Friday, March 18, 2011

Chapter 10: Thirteen ways to look at a pasture....

What are the ecologic and economic benefits of rotational grazing? Why wouldn't all farmers pursue this method?


  1. Rotational grazing is very beneficial both ecologically and economically. When cows eat grass but then move on, the cow benefits because it is fed, the farmer benefits because the food that fed its cow was free, and the native grasses also benefit because they were evolved to thrive under the natural grazing patterns that rotational grazing mimics. The many ecologic benefits of rotational grazing include the somewhat mutualistic relationship between the grazer and the grass, the prevention of overgrazing, the increasing of topsoil, the increase in plant diversity, and the elimination of the need to import feed for the grazer that is engaging in the shortest food chain possible. The cows spread grass seed through their manure and create pockets of exposed soil for those seeds with their hoofprints, and also take over the soil's nutrient-cycling process during dry months through the action of their rumens. There are many economic benefits to bringing the cow to the food rather than bringing the food to the cow (which is how Pollan describes rotational grazing), and Pollan describes it best as a "free lunch"--the final product, which is the meat from the cow, cost only sunlight and his own management.

    Not all farmers might pursue the rotational grazing method because it is so management intensive, so specific (almost like an art because it is never quite the same in any location), and because it does not fit well with an industrialized food system like corn feed does. Pollan says, "Grass farming with skill involves so many variables, and so much local knowledge, that it is difficult to systematize." It seems to me that rotational grazing is more challenging but more rewarding in both economic and ecologic areas than the way that much of our food is produced.

  2. part 1:
    There are seemingly infinite ecological and economic benefits of rotational grazing. Firstly, in a broad sense, it’s very efficient because instead of requiring the fossilized sun energy from petroleum, it utilizes the freshly captures sun energy from the natural process of photosynthesis. This was where Pollan nicely described grass as “the nexus between solar energy that powers every food chain and the animals we eat.” I liked that. Specifically the way Joel Salatin practices rotational grazing, it is very efficient because he even times the grazing of the pasture when the grass is at its highest photosynthetic efficiency at the end of the day when sugar levels in the grass are maximum (from the whole day’s hard work at photosynthesis, then at night the plants use up that energy). Also, by allowing cattle to have the “second bite” of grass, it weakens the species, causing it to gradually disappear from the pasture. Overgrazing keeps grasses dangerously short, while weakening their root system by making them shorter. Overgrazed land eventually becomes desert wasteland. Undergrazing is almost as damaging as overgrazing, since it lowers productivity and causes grasses to become senescent, which I think means they stop active cell division. Pollan says that the careful balance between over- and undergrazing can yield tremendous amounts of healthy, nutrient-rich grass AND improves the land quality. There’s also an immense number of ecological benefits to rotational grazing. Moving cattle seems like a daunting, stressful task to most, but in reality, is not. Plus, it’s the natural and instinctual way of cattle to follow the fresh cycles of grass and be constantly on the move (in packs) due to predators. So, it’s natural for the cows to live this way. Plus, the rumens of the cows participate in the soil’s nutrient-cycling role, the cow’s ruminants help disperse and fertilize the grass’s seeds with manure, and the cow’s hoof prints create soil pockets with ideal growing conditions. Pollan has an interesting observation of the stark difference between the life of the cows on Polyface and the life of his steer #534 in Poky Feeders in Kansas. This observation made me realize that even if rotational grazing had no ecological or economic benefits, it’s more morally correct. It’s more humane and more fair to the cows, who are living things too, a fact that Poky Feeders and other large-scale slaughterhouses seem to forget or choose to ignore. I thought it was also interesting that the food cycle of the cows eating the grass, which is the “nexus” of solar energy is so direct, simple, and local, in comparison to the worldwide chain steer #534 participates in. Once again, the rotational grazing outweighs in efficiency alone. Also, part of the value of the cow’s life argument, I thought it was so cool that RG allowed cows to choose what grasses they wanted to eat based on their nutritional or emotional needs. I didn’t even think of that- that cows too have dietary needs, for example if they’re sick, they need more antibiotic plentiful grasses. I immediately felt such pity and sorrow for the millions of cows like 534 that are basically force-fed a bunch of urea crap every day just to get fat faster, die younger, and live a more miserable existence. I’m glad I’m a vegetarian and don’t promote that. In addition, RG leads to the development of more topsoil, which we recently learned in class is of utmost important and is rapidly diminishing. With the absence of grazers (cattle), soil-building processes immensely slow because the lowered supply of decaying roots, which form the building blocks of new organic matter. There’s a myriad more: increases biodiversity, maximizes plant’s ability to capture sunlight, makes grasses more hardy to natural disasters, and increases grasses’ and soils’ carbon sequestering abilities (equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road, if the 16 million acres now being used to force-feed cows were transferred to well-managed pastures).

