• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies living kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • raven ranson
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • paul wheaton
  • Devaka Cooray
stewards:
  • Burra Maluca
  • Miles Flansburg
  • Julia Winter
garden masters:
  • Dave Burton
  • Anne Miller
  • Greg Martin
gardeners:
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Mark Tudor
  • Pearl Sutton

Why do we feed grass to animals on pasture?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 10
Location: Zone 3b
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I suppose this could be a terrible question because it's so obvious as to why. However, I just don't see it I guess. When you look at animal animal on pasture: Cattle, goats, horses, sheep, chickens ect ect ect we always have such a high percentage of grass in the pasture. Some pastures are even solely grass. Much more common is grass mixed with clover, alfalfa or another legume for it's added nutritional benefits depending on the animal grazing the pasture. You can go a step further and include a higher amount of legumes with diversities in species along with other "medicinals" like plantain, chicory, dandelion, kale, comfrey, chives ect and even go as far as including hints of the Lamiaceae family ie mint, basil, sage, rosemary.

But why is grass typically the staple? Why isn't chicory a staple? More nutritious than pasture grasses and similar DM yeilds/acre. Why not throw in a much higher percentage of the "medicinals" to fulfill more of an animals diet in place of grasses?

I do understand that in conventional agriculture grass is most likely used due the fact that it takes over everything else making it very easy to maintain your crop without re-seeding along with the combination of dumping N on a field for high yields.

Down sides to chicory, for example sake, would be that it's high nutritional value and 90% digestibility rapidly declines when the plants goes beyond the vegetative state into a bolting state. This has proven hard to keep chicory as a quality forage if it grows too fast- "Forage chicory can grow rapidly during the months of July and August when temperatures can exceed 90 degrees F".

So, what are your takes on it? Please, keep in mind I am not attempting to make this about chicory>grass for a pasture staple. Any other species could have their case argued; I just picked one of many for examples sake.. The main question at hand is what makes grass a more viable option than all the others?



If interested in chicory as a forage here is the article I was referring to throughout. https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/VME-31
 
Posts: 95
Location: Saskatchewan
15
  • Likes 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Why grass? There are many reasons; here are a few.

Grass has a fibrous root system, this means that it holds the soil in place. A tap root holds the plant in place. A mix is an excellent idea.

Grasses grow from the base of the plant, they coevolved with herds of migrating ruminants. The growth at the base of the plant allows them to recover quickly after being grazed. This makes grass incredibly easy to grow. Most tap rooted plants grow at the tips of existing vegetation, meaning longer recovery times after grazing

Alfalfa and clovers can cause bloat in ruminants when fed in high concentrations. Some other legumes do not cause bloat but these are not as high yielding and persistant as alfalfa and clovers. A mix of grass and legumes in pasture causes less bloat and is easier to care for. Chickens would probably be quite happy with a straight legume pasture though.

The highest DM yields will come from the species that grows best in the conditions that are present in any given moment. There is no one species capable of doing this. For max DM a mix of; warm season, and cool season plants are needed, as well as plants that grow in drought or excessive moisture. With a mix of seeds in the soil something will always grow and the dominant forage will shift with growing conditions. When striving for diversity it makes no sense to exclude grasses.

For the sake of soil health the best thing to grow is a sod forming, nitrogen fixing, mineral accumulating mix. What is most important is that something grows and covers the soil in all conditions.

So I guess the question, why grasses as a base for pasture? is that grasses have the critical role of holding soil in place.
 
Posts: 5
Location: Henderson, NV
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Joel Salatin explains why the best pasture is a broad mix of plants (1-3 dozen). He calls it a "salad bar". This mix is found in an ancient pasture where the ground is grazed as it would have been pre-humanity. All we have to do is observe, record, and learn.
 
Posts: 82
Location: New Zealand
18
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Also in practical terms in many parts of the world grasses are harder to keep out of pastures than keep in. Try growing chicory and any mixture of legumes without grass and see how long it takes before the grass is a large percentage of the pasture again. Most chicory-dominated pastures are maintained by selective chemical spraying to remove the grass, I suspect not a popular option with most who read this site.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1018
Location: Los Angeles, CA
161
books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Grass has one of the highest conversion rates, taking the same amount of water, CO2, and sunlight and converting it to much more biomass than other plants.  Ultimately, it's about calories per acre.  While some plants may be more nutritious, you've got to have enough calories to keep the animals full and gaining weight.  

Grasses are some of the most productive plants on the planet in that regard.
 
Posts: 39
Location: Baja Arizona
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Just to add a bit more to the good mix here...
The more diverse the mix of plants is the more carbon that will be sequestered in the soil and the more diverse the mix of soil microbes will be.  More carbon and microbes greatly increases overall fertility.  Increased fertility means increased livestock production as well as increased nutritional levels in the products from said livestock.  After all, its ultimately all about nutrition.
 
gardener
Posts: 5058
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
608
books chicken dog duck fish forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur hunting pig
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Well Johnny, you answered your own question about chicory so that's out of the way really.

I like a broad mix of plant types in pasture, grasses are the base material, since as others have mentioned they are going to grow anyway, we might as well pick which species we grow.
I also like broad leaf plants like comfrey, plantain, dandelion, kale, turnips, rape, daikon radish, buck wheat, scarlet clover, yellow clover, hairy vetch and others.
The more variety you can get into your pastures the better for the pasture, the soil, the animals and you.
I like to use paddocks and move the animals frequently so recovery happens faster too. I like to get the pasture going and do a lot of over seeding the first year so I have everything growing nicely before the animals get to munch it down the first time.

Pasture make up should be designed for the animals you are going to graze there, chicory would work in a goat or cow pasture quite well, not so much in a horse or donkey or alpaca pasture.
We want our soil to have deep roots in it because that will help the bacteria and fungi to proliferate and keep the soil very healthy.
Also, CO2 sequestering happens better in a grass base pasture, that means less carbon in the air, and those grass plants hold onto that carbon quite well.

I have never needed to mow a pasture since they are grazed down to about 3 inches when the animals are moved, they recover nicely (back up to 8" or taller) by the time the animals are coming on that paddock again.

Currently I am starting some new pasture area and the grasses will go in first followed by over seeding with the root vegetables then, two weeks later I'll go over it with the rest of the mix of seeds.
I expect it all to be up 6 to 8 weeks after the last broadcasting of seeds. and it will then be divided into paddock areas before the animals are allowed their first grazing.
That is the other aspect of pasture, it needs to be well established before the hooves come in trampling and the poop is plopping.

Redhawk
 
Brick Johnny
Posts: 10
Location: Zone 3b
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Great information everyone. I think it's only healthy to question even our most basic actions, such as grass in a pasture, to find legitimate reasoning behind why we do what we do.

While some plants may be more nutritious, you've got to have enough calories to keep the animals full and gaining weight


There are a vast number of plants that have a higher Feed Conversion Ratio than that of grasses while simultaneously producing more DM and being more nutrient dense.

But seriously, some great information