Regenerating Pasture

Degraded Pasture Land

How to Renovate Degraded Pasture

Note:  More detail about how to use Bio-Plant and Pro-Plant in the context of regenerating pasture is provided in the workshop materials at the bottom of the page.

1.  Introduction

If your pasture is in a poor condition, instead of replanting it, consider first improving it. While starting over allows you to make major changes, it often requires a few years for new seedings to become fully productive, and can leave you with low pasture production for a few years while the pasture is establishing. Risks with complete renovation are soil erosion and possible stand damage before seedlings become well-established.

Many naturally growing forages may already be present in your pasture, and their yields can be improved with proper fertilization and regenerative grazing management, such as rotational grazing.

Many farmers use grass-legume mixtures to meet most of their production needs from pasture. Seeding legumes into run-down pastures is the most common form of renovation. Legumes complement grasses by balancing forage production throughout the season, and improve pasture quality and nutritional value.

2.  Seeding Methods for Renovating Pasture Land

There are a number of different approaches for establishing and renovating pastures. The following sections describe these methods. 

2.1  No-till Seeding 

  • With this method, the ground is cut open; the seeds are placed in the shallow trench, which is then covered over. No-till drills are recommended because they give good seed placement and penetrate the ground at just the right depth. Soil erosion is greatly reduced with no-till.
  • Reducing competition from existing grass is critical to success. Typically, the suppressed grass will regrow more rapidly than new seedlings. Thus, the renovated area should be grazed at a high stocking density – enough animals to graze plants to 4 inches tall in 24 to 48 hours – to prevent the regrowing grass from overtopping the developing seedlings.
  • To use this method the farmer will need an adequate water supply so that the seeds can germinate and grow once they have been planted. Planting the seeds at the start of the rainy season would be appropriate.
  • Soak the seeds before planting in a mixture of Bio-Plant and water (20 cc in 20 litres of water to inoculate them.)
  • The drill should be set to push the (grass-legume mixture) seeds half an inch to one inch into the soil depending on the species.
  • If the seeds are planted in very degraded pasture land, the surface will need to be mulched very well in order to conserve moisture and to prevent birds from eating the seeds. (See Part 4 on how to use Bio-Plant and Pro-Plant to enhance this process of regrowth.)

No-Till Drill Seeding into a Bermudagrass Pasture

2.2 Seeding by Hand

  • If you do not have access to a no-till seed drill, broadcast the seeds by hand.
  • Loosen the soil first. Then broadcast the seeds onto the loosened soil.
  • The top layer of soil with the seed must then be rolled into a firm seedbed by a tractor-pulled cultipacker, a hand roller, or by tramping the seeds down with your full body weight.
  • Do this when the rainy season starts.
  • When broadcasting seeds by hand, loosen up the ground lightly first, such as with a harrow.
  • You also have to get the planting depth correct, which is usually half an inch to one inch for grass and legume seeds.
  • If you do not have a roller, you can put animals in the pasture for 7-10 days to press the seeds into the ground with hoof action.
  • Spray Bio-Plant (500 cc in 500 litres of water per hectare) or spread compost over the soil before or after seeding. Cover with mulch afterwards.

2.3  Add Legumes  

  • Deficiencies of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), Sulphur (S) and Molybdenum (Mo) are common in many pastures. It is, therefore, important to have a healthy legume component in the pasture to improve the quality of the feed and to provide Nitrogen to the grass component. Legumes have a higher fertility requirement for P, S and Mo than grasses and without legumes grasses will require a N fertiliser in order to persist and produce. Legumes such as clovers or alfalfa improve pasture nutritive value and distribution of growth, and provide Nitrogen to the pasture. Legumes can be added to existing pasture grass by inter-seeding. Inter-seeding is done with a no-till drill or by hand-sowing.
  • Livestock prefer a “buffet” of grasses. Growing a variety of forage plants in the pasture also benefits the soil and the environment. Legumes add extra Nitrogen and restore the Soil Food Web effectively. Legumes (e.g. clovers, alfalfa, and peas) increase protein and nutrients in the available forage.
  • Polyculture pastures offer a kind of “insurance policy.” By combining different species the pasture is better protected from a variety of inclement conditions, e.g. drought, flooding, insects, etc.

This is how one farmer couple rejuvenated his pasture with a mixture of legumes and grasses, and he explains the benefits of doing so.

In this video Gabe Brown describes how he mixes grasses and legumes in his pasture, and he talks about the benefits of doing so for his soil and animal feed. 