  3. part 2:
    Now, WHY aren’t all farmers doing RG? I think it’s because RG requires some brain use, and people are lazy. I’m not trying to be mean, but it’s true that people look for the easiest way that requires the least physical or mental effort to accomplish tasks, and I do it too. (Maybe this is a generalization of all people, but oh well. It’s mostly true) With RG farming, a lot has to be thought about and taken into account: many local variables, involving timing, dependence on weather (temperature, sun exposure, season), stages of the cows’ life and its eating habitats, and many more. Plus, as I mentioned before, most farmers presume moving your cattle so frequently to be a daunting, back-breaking task, even though as Joel proves, it’s not. Again, LAZY. And, farmers don’t want to do RG because the current system is so ingrained in corn and its cheap price and its government subsidies. The government doesn’t subsidize grass because grass farmers don’t need to buy pesticides and fertilizers, and thus don’t support the agribusiness, oil companies, or pharmaceutical industries. Simply put, grass farming requires a lot of initiative, time, and care at first, and even though it pays off IMMENSELY IN EVER ASPECT (economic, environmental, etc.), people are lazy and don’t want to change. Or maybe they don’t know any better.

  4. Rotational grazing is a type of food animal farming that is centered around rotating the animals from one grass field to another over time. The idea behind this method is to mimic natural grazing animal patterns. In nature, large animals would graze an area for a short period of time, and then move on to other pastures because of predators and the fact that untouched pastures had a supply of better types of grass. As it turns out, the grassland ecosystems are designed to work with this migratory system. The animals fertilize the grasses with their manure and dig spots for new grasses to grow. Whatever the animal chews off the top of the grass, the same amount in root structure below dies. This ensures a rich and replenishing layer of topsoil. Joel Salatin's farm also has a complex rotational system that involves chickens and other animals that further mimic the natural rhythm. Economically, the system is beneficial because it doesn't require that the farmer buys pesticides, fertilizers, or even have to plant corn. Furthermore, they do not have to pump their cattle full of hormones and antibiotics just because they are eating a food sources harmful to them.
    The main reason the most farmers do not pursue this method is because the government encourages them to turn to the corn based system because that system fuels many different industries in the "military industrial complex." The system came into being originally because farming was turning into and industry, and industry prizes conformity and interchangeable parts. Grass is not interchangeable. As Pollan points out, "there is no number 2 hay." If you want to play the game, you have to conform to the system (or at least, that is how it seems to most farmers).
    Jeez Callie, way to make the rest of us look bad with the two part Homeric epic you wrote...

