Here at Farm Revival, we try our best to provide info and recommendations that work to better support the small farm. While it may sound odd, one of the most successful types of small farms today is affectionately known as a “grass farm.” Though you may first picture rows of sod patiently waiting for transplantation into suburbia, the grass farm we speak of actually refers to the raising of livestock in a pasture-orientated system.
What Exactly is a Grass Farm?
So what is the difference between regular farming and grass farming? Regular farming almost always focuses on monocultures. That means farmers use the land for one purpose at a time. Different areas are dedicated to keeping cows, chickens, sheep, or any other animal. Those animals are fed grain, hay, or animal feed in large lots and don’t move around much, because either grazing isn’t practiced or it is a much more passive activity.
Grass farming is different in that it uses a technique called rotational grazing. While rotational grazing sounds fancy, it just means that herds of animals are left to graze on a small area of pasture, but are typically moved once a day to new forage, mimicking the way grasslands and grazers naturally interacted for generations before the rise of industrial agriculture and monoculture. After one kind of animal comes through a pasture, the farmer will often bring another type of animal that is complementary to the first one.
This means that grass farming looks a lot more like what happened on the prairies of North America (and other places) thousands of years ago: large herbivores, like bison, grazed and migrated across the plains, followed by prairie chickens and other fowl that ate the bugs that grew in the bison’s wake. Meanwhile, the herds left other land open, with no animals on it, allowing the grasses to deepen their roots and recover.
Mimicking nature like this means farmers spend less time wrestling and wrangling land, and has benefits that reach from improved livestock health to environmental sustainability to the bottom line of a farm.
Healthier Animals are Raised in Natural Conditions
If you think about how animals have evolved, it makes sense why grass-fed animals are healthier. For example, cattle are ruminants–they have multiple stomachs because their bodies are primarily designed to eat grass. There are consequences for them not eating the food they are designed to eat: they get sick and often require vast amounts of antibiotics to keep them well. Being in close quarters breeds disease, too–it is just as true of livestock as it is of humans. When one animal gets sick, the vet will end up being called for any other animal in contact with it.
However, with grass farming, the animals have more space because they have to move around, and are eating what their bodies were designed to eat. Introducing other animals to the pasture helps too, because many diseases only affect specific animals. Thus, while one kind of germ may make cows sick, it may not make sheep sick, for example. And by the time it is time for the cows to come back to that pasture, the germs or organisms that cause those sicknesses will often be gone. When left to their natural foods and behaviors, livestock thrive.
Many Significant Environmental Benefits
Grass farming also has far-reaching environmental consequences. If good things go in, good things come out. That means that as the cattle feed on grass in the pasture, their manure fertilizes the soil. In addition, the “hoof action” of the animals gently tramples the ground as they move in and between pastures, which increases the soil’s ability to hold water. After the cattle move on, the grasses have a chance to grow again. This means that their root systems do as well, locking deep into the ground and making it harder for the topsoil to be washed away by erosion.
As time passes, the larger plants grow and create a cover, which shelter the bugs and micro-organisms that feed off the manure. Just like in a natural prairie or grassland, each step reinforces the entire ecosystem. Because farmers don’t have to use other resources to make or buy feed for the animals in addition to these other benefits, the net result is that those farmers suffer from significantly less fossil-fuel consumption, less erosion, less air and water pollution and enjoy greater soil fertility.
Better for Both Farmers and Small Farms
It is easy to see why grass farming is better for animals and for the environment, and even easier to understand why it is better for farmers’ bottom lines. Pasture-based farming can free farmers from the large, expensive machinery used to grow feed crops, and they don’t have the waste disposal and disease issues that come with confinement feeding. Instead, grass farmers use portable and mobile infrastructure that is significantly more cost-effective.
Grass farmers also do not have to worry about the costs that accompany crop failure or pesticide failure because they are building environments with greater biodiversity that therefore has greater resilience to these problems. In addition, because they are producing healthier animals, they can make more profit off of each animal, resulting in a healthier bottom line for their farm.
A Movement Worth Supporting
Now that you understand grass farming, we invite you to learn more about the benefits of this type of agriculture. Working against nature hurts livestock, the environment, and farmers’ wallets. By embracing and mimicking how nature works, farmers can use better techniques to make better products.
Here at Farm Revival, we know that this approach works, and the goal of our business to help you be successful, whether you need to buy your first poly wire to set up your first set of paddocks or you need. Grass farming values are our values: we are here to help you have healthier animals, a healthier environment, and a fatter wallet. Let us help you find exactly what you are looking for.