Here are 3 videos, which provide guidance on how to seed the degraded pasture:

a)  Using machinery

b)  Using no machinery

c)  Over-seeding with and without machinery

2.4 Seeding Degraded Pasture by Ripping the Soil

  • If you do not have a no-till drill, you could rip the soil to create shallow planting rows. Ripping the soil is very helpful when the soil is hard and compacted. Many legumes need to be planted half an inch from the surface, so the ripping must be very shallow.
  • Place compost in the planting rows. Then place the seeds in the rows and cover them with soil. Cover the rows with mulch afterwards. The ripping should be deep enough to provide compost and to leave the seeds about half an inch from the surface.
  • If the soil fertility is poor, you must restore the soil’s biology first. Adding compost to the rows and then placing the seeds on the compost would be very beneficial. If you do not have any compost, spray the planting rows with Bio-Plant mixed with water: 500 cc in 500 litres of water per hectare while you plant the seeds in the rows. Cover the seeds with soil after spraying.
  • An oxen-pulled plough can rip the soil. Place compost in the planting row and then the seeds on top. Tread on the soil to close up the row. If you have no compost, spray Bio-Plant mixed with water in the row before you close up the soil.
  • Ripping the soil and planting seeds is best done just before the rainy season.

2.5 Seeding a New Pasture Together with Mulching

  • First, loosen the soil by light tilling or harrowing. Roll the soil so that it is flat. Apply compost or spray the ground with Bio-Plant mixed with water. Spread the seeds with a large broadcast sprayer (or by hand, by using a hopper, or a no-till drill,). Then roll the seeds using a roller or a cultipacker to ensure that the seeds are planted firmly into the soil. Next, apply straw mulch to protect the seeds as well as retain moisture to help the seeds grow faster. Do this when the rainy season starts.

2.6 Pasture Seeding Checklist

  • In any pasture establishment program there can be a high level of risk involved. Success will depend on many factors such as rainfall, stored soil moisture, weed competition, pasture species being sown, and the time of year. Each of these factors should be considered to give some context as to where and under what circumstances your strategy will work and allow for an economic comparison of options.
  • The following Pasture Establishment Checklist is a useful guide to follow when over-sowing into an existing pasture to help minimise risk factors.
  1. Assess, select and plan early (1–2 years before).Assess existing pasture, weeds, pests and soil fertility.
  2. Control of weed and pests in planning years. Prevent weeds and pests from seeding/reproducing.
  3. Pre-sowing activities.Remove excess plant material before sowing.
  4. Absolute weed and pest control.Allow full weed germination after rain then graze to keep weeds small until moisture in the profile is right for sowing.
  5. Adequate soil moisture.Temperate species: do not dry sow – ensure a moist profile from the surface to 200 mm. Tropical species: ensure 1 mm. stored soil moisture and soil temperature >18°C at 9 am for 3 consecutive days.
  6. Accurate seed placement. Aim for 5 mm of soil over the seed. Direct drill rule of thumb: 5% of seed and/or fertiliser still visible in the furrow.
  7. Monitor weeds and pests.Look for pests and weed seedlings every 10–14 days after sowing.
  8. Do not graze until the plants have seeded down. Improve the growth by spraying Pro-Plant mixed with water every 15 or 30 days.

2.7  Control the Weeds

  • Control the Weeds with a Heavy Seeding Rate: Dense forage stands, with a good fertility program, proper pH, and rotational grazing management, generally do not have a weed problem.
  • Farmers could plant annual grass and legume mixtures to control weeds with a heavy seeding rate. The crops will grow so thick that they will cover the soil and smother weeds. There is basically no space for the weeds to grow.
  • Control the Weeds with a High Livestock Density: You could also fill the paddock with a high livestock density in order to use the cattle to control noxious weeds. In high stock densities cattle behaviour changes and, although they are not forced to, they readily consume less desirable species. This will enable you to greatly reduce the weeds, and at the same time, increase the diversity and health of other grasses in the pasture.

In this video Gabe Brown describes how he used livestock to get rid of noxious weedsHe points out that a farmer could fill the paddock with a high stock density in order to use the cattle to control noxious weeds. By running higher stock densities cattle behaviour changes and, although they are not forced to, they readily consume less desirable species. This will enable you to greatly reduce the infestations of noxious weeds, while at the same time, increase the diversity and health of other grasses in these pastures.