  5. Grasses evolved to accept only precise grazing patterns, and rely on these exact patterns for their reproductive health. Rotational grazing mimics the natural grazing patterns while still keeping domestication over the cattle. It gives grasses time to recover and be a healthy food source again later. Cattle also fertilize the pastures with their manure, and their hoofprints create ideal places for seeds to germinate. The role of cattle plays a particularly important role during dry summer months when microbial life in the soil is nearly nonexistent. Rotating also keeps cattle healthy by letting the cattle eat grass that has not been defiled by their own excrements. The cattle are much more healthy and live in much more happy conditions, and the product does not contain any antibiotics, etc, proving to be healthier for the consumers too. Economically, rotational grazing feeds the cattle with no extra cost. The food chain in rotational grazing “could not be any shorter or simpler.”
    There are many reasons why a lot of farmers don’t pursue this method. Relatively recently, corn “came to make a certain economic sense,” as corn and CAFOs were highly subsidized by the government and corn became frighteningly cheap. Adding the fact that corn produces meat faster and a more consistent product, most farmers can’t resist. Americans have such a industrialized state of mind, one that prizes consistency, mechanization, predictability, interchangeability” above all. Corn works for this state of mind, while grass does not. Lastly, the complexity of rotational grazing could turn farmers off. You have to have a significant amount of knowledge to use this method, and not everyone can do it.

  6. Rotational grazing is not only ecologically beneficial, but could potentially be an economic boon as well. Rotational grazing essentially pantomimes natural grazing patterns of roaming ruminants such as the American bison. The benefits of this agricultural application of "biomimicry" are innumerable, for not only the cow and grass benefit from this feeding pattern, but also the entire ecosystem. When cattle are allowed to graze, they essentially give the grass a haircut, getting rid of its split ends while nurturing the earth with fresh manure. However, overgrazing a pasture is a major problem that can lead to devastating losses of biodiversity. However, agriculture has come up with a solution, to rotate the cattle in different pastures, allowing grazed lands to recover before being grazed again. The practice of rotational grazing essentially preserves natural nutrient cycling, nullifying the costs of our current input dependent system.

    Though people fear that rotational grazing is not economically feasible, in the long run it is the only sustainable/restorative option we have. It would probably be costly given the current conditions of Agrobusiness, but when we ultimately ween ourselves from fossil fuels, rotational grazing will be the only farming practice that makes sense. Unlike the majority of agriculture today, rotational farming requires neither fertilizer or pesticide inputs, for the act of grazing not only nourishes the grass, but also disturbs enough of the top soil so that birds are given access to potentially harmful grubs and insects. Rotational grazing is also inherently dependent on renewable resources, sunlight, wind, and water, instead of the earth's dwindling supply of fossil fuels, ensuring the long-term economic stability of this practice. In the meantime, however, farmers employing these cattle raising tactics may find a niche in today's economy as well. Because of the nature of sustainable cattle raising, and its rarity, farmers can (and do) charge more money for each head of beef, because their "product" is a valuable commodity, especially since consumer awareness is increasing across the nation. It's the classic economics of quality over quantity; farmers could make more money with a higher end product than with a surplus of something more commonplace.

    -not reliant on fossil fuels
    -could potentially charge more per head of beef, quality over quantity
    -fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides rendered unnecessary in feed procurement for cattle

  7. Rotational grazing ecologically is a more productive and effective way to utilize the sun’s energy. Grazing itself allows the livestock to ingest the byproduct of the sun’s energy. Instead of feedlots that give cattle processed meals filled with other animal byproducts and other additives, grazing allows the animals to ingest fuel in a purer form. Cows are built to eat grass. The rumins in the stomach are most effective on a grass diet. So, grazing is good for the cattle. Rotational grazing is good for the grass. It allows the grass to recover between grazing periods. Instead of over grazing as in most standard grazing situations, rotational grazing give the pastures time to grow between periods. This allows for more biodiversity. The cattle do not over graze on favored varieties, letting all grasses grow. Rotational grazing also allows for richer, more productive fields. Grasses work to maintain a balance between root and shoot length. When cattle eat the grass, they shorten the shoot. To counterbalance this change, the grass will sever ties to parts of the roots. These separated root particles rot and become a feeding ground to bacteria and other nutrients. Also, since over grazing does not occur as frequently in a rotational grazing situation, the pastures maintain a productive and nutrient rich existence and do not die or dry up.
    Not all farmers pursue this method because of convenience. Corn has more calories. If corn is fed to cows, it leads to faster, greater growth. This means quicker monetary returns and more profits. Similarly, due to government subsidies, corn as become a cheaper commodity. Corn is easier to access and keeps longer. Grass however requires more care and rotational grazing takes time. Also, the government does not subsidize grass growth.

