Picnic in the Paddock Runnymede Cattle Tour
Thank you to the wonderful customers and friends of Dirty Clean Food for coming along to our annual Picnic in the Paddock at the beautiful Runnymede farm! It is always such a pleasure to visit Blythe and Gregg and their furry and feathered friends. Once again they were the perfect hosts.
I had the pleasure of taking the cattle tour this year, and I really enjoyed the chance to talk about the great regenerative grazing practises that Gregg and Blythe are implementing on their farm, and also hearing directly from customers what kind of questions they wanted to ask about Dirty Clean Food and regenerative farming.
I thought I’d do a bit of a recap of how Blythe and Gregg’s cattle grazing system is different to a conventional grazing system, and how you can use a simple tool - a chaff bag and your eyes! - to figure out how much pasture you need to feed a cow for a day.
Blythe and Gregg practise holistic planned grazing, which is a kind of grazing planning that allows farmers to manage the complexity of their farming system, while ensuring continued land regeneration, animal health and welfare, and profitability. Holistic Planned Grazing helps ensure that livestock are in the right place, at the right time, and with the right behavior.
What this means at this time of the year is that all Blythe and Gregg’s cattle are kept together in one big group, in a smaller paddock that has been sectioned off with a moveable electric fence, and they are moved regularly onto fresh pasture. They graze about ⅓ of the grass, trample another ⅓ of the grass into the ground, and leave ⅓ of the grass standing. They then move the cattle, and allow the pasture to grow or regenerate for at least the next 45 - 60 days. This means that the grass is growing at its optimum pace, and prevents the overgrazing of individual plants.
In a conventional grazing system, cattle are left in a large paddock for a long period of time before being moved. This means that they graze more than ⅓ of the plants, but they also isolate the tastiest plants, and repeatedly graze these plants as the plants are trying to re-grow. This means that the plants run out of stored energy to keep producing leaves and roots, so the pasture growth slows right down and sometimes even stops.
In order to practice holistic planned grazing, you need to understand how much feed your animals have in front of them. On the Cattle tour we focused on the open grazing season, which means when the pasture is actively growing - the closed grazing season is when the plants are dormant. A simple way to do this is to use your eyes to estimate how much feed there is in one square metre of pasture. To make this more visual, I asked the kids to help me by pretending to be cows, and to ‘eat’ the grass in front of us by pulling the grass off like a cow would eat it, and putting it in the chaff bag. Roughly one very full chaff bag is equal to 1 cow’s worth of grass for 1 day. We then looked at how many square metres of grass we had to ‘graze’ to fill the bag - this is how much space 1 cow needs for 1 day worth of feed.
I’d like to credit Brian Wehlburg from Inside Outside Management for this pasture visualization tool - it certainly helped me get my head around pasture management and planning, and the kids seemed to love it!
For a simple 4 minute explanation of what Regenerative Agriculture is, including a great little video on holistic planned grazing, head here to watch this video!
For further reading on holistic planned grazing, head to The Savory Institute