In this article two farmers explain how they used a high-intensity/low frequency grazing approach to remove a weed problem. They also used annual grass and legume mixtures to control weeds with heavy seeding rates of forage rape and annual ryegrass. These crops grow so thick they cover the soil and smother encroaching weeds. There is basically no space for the weeds to grow. 

2.8  Restoring Degraded Pasture by Planting a Legume Cover Crop

a) The Situation: “When the grasslands of the world co-evolved, and which are the world’s second largest carbon-sink, they did so with grazing animals. When a cow or a gazelle or any grazing animal eats grass, the roots release polysaccharide sugars. That feeds a biological community in the soil which mineralizes the carbon that’s either in the root mass or in the manure or in the grass that’s being trampled into the ground, and it turns into mineral carbon in the soil. That’s why when the first pioneers went west from here, they found ten feet of thick black soil. That black is carbon, and as Karl Thidemann said, the world around, it’s now down to inches. We have decarbonized the soil …” Hunter Lovins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Nov 13, 2018

b) Restore the Soil’s Biology: In order to restore a degraded pasture, you must restore the soil’s biology. It is essential to increase the soil’s organic matter, such as by adding compost or by growing a cover crop on the degraded pasture. Organic matter from the compost or cover crop provides organic carbon. Organic matter is the primary building block for soil organic carbon.

  • An increase in soil organic carbon leads to increased microbial life. In turn, this results in soil structure, water infiltration, soil water-holding capacity and nutrient cycling, as well as reduced erosion, and other desirable ecosystem services. Increased nutrient cycling and nutrient availability is largely the result of symbiotic relationships developed between plants and soil microbes (bacteria, fungi, protozoans, nematodes, etc.).
  • The microbes not only increase organic soil carbon, but they also turn organic matter into its nutrient components to help the plants grow. The fungi create networks, which extend the reach of plant root systems and go into soil spaces too small for root entry. This relationship allows plants to reach new areas of nutrients, such as Phosphorus; and to connect to a wider soil moisture pool.
  • If the soil is in a degraded condition and we want to build the biology, you must provide the food source. You must build soil organic matter. You can do this by managing a cover crop on the pasture for a season or two. Include in the initial seed mixture grasses and legumes, which will persist as the biology improves.
  • When the annual cover crop dies, reseed the pasture with legume seeds. In this way you can build the soil’s capacity to support the grasses that you want to grow. With some thorough planning and on-farm testing to find multi-species mixes suited to the local climate and soil, cover crops with a mixture of species will restore the soil and provide nutritious forage for the livestock farmer.

c) Growing Cover Crops in Rotational Grazing: Cover crop grazing offers benefits, including improved soil biology, increased soil life, higher soil organic matter, better soil structure and fertility, increased water infiltration and moisture-holding capacity of the soil, and increased production through seasonally available forage. Also, well-managed cover crop mixes can decrease weed problems and provide a higher quantity of forage for livestock.

d) Growing Cover Crops Improves the Nutritional Value of the Forage: A mixture of plants can often be a good diet for cattle. It is invaluable for the quality of the forage, if the farmer plants legumes, such as clovers, because they increase the protein and calcium content in the forage. Providing different species will help to improve the nutrition-intake, reduce livestock-feed supplement costs, and take advantage of moisture and growing conditions at different times of year.

  • A diversified pasture of grasses and legumes allows for different plants to thrive in different conditions, adding drought resistance. Legumes have a deep root tap and penetrate deeper into the soil profile where there’s more moisture. Without legumes you may have less pasture and a lower quality of forage.
  • In a situation when there is a lack of forage for the livestock and the pasture is degraded, the farmer might choose to restore the soil in each part of his pasture by growing a cover crop there. With some thorough planning and on-farm testing to find multi-species mixes suited to the local climate and soil, cover crops with a mixture of species will restore the soil and provide nutritious forage for the livestock farmer.
  • It has been widely shown that cover crop grazing offers benefits, including improved soil biology, increased soil life, higher soil organic matter, better soil structure and fertility, increased water infiltration and moisture-holding capacity of the soil, and increased production through seasonally available forage. In addition, well-managed cover mixes can decrease weed problems and provide a higher quantity of forage for livestock. Frequently, forage quality improves over long periods of time.

e) Allow Time for the Soil’s Biology to Recover: When the soil biology has recovered enough after roughly 2 seasons of cover crops, plant grasses and legumes together. Aim for at least a 60-40 mixture (60% legumes, 40% grass) for optimum productivity, nutrient recycling, and animal performance. Practise rotational grazing as the pasture regrows.

