The Art and Science of Grazing
by Sarah Flack
With the growing interest in moving animals back to their natural diets, especially pasture and other such feeds for ruminants like cows, the need for accessible educational resources continues to grow. Just take a drive around Kentucky, and one sees this firsthand—many farmers are trying to pasture-raise animals, with mixed results, including many doing damage instead of delight to their land. Pasture-based production models are not as simple as letting animals loose onto land.
Thus, books like The Art and Science of Grazing are both timely and terribly needed. The book describes the diverse healthy pastures the author wants farmers to pursue, moving between technical information about plant and pasture growth, on to an overview of how different species interact with pasture as a food source, and then case studies of farm management from across the country and across farm types (both beef and dairy herds, both farms with only a few animal types and farms mixing many animals in their systems), with beautiful pictures peppered throughout. The book also contains a fair number of informative and useful charts, covering a wide array of subjects to summarize or better explain concepts and content for the reader.
The first section covers plant and pasture growth basics. Whether a farmer or a foodie, this is a fascinating section. We have been raising beef for about five years, and still I learned a tremendous amount of useful information from these chapters. This book would make a great addition to a high school-level science or biology class because of the excellent information, organization and presentation.
The next section covers pasture-based animal systems from the eater’s perspective, not yours or mine, but the animal’s! It is a fascinating exploration of the nutritional, social and seasonal variations involved in forage-based farming models. Of special interest are the many case studies and discussions focused solely on dairy farms and dairy animals and the unique challenges and needs these animals have.
The last two sections help with the design and management of the information presented in the previous two, giving farmers tools to implement the ideas regarding the many details that are involved in creating a sustainable, rotational grazing system. All thee little details—paddock sizes, portable water, pasture evaluation and more—are addressed, allowing the reader to formulate a plan to move towards pasture-based models or improve their current approach.
One of the few subjects I would have liked to see covered more thoroughly in this book is “tree hay,” which shows a great deal of promise for moving sustainable grazing practices to the next level in the United States. Only a few paragraphs are devoted to “browse” in the early chapter on grazing adapted plants. To some extent, this subject (and the skills involved) is probably many years away from reintroduction to the U.S. and its farms.
Perhaps most importantly, Flack points out at the beginning that “grass-based livestock systems are attractive to look at (and) they are beneficial to our environment and well-being.” The rest of the book shows this principle in action, on real-life farms in real-life places—improving soil (and thus sequestering carbon), producing healthy food, and protecting the environment from a host of maladies created by industrial agriculture. In a day when nations and states are considering taxing cow farts, it is important for eaters to realize that pasture-based animal models are ecologically, environmentally, and nutritionally superior. This book helps.
Sarah Flack’s book will help many farmers more successfully make the transition to holistic pasture management and pastured-raised animals. Two thumbs UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2016.