Livestock Can Improve the Health of Land

Livestock can be run in one of two broad ways, although clearly there are many variations in between.  They can:

    1. Be held on an area of land at low density for long periods - typically weeks to many months or even years; or
    2. Remain on a piece of land at high density, but under these conditions for short periods only - typically for hours to several days at most.   
Anywhere in the world, before human directed management was imposed upon natural wholes within brittle-tending environments that were functioning normally, two vital characteristics were displayed: 1) The animals were tightly bunched (ie on the land at high density) and 2) They were constantly moving.  The continuous movement occurred because of the constant need for fresh feed, and the bunching occurred because of the constant presence of predators with and around the herd. 

These regimes maintained vast regions of rangelands in great condition for millions of years.  Over time,whenever the predator-prey relationship was damaged, by for instance removing the predator, the herd quickly relaxed and spread out, often breaking into smaller herds.  The stock density fell and consequently the animals remained on a piece of land much longer.  In every case, soon after human management was imposed, land health and productivity began to decline, often rapidly.

For all sorts of reasons that are usually associated with animal performance rather than land performance, we have  tended to run stock in smaller mobs and to hold them on a piece of land for long periods.  In the absence of predators (which we rigorously pursue, often to extinction), the mob is free to spread out.  I have noticed that we use excuses to justify this intervention, such as: ‘we need that bull to go with those cows’, ‘we cannot put that bull over those heifers’, ‘we want that ram to go over those ewes’, and so on.  In brittle tending environments there is a real cost to these decisions, and it is measured in declining land health.  In fact, even in genuinely non-brittle environments productivity will be effected by messing natural function.

Understanding this information is fundamental to developing a holistic grazing plan.

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