  8. I somehow logged onto my apbio account. Haha...

    Rotational Grazing involves moving around cattle often as to allow the optimal level of primary productivity. The trick of it is to always have the grass be in its exponential growth stage, kept from becoming old and coarse by the cows constant munching. This large amount of growth provides many ecological and economic benefits. First of all, it “has boosted the number of cow days to as much as four hundred per acre; the county average is seventy”. This means that, at least on Joel’s farm, he can feed five times as many cattle per amount of land than normal and make five times the money. The cattle stay healthier as they “follow their instinct to seek fresh ground that hasn’t been fouled by their own droppings, which are incubators for parasites”. Rotational grazing also provides numerous ecological benefits. It builds up humus, a nutrient rich type of dirt, in the ground. Humus acts as a carbon sink, and is said to help with global warming. The various types of “grass” are allowed to become a polyculture and therefore be less susceptible to destruction than they would be otherwise. This polyculture permits a whole range of organisms to exist in the field, making Joel’s farm be both a farm and an ecosystem.
    Many farmers choose not to do rotational grazing because of pressure from the government. Through various laws pushed through by corn-processing companies and subsidies, the government has made corn-feed cows cheaper than grass-feed ones. Farmers choose to not pursue rotational grazing because it is more “management intensive” and cows grow faster on corn. They think they will make more money using conventional methods, and forget to look at the long-term cost of this choice. Farmers have lost touch with the land they are grazing and have forgotten the benefits of ecosystem services.

    Good cheese comes from happy cows,
    Happy cows come from California.

  9. Rotational grazing is environmentally beneficial because it mimics natural processes and cycles. Keeping cows in one place forces them to over-graze the grass, eating their favorite types without leaving enough time for new blades to fully grow in. Short grasses have shallow, weak roots. Rotational grazing allows grasses to grow more before the cows eat, meaning the grasses have efficient root systems equipped to absorb water and nutrients and grow healthy grasses. Establishing a timely pattern in rotational grazing yields not only healthy, abundant, and diverse grass, but also well-fed, happy cows. Cows are also kept happy and in sync with nature through the physical rotation between pastures because herbivore populations naturally follow the cycle of grasses. The way cows change the landscape of pastures as they rotate is environmentally beneficial to the grasses too--manure spreads and fertilizes seeds while hoof groves create convenient, shady nooks for the seeds to grow in. Additionally, the biodiversity and high productivity of pastures in rotational grazing help grasses remove a lot of carbon from the atmosphere. The economic benefits of rational grazing stem from the environmental benefits. Because grasses naturally grow so well in rotational grazing, there is no need to buy feed from corn growers or antibiotics and the other things usually mixed in with food in industrial farms. Investment in the industrial aspects of industrial farming are cut out because the grasses thrive naturally. However, many farmers don’t use rotational grazing because industrial methods grow cows faster and prepare them for slaughter sooner. Corn is cheap and can be bought easily because there is so much of it available everywhere. Now that corn is cheaper bought than grown and the government encourages the corn market, many farmers tend to feed their cows corn over taking the time to grow grass.

