Monday, January 04, 2010

Grazing is truly amazing

Even more remarkably, their production is now being seen as part of a land management system that benefits the planet. Though methane from ruminant animals undoubtedly adds to greenhouse gases, they can play a far more important role in cutting carbon dioxide.

Less than a month ago leading up to Nohopenhagen, who'd have thought that someone would be uttering such heresy? As an aside, not that I am into the flat-earther greenie view of greenhouse gases or the like at all.
The evidence is stacking up that meat and dairy foods from animals grazing fresh pasture are healthier than the grain-fed versions. Pasture-fed beef and lamb contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as vitamin E. Pasture-fed meat and milk are also rich in a remarkable compound known as CLA, which protects against many cancers and heart disease.

Who would have thought that belching and farting pasture fed beasts could be good for you?
Scientists have long been aware of grassland’s ability to capture or “sequester” carbon. Grass leaves take in carbon dioxide from the air, converting it to sugars by photosynthesis. Some of the resulting carbon compounds are transferred to the roots and released into the soil through the normal cycles of growth and decay.

Well, I never.

Today a group of US farmers are discovering that they can build up those same high levels of soil carbon under their own pastures. The key is to get their cattle to mimic the behaviour of the wild bison herds. As a defence against predators, these herds packed closely together and were constantly moving. This meant that each patch of grassland was trampled and grazed hard, then left to recover for weeks or months until the grazing herd returned.

Under this regime the soil carbon store builds rapidly, as today’s farmers are now discovering. They call it “mob grazing”.

Ever seen what that trampled piece of mud in the winter paddock looks like next spring? No pests, having all been trampled, fully fertilised, it is the most lush area of a paddock next year. Yes Sir, a number of farms do that here in New Zealand but it is frowned upon because the mud leaches into waterways. A careful balance is required, enough to do the mob grazing bit, then move on.
Using electric fences, farmers split their pastures into a large number of small paddocks. Putting their cattle into each paddock in turn, they graze it off quickly before moving the herd to the next. US farmers report that their animals stay very healthy on this grazing regime, putting on weight fast. At the same time the soil quickly becomes more fertile as it accumulates carbon compounds.

Pasture feeding has long been advocated in New Zealand - it is what we do best - producing grass for grazing.
It’s the fastest way to sequester carbon, collect solar energy, and rebuild soil.

Grazing is truly amazing.

The full article is well worth a read, whilst you next tuck into that pasture fed steak with a clear conscience.


Adolf Fiinkensein said...

This carbon story sounds like a bit of gratuitous bullshit to me. What actually is happening is that soil nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorus are being cycled faster by large numbers of intensely grazed animals. This was well known in NZ pasture farming circles fifty years ago.

But don't worry, in two years' time, when people realise how they've been conned over carbon,nobody will be bothered to write more damn fool papers like this one.

tony lovell said...

Imagine if we had a process to remove billions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere safely, quickly and cost-effectively - while at the same time reversing desertification, boosting biodiversity, enhancing global food security and improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people in rural and regional areas around our planet?

We do - it's called changed grazing management and soil carbon.

Please take a look at the presentations on http://www.soilcarbon.com.au/ to learn more.

Abe said...

So many of us practical graziers have seen rapid changes and improvements to our soils when we manage the mob to optimize photosynthesis and microbiological decay. In 2008 we mob grazed and physically aerated soils with a Keyline plow, and watched our blue clay subsoil converted to black crumbly at 8" within the year- it staggered even us.
No sense in being afraid of carbon cycling - cycling carbon, other minerals and water is how we make our living, and enhancing carbon cycling makes us a better living.
All economics start with photosynthesis, of which we are the stewards on vast tracts of land. Stepping up to the plate and depositing some carbon in the soil bank account is not the agenda of dupes - it's good economics from any angle.
Nice blog post!
Abe Collins

mike said...

Surely you are taking the mickey.... aren't you?

This is not new. We have been mob stocking, break feeding, controlled grazing, strip grazing, techno cells....call it what you like, since before the invention of electric fences! If ALL farmers and farming critics don't understand the theory behind strip grazing, where have they been for the last 50 years! I shudder to think what else I take as common knowledge that your readers are not aware of.

Maybe it is time to break the news that working crop residue into the ground by cultivation actually does more harm to the soil than good, but then everybody, including our urban critics, already know that.....don't they?