Some Guidelines: Shortly before the rainy season loosen the soil by light tilling or harrowing. Roll the soil so that it is flat. Apply compost or spray the ground with Bio-Plant mixed with water. Spread the grass and legume seeds with a large broadcast sprayer (or by hand). Then roll the seeds using a roller or a cultipacker to ensure that the seeds are planted firmly into the soil. If possible, next apply straw mulch to protect the seeds from birds, the sun, and heavy rain; as well as to retain moisture.

Before planting the seeds soak them for 18-24 hours in Bio-Plant and water (20 cc in 20 litres). If you do not have any compost for the seed bed, spray the soil (or the planting rows) with water mixed with Bio-Plant. (500 cc in 500 litres of water per hectare.) If the soil is hard and compacted, loosen up the soil by ripping planting rows. Or harrow the soil. Spray Pro-Plant mixed in water (same ratio) every 30 days once the leaves appear to provide extra nutrients until the growth is strong.

f) How to Improve an Existing Pasture (Not Degraded) with Legume Seeds: Pastures can be improved or rejuvenated by sowing new pasture species into the existing pasture. This non-destructive addition to the pasture may be necessary because there is an insufficient quantity of legume or useful perennial grasses in the existing pasture, but you do not want to completely destroy the pasture to resow it with a new pasture. Complete re-sowing of new pastures is very expensive and, if done properly, may take the paddock out of production for around 18 months.

  • The addition of legume seeds can be carried out by broadcasting or no-till drilling. In some situations a lower establishment can result from broadcasting legume seed compared to drilling the seed into the soil. Over-sowing strategies can be very cheap, e.g. just broadcasting legume seed into a native or legume-deficient perennial grass dominant pasture, or more expensive, directly drilling inoculated legume seeds into the pasture.
  • First, soak the seeds for 18-24 hours in Bio-Plant and water (20 cc in 20 litres). Use a harrow to loosen up and aerate the pasture. Broadcast the seeds by hand or with a spreader. Press the seeds into the pasture with a cultipacker or a roller to increase seed-to-soil contact.
  • Pastures need fertilising, so spray it with Bio-Plant mixed with water. (500 cc in 500 litres per hectare.) You could also spray Pro-Plant mixed in water (same ratio) every 30 days to provide extra nutrients. Graze the pasture down to about 4 inches. You should not broadcast seeds into tall grass. Run a harrow over the pasture in at least two directions using a wire, tine grass harrow to smooth the pasture before you broadcast the seeds. The harrow also spreads out dung and breaks up dead material in the grass before the seeds are broadcast. Planting legume seeds is invaluable because they provide a lot of forage; improve the nutritional content of the forage; and improve the soil biology.

2.9  Seeding a Pasture by Using the Livestock

  • Using livestock to do the seeding is appropriate in terrain not accessible by equipment or where animals can graze pasture or be fed hay with seed and then be moved conveniently to pastures where the desired grass or legume seeds are wanted. The farmer can let the livestock eat the seed heads so that they can move the desired leaf to an area that lacks that species through their manure. When seeds are spread in the manure, they are sitting in a nutrient-rich environment – just perfect for the growth of the grass once it germinates.
  • Strategic grazing of different paddocks can quite easily allow this to happen – improving the pastures with no seed or planting costs. But since livestock do not distribute manure uniformly, using them as seeders will produce less uniform stands. It may take several years to produce good stands by this method.
  • One approach is: one to two days before moving animals into the pasture, add forage seed to the animals’ food mixture (about 2 kgs. of seed to 20 kgs. of food mixture) or let the animals graze a pasture of established legumes that has been allowed to go to seed just before moving them to the pasture to be reseeded.
  • It is most beneficial to grow a mixture of different forages in different fields on the farm. Every kind of forage has its own susceptibilities and resistances. Planting your entire farm with a single species is a risky venture since a single type of insect, disease, or environmental condition could easily wipe out the entire pasture. Generally, planting a total of 5-8 long-lived grass species and legumes in a pasture simplifies management.  Tailor the selection of the forage species to the needs of your grazing system (i.e. climate, soil type, moisture level, grazing intensity, desired length of grazing season, etc.).

