farm for Wildlife?, CSIRO, 2011
  • Massy, C, Call of the Reed Warbler, Chelsea Green, 2017
  • Rogers, D et al, Sacred Cow, BenBella, 2020
  • Savoury, A, Holistic Management, Island Press, 2016
  • Schwartz, J, Cows save the Planet, Chelsea Green, 2013

 

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