  10. There are many ecological and economic benefits of rotational grazing. On an ecological level, rotational grazing mimics the natural grazing patterns and produces a mutualistic relationship between the cows and the grasses. As the cows graze, they increase the amount of topsoil, increase the plant diversity, and eliminate food that would otherwise be necessary for the cows. When the cows eat off the top of the grass, the same amount of the root structure dies below it, which replenishes the layer of topsoil. If cows don’t graze, they require tons of energy that is made from petroleum, which is much more unnatural and harmful to the environment than the fresh energy more directly from the sun. The cows also spread the grass seeds in their manure in the holes their hooves create in the soil. And because grass is what cows naturally eat, they don’t require as many antibiotics and hormones to be kept healthy. Economically, farmers don’t have to pay for cattle feed. They also don’t have to pay as much for keeping their cows healthy, by buying antibiotics and hormones, which are used to support the unnatural corn diet.
    The reason that not all farmer pursue this seemingly ideal method is that the government encourages farmers to buy the corn. Corn is so easily accessible and subsidized that it has become the norm. Farmers are also on the lazy side and believe that moving their cows will require too much effort, even though it really doesn’t. Corn also makes the cows fat faster. This is very appealing to farmers because they are looking short term at the low costs, and fast payoff, while ignoring the hidden ecological, and economic repercussions corn fed cows have.

  11. When a farmer only allows his animals to graze for a brief time, he or she gives the plants both time to recover and a stimulus to grow, improving a field's health and productivity. If the farmer follows the "one bite" rule, the grass will regularly sprout new shoots from the bite marks, and, in creating the new growth, will also shed unnecessary root volume to preserve energy. The new shoots provide fresh food for the next herd of animals; the spaces left by the roots create room for animals, air, and water to percolate the soil, while the decaying roots themselves build up the soil's humus. The idea is that, if the animals move over in a pattern akin to those that wild grazers make, the grass will neither be cropped so much that it dies or grow to the extent that it becomes woody and inedible. Along with these benefits, rotational grazing allows the grassland's flora to stay diversified (for, if the cattle only pass over the grass once, they are unlikely to decimate any particular plant), and, if the farmer followsone animal (such as a cow) with one who feeds differently, he or she can maximize productivity by allowing animals with different niches to use the same resource.
    In terms of economic benefits, a farm whose animals eat only grass and wild plants typically requires only the inputs needed to keep the animals moving and hydrated (such as electric fences or a water system, although in some areas natural ponds mean that the latter component is not needed). No fertilizers, fossil fuels, insecticides, or herbicides are used on the corn for the cattle, and no corn, in fact, is needed for the cattle, which saves farmers a tremendous amount of money and allows them to focus on diversifying their livestock and developing innovative farming strategies instead.
    In the modern era, not all farmers will pursue this path for two reasons: the "outside intelligence" of corporate agriculture, which keeps corn cheap and the practical knowledge of farmers in universities off the farm, and the fact that American eaters often want fatty beef that has a constant flavor and texture. Few farmers age their beef, which is necessary for grass-finished animals to have good flavor, and since eaters, of course, want their meat to taste good (or at least taste like the beef they now), even farmers who mostly abide by "grass-fed" standards will finish their cows off with a small amount of corn.

  12. rotational grazing has an incredible amount of benefits for both the animals and farmers, ecologically and economically. rotational grazing provides animals with a constant diverse and nutritious supply of grass to consume. because the animals are not always going over the same patch of grazing ground they do not wear out the grass in any one place and struggle for resources. this also means that they will be giving the grass time to recover and return to a healthy state after it has been sufficiently grazed. in turn this means that the grass that does recover will be much more healthy and hearty as it has been given the chance to sustain itself, and fend off weeds that may attempt to take over.

    from the perspective of the farmer this rotational method works very well because the energy from the sun is evenly distributed and the animals recieve the nutrients they need. this all happens without effort however because the grass repleneshes itself when it is given the chance. in this way the farmer not only does minimal work, but then benefits form the grass and the cows being both continually healthy- this means that the farmer will also benefit from this situation economically as he does less work, gets better products and does all of this more quickly.

    not all farmers would want to do this method because, when working with the mass production of factory farms, this small scale model does not transfer