3.  Using Rotational Grazing to Restore Pastures

3.1  Introduction:  Some livestock farmers improve the species composition of pasture simply by improving grazing management. Many fields have a seed bank of desirable pasture forage species that have not had an opportunity to germinate and survive under continuous grazing. Plants need “rest” and time to recover from leaf removal so use of some kind of rotation grazing to maintain plant vigour and productivity is required for plant health. Rotational grazing provides the rest needed for these species to establish. Improved grazing management can give practical gains in forage and livestock productivity. Compared with a continuously and abusively grazed pasture, implementing grazing management along with fertility and other pasture management practices, productivity will be increased by 25% to 50% in the first year and up to 100% by Year 3.

Degraded Pasture (Left). Recovering Pasture (Right)

Rotational grazing has been bringing financial benefits to livestock farmers in the North of Nigeria, and is helping to deal with the depletion of pasture and the soil, as well as with increasing desertification. 

3.2  What Is Rotational Grazing?  This video introduces the concept of rotational grazing. Simply put, rotational grazing is moving livestock to different sections of the pasture every set number of days in order to maintain healthy, nutritious forages. Large pastures are sectioned off into smaller parcels using either permanent or temporary fencing to allow the manager to effectively control grazing. The combination of grazing and appropriate rest restores worn-out pasture and enhances its growth and quality. This short video explains what rotational grazing is. 

3.3  Why is It Important?  Grass and clover plants become “stressed” from grazing and need sufficient time to grow back once grazing has occurred. Without a break from the stresses, forages can lose the ability to re-establish new growth, as the ability to utilize photosynthesis is minimized when grasses get below a certain length.

When livestock are allowed to continuously graze a pasture, they will eat the most savoury grasses first, leaving some parts of the pasture overgrazed while other less palatable areas lie under-grazed. Animals will keep going back to the more palatable sections and graze without giving the plants optimal time to develop strong roots and recover if rotational grazing is not practiced. Eventually these plants will die and weeds will begin to take over the pasture.

Recovered Pasture (Left). Grazed Pasture Recovering (Right)

3.4  The Benefits of Rotational Grazing:  In this video some farmers in Virginia, USA describe the significant benefits of rotational grazing and how it has increased their profits and improved their soil.

Degraded Pasture (Left). Recovering Pasture (Right)

In this video a farmer explains the benefits of rotational grazing and what you need to do to set it up.

This article explains the following benefits in detail:

  • Increased forage production.
  • Increased soil fertility.
  • Increased resistance to drought.
  • Less wasting of forage.
  • Reduced soil compaction.
  • Control of less desirable plants easier.
  • Extending the grazing season by limit-feeding animals and their young.
  • Saving the best forage for the class of animals that needs it the most.
  • Seasonal paddocks.
  • Grazing animals can be used to help prepare areas for reseeding.
  • Improves feeding during times of drought.
  • Improved animal management.
  • Allowing certain species of plants to go to seed.
  • Keep grass cover of favourite forage species.
  • Facilitates assessment of animals.

This video shows the effect on the soil of rotational grazing.

This video shows the effect on the growth of the grasses and legumes when you graze your cows intensively in a paddock.

3.5  Grazing Plans:  Here are some rotational grazing plans to give farmers an idea about how to divide up their land for rotational grazing.  

3.6  Grazing Schedule: The following diagram gives you an idea of what a grazing schedule might look like. In practice in order to make the schedule you have to understand how many animals should be grazing on a certain area of land, and how short the grass can be allowed to become before the pasture takes too long to regrow. These issues are dealt with in other sections below.

3.7  How Short You Should Graze the Grass:  In this video Jim Gerrish explains how short (in inches) you can allow your animals to graze the grass. 

3.8 Length of Grazing Period 

  • Use short grazing periods. Since livestock graze selectively, they will eat highest quality forage when first turned out onto a paddock and be forced to eat lower quality forage each day they remain in the same paddock.
  • This is especially important for dairy farmers since change in forage quality shows up in milk yields. Many dairy farmers use one-day grazing periods; some move livestock after every milking. With other types of livestock, rapid moves are less beneficial and animals may be moved to new pasture every 2 to 6 days depending on the level of nutrition required.
  • Do not overgraze pastures. The closer you graze a pasture, the longer the rest period required for forage recovery.
  • The higher the stubble, the more quickly the plant will be able to recover after grazing. Try to adjust the length of your grazing period to allow for these stubble heights.
  • If you cannot leave these stubble heights, your forage will probably do all right, if you give it adequate rest between grazing. A sure way to kill desirable species is to graze close and then graze the regrowth without allowing adequate rest.
  • At the heights shown above pasture quality will be high, the forage will be easy to eat, and the plants will recover sufficiently from the previous grazing. Sufficient photosynthetic tissue must remain on plants for production of carbohydrates to meet growth and respiration demands of the plant.
  • If the plants are under stress (drought, low soil fertility, cold weather, etc.), the rest period may need to be longer for the plants to regrow to these heights.

a)  Where the graze duration is more than three days:

  • Pasture regrowth will be re-grazed before the leaf area has recovered, reducing stores of soluble carbohydrate in the roots and slowing the regrowing process.
  • Repeated re-grazing can cause plant death and loss of productive pasture species.
  • Forage will be wasted by the excess of livestock manure and by the excessive trampling of pasture.

b)  Where the graze duration is less than one day:

  • Labour and capital (fencing and water) costs are high to accommodate more frequent movements of herds.

3.9 Length of Rest Period 

  • One of the most important components of a successful rotational grazing system is allowing the forages an adequate rest period for plant recovery and regrowth. Allowing plants a sufficient rest period is vital to maximize forage quality, yield, and stand persistence. This period not only give the plants time to regrow but also to replenish stored carbohydrates and for root development. However, if plants are allowed too long of a rest period without grazing or mowing, plants will become mature and lose nutrient value and palatability.
  • Animals should be removed when pastures are grazed down to the suggested height where adequate leaf area is present for quick regrowth. Overgrazing pastures will increase the length of rest period required.
  • More paddocks allow for longer resting periods. For example, in a six paddock rotation, if animals are in each paddock for six days, this will allow for a thirty day rest period.
  • Knowing and adhering to the suggested grazing heights and rest periods for the various forage species is important for maximum forage production and quality.

The following table contains suggested length of rest for common forages.

3.10  How to Calculate the Size of Each Paddock for Cows and Sheep: Rotational grazing is nothing new. Dividing up a pasture into paddocks to prevent overgrazing goes back to the earliest agrarian societies. What is fairly recent is intensive rotational grazing. Instead of pasturing animals in a large paddock for a month or two, then moving them to the next paddock, Intensive rotational grazing is pasturing animals in very small paddocks for just a few days at a time, or in some cases hours.

The heart of the idea stems from giving pasture the optimum amount of time to re-grow before being grazed again. Short grazing periods stimulate growth, long grazing periods destroy pasture. So, in rotational grazing you need to know how many animals should be allowed to graze a paddock. How can you calculate this?

This video answers the following 3 questions:

  1. How do you size the paddocks for the number of animals you have?
  2. How big do you need to make the paddocks?
  3. How many paddocks do you need?

Question 1: How do you size the paddocks for the number of animals you have?

  • The calculations use “Animal Units” or AU’s which are a livestock standard based on a mature 450 kgs. cow. Rotational Grazing assumes 33 AUs per acre per day. So that is 33 cows, or about 14,500 kgs. Keep in mind, this is dependent on the pasture productivity. It could be as low as 25 AUs or high as 80 AUs. But for the purposes of getting started, start with the 33 AU number.

Question 2: How big do you need to make the paddocks and how many of them do you need?

  • If Rotational Grazing requires 33 cows per acre, you should allow 123 square metres per cow. So, if you have 25 cows, the paddock size should be 3,075 (123 sq.m. x 25 cows) square metres, which is 55 metres x 55 metres.
  • The grazing periods should be as frequent as you can handle, no more than 5 days per paddock. Once per day seems to be a desirable number in most of the literature.
  • Square paddocks are recommended as opposed to rectangular or wedge-shaped which do not tend to get evenly grazed.

3.11  Growing Cover Crops in Rotational Grazing: In a situation when there is a lack of forage for the livestock and the pasture is degraded, the farmer might choose to restore the soil in each part of his pasture by growing a cover crop there. With some thorough planning and on-farm testing to find multi-species mixes suited to the local climate and soil, cover crops with a mixture of species will restore the soil and provide nutritious forage for the livestock farmer.

Cattle Grazing in a Cover Crop Field

It has been widely shown that cover crop grazing offers benefits, including improved soil biology, increased soil life, higher soil organic matter, better soil structure and fertility, increased water infiltration and moisture-holding capacity of the soil, and increased production through seasonally available forage. In addition, well-managed cover mixes can decrease weed problems and provide a higher quantity of forage for livestock. Frequently, forage quality improves over long periods of time.

