Soil School: Proving the benefits of rotational grazing


Soil health, in a rotational grazing and cattle operation sense, starts with ground cover and consistently adding organic matter that will eventually become sequestered carbon. Logistics-wise and from a management stand-point, how is improved soil health achieved in a cattle operation?

In this Soil School episode, Bernard Tobin is in the field with Aaron Bowman, at Hampton, Ont., to check out his rotationally-grazed pasture system.

Bowman’s philosophy for soil management on his land starts with a seven-year perennial pasture rotation, with constant cover on the soil, with the goal of increasing carbon sequestration.

“You can’t beat pasture, you can’t beat anything that’s constantly growing, that’s constantly sloughing off carbon into the soil,” says Bowman, “Second, we’re not breaking it up.”

In the video, Bowman and Tobin are standing in an 18 year old pasture, that gets rejuvenated by seeding using a no-till drill:

Making cover crops profitable is also a focus of Bowman’s and although it’s hard to determine a dollar figure for grazed cover crops versus a bale, the cost is made up for by not having to haul that feed and that the cattle will feed themselves, he says.

As for rotational grazing patterns, the first thing needed is a good fence says Bowman. He uses a page-wire electrified perimeter fence, which allows them to string out a tumble-wire fence — cattle only stay in one spot for 24 hours.

Bowman and his family also installed 1,700 feet of waterline, north-south, and 1700 feet, east-west, with quick-couplers every 200 feet. They also have a stock tank on wheels and a water bowl for calves.

Under Bowman’s program, rotational grazing means the cattle are distributing manure and urine themselves, which theoretically replaces straw residue as the organic matter source and is potentially reducing ammonia losses. Qualitatively, Bowman sees a difference in his soil after the cattle have gone over it.

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