The Power of Pasture Walks

I began attending Land Stewardship Project soil health events because I was looking to improve the soil health of my hay field and pasture, which sustain some beef cattle and equine southwest of Winona, Minn. I attended several of the grazing group pasture walks.

The pasture walks provided an opportunity to share knowledge and to learn about not only the hosts' experiences, but other attendees' experiences. There was a lot of great discussion and the LSP facilitators did an excellent job sustaining the conversation by framing questions. Being onsite with the ability to see and interact in the environment made the pasture walks a valuable and memorable learning experience.

From the walks I attended, I gained additional insight into a variety of topics. Below are a few of them:

  • Techniques for pruning evergreens
  • Field rotations (crop, hay, pasture)
  • Cover crop varieties
  • Pasture plant mixes
  • Seeding (fall, spring, summer; broadcast, no till)
  • Fencing supplies and techniques (wire, stakes, reels, insulators)
  • Weed management (clipping vs. manual individual removal; around summer solstice is optimal time to cut thistles)
  • Fly control (organic soap and water solution)
  • Watering systems (locations, hardware; a bag of hardwood ash helps to control algae; a piece of floating wood prevents birds from drowning)
  • Power source options (solar power)
  • Grazing and rest schedules (every 24 hours vs. graze until 4"-6" but not longer than 3-4 days; extended rest period in the fall)
  • Maneuvering funding programs
  • Desirable characteristics of grazing livestock

With each pasture walk, I gained an understanding of what local grazers are doing and the elements driving their strategy. There are so many variables which influence decisions: weather, soil type, time of year, livestock density, existing vegetation, soil health, financial resources, funding program requirements, personal values, personal preference, etc.

No two farms or even pieces of land on one farm are necessarily the same. Therefore, what works on one, won't necessarily work on the other; it is important to observe and react. This year I plan to divide my pasture into more sections for rotational grazing and allow longer periods of rest in the sequence. What I heard and saw on the various pasture walks support this change; allowing adequate rest between grazing was a consistent message.

Land Stewardship Project Farm Beginnings graduate Jean Erpelding is member of LSP's Soil Health Steering Committee and grazes livestock in southeastern Minnesota. For resources and details on future events, check out LSP's Grazing & Soil Health web page here.