A mix of plants can often be a good diet for cattle, including a legume such as clover, to increase the protein and calcium content in the forage. Providing different species can help balance the ration, reduce supplement costs, and take advantage of moisture and growing conditions at different times of year.

Multi-Species Cover Forage Crop

Grazing cover crops is a way to turn them from an expense into a profit centre. In addition, properly executed grazing on top of cover cropping will speed up the rate of soil health improvement.

If a livestock farmer grows cover crops all around his pasture, and combines it with rotational grazing, he will restore the fertility of the pasture soil and increase the price he gets for his livestock.

In this video Gabe Brown talks about how to use cover crops in rotational grazing, and why cover crops are invaluable for livestock farmers.

In this next video Gabe Brown provides more practical information about using cover crops for grazing livestock. He also outlines the benefits of grazing livestock in a cover crop for the soil food web in the soil.

3.12  Apply Compost to Restore the Pasture: The following video shows how 2 farmers have improved the quality of soil in their pasturelands by implementing carbon farming practices. They spread compost over the pasture land and use rotational grazing to improve the growth of the pasture grasses, which sequester carbon into the soil and make a nutritious feed for his beef cattle. 

4.  How to Apply Bio-Plant and Pro-Plant in Rotational Grazing

4.1  The Pasture Needs Fertilisation

  • All pastures with less than 40% legume content need Nitrogen fertilization for optimal growth. Mixing legumes with the grasses helps to improve the soil biology and to increase the amount of Nitrogen the pasture receives. Bio-Plant will provide extra Nitrogen and a wide range of nutrients by restoring the Soil Food Web and the Nutrient Cycle.

4.2    Application Method 1 – Spread Compost

  • This would be most suitable for pastures which have some grasses growing so that the compost goes between the grasses. Make compost using Bio-Plant. Spread at least 5 MT over each hectare of pasture, more if the pasture has been badly degraded. You will need one litre of Bio-Plant mixed with 5 or more tonnes of organic matter per hectare. If you make the compost fine enough, you will be able to spread it out over a hectare.
  • The frequency of application depends on the condition of the pasture. Once a month would be beneficial to begin with, if the grass is in a degraded condition.
  • Farmers can improve the quality of the soil in their pasture land by implementing carbon farming practices. Spread compost over the pasture land and use rotational grazing to improve the growth of the pasture grasses. This will sequester more carbon into the soil and produce very nutritious feed for cattle.
  • The more even the spread the better, the better the distribution of nutrients. It can be tossed with a pitch fork, or thrown from the back of a cart or from a manure spreader, for example.
  • If you do not have enough compost, then spray Bio-Plant mixed with water over the pasture. (See Method 2.)

4.2    Application Method 2 – Plant a Cover Crop

  • Choose the mixture of seeds that you are going to plant. The way you plant the seeds depends on what equipment you have, e.g. no-till drill; or broadcasting by hand or from the back of a tractor. Avoid ploughing the soil when you plant the seeds though because this will damage the soil’s food web.
  • Soak the seeds for 18-24 hours in water mixed at the ratio of 20 cc of Bio-Plant in 20 litres of water.
  • If you plant the seeds in rows with a no-till planter, spray all the rows of seeds with Bio-Plant at the ratio of 500 cc in 500 litres of water. 500 cc mixed with 500 litres is enough for 1 hectare.
  • When the seeds have germinated and have leaves, it would be beneficial to mix the Bio-Plant with Pro-Plant in order to increase the rate of growth. Spray them together monthly.

a) You Want to Improve the Soil Fertility and Increase the Growth

  • If there is already grass growing and you just want to improve the fertility of the soil and thereby increase the growth of the grass without planting any seeds, you could spray Bio-Plant mixed with water over the grass. Do this before about 9 a.m. when the stomata are open widest, and spray a fine, misty spray. This will reduce your costs. The usual ratio is 500 cc of Bio-Plant mixed with 500 litres of water per hectare. The frequency of spraying depends on the condition of the pasture, but spraying monthly would be very suitable. (See 2.2 and5.2.3.) 

b) When the Pasture Grass is in Poor Condition

  • Alternatively, if the pasture grass is in a poor condition, mix Pro-Plant into the Bio-Plant-water mixture. Spraying both together is only needed at the beginning to restore the condition of the grass. If you mix 500 cc of Pro-Plant and 500 cc of Bio-Plant with 1,000 litres of water, this will cover 2 hectares. Once the grass is growing well, you can stop spraying Pro-Plant with Bio-Plant and return to 500 cc of Bio-Plant in 500 litres of water per hectare.
  • If you apply both bio-fertilisers monthly like this, and there is no problem with the cost, then apply this amount every month, though the Pro-Plant can be reduced or stopped once the condition of the grass has been restored.
  • Saving on Bio-Plant is a false saving when you are restoring a pasture because the micro-organisms in Bio-Plant will sweep up the NPK in the soil and make it available to the grass; obtain extra Nitrogen from the air; and improve the soil’s fertility.
  • Because the micro-organisms in Bio-Plant will sweep up the NPK in the soil and make it available to the grass; obtain extra Nitrogen from the air; and improve the soil’s fertility, saving on Bio-Plant is a false saving when you are restoring a pasture.

c) Duration and Frequency of Spraying

  • We suggest that you apply the bio-fertilizers as described for 4 months in a row. If the grass growth looks good, you can stop using the bio-fertilizers for a while. In the rainy season you might wish to stop as the grass will grow in the rain season anyway.
  • If at any time the grass looks to be in a poor state, you should apply the bio-fertilizers together at least once a month until the growth becomes healthy again. Applying the bio-fertilizers for at least 4 months in a row will give good growth. Make sure you spray both bio-fertilisers again, if the growth starts to slow noticeably.
  • You might wish to apply the bio-fertilizers for 6 or more months a year in order to keep the growth strong, especially if you have a large number of animals on the land.
  • Alternatively, once the growth is healthy, spray Bio-Plant (with Pro-Plant too, ideally) mixed with water (500 cc in 500 litres) immediately after each grazing cycle, i.e. the pasture is grazed, the pasture is sprayed, with Bio-Plant (and Pro-Plant), and then the pasture is left to recover before being grazed again.

4.4  Application Method 3 – Seed a Field with Grasses and Legumes

  • Choose the mixture of seeds that you are going to plant. The way you plant the seeds depends on what equipment you have, e.g. no-till drill; or broadcasting by hand or from the back of a tractor. Avoid ploughing the soil when you plant the seeds though because this will damage the soil’s food web.
  • Soak the seeds for 18-24 hours in water mixed at the ratio of 20 cc of Bio-Plant in 20 litres of water.
  • If you plant the seeds in rows with a no-till planter, spray all the rows of seeds with Bio-Plant at the ratio of 500 cc in 500 litres of water. 500 cc mixed with 500 litres is enough for 1 hectare.
  • When the seeds have germinated and have leaves, it would be beneficial to mix the Bio-Plant with Pro-Plant in order to increase the rate of growth. Spray them together monthly.

4.5  Mixing a Large Volume of Bio-fertiliser and Water

  • In the case of spraying from a 1,000-litre tank, the mix ratio is the same, but because the quantity of water is much bigger, you will need to mix the bio-fertilizers into the water properly. This can be done in the following way. Mix 200 litres of water with 1 litre of Bio-Plant and 1 litre of Pro-Plant and then pour in the rest of the water so that the bio-fertilizers are mixed with the other 800 litres properly.
  • In the case of 4 hectares of land, the amount would be 2 litres of each bio-fertilizer (500 cc of each per hectare) in 2,000 litres. You could mix the 4 litres with 200 litres again or 400 litres. It does not matter. The smaller amount of water merely serves to mix the bio-fertilizers with water before they are mixed with the large volume.

4.6  Mixing a Large Volume of Bio-fertiliser and Water:  In the case of spraying from a 10,000-litre tank, the mix ratio is the same, but because the quantity of water is much bigger, you will need to mix the bio-fertilizers into the water properly. This can be done in the following way. Mix 200 litres of water with 1 litre of Bio-Plant and 1 litre of Pro-Plant and then pour in the rest of the water so that the bio-fertilizers are mixed with the other 1,800 litres properly. In the case of 4,000 litres, the amount would be 2 litres of each bio-fertilizer in 4,000 litres. You could mix the 4 litres with 200 litres again or 400 litres. It does not matter. The smaller amount of water merely serves to mix the bio-fertilizers with water before they are mixed with the large volume.  

Workshop Materials

1.  How to Regenerate Pasture With Rotational Grazing and Bio-Plant and Pro-Plant – Workshop Presentation (English)

2.  How to Regenerate Pasture With Rotational Grazing and Bio-Plant & Pro-Plant – Workshop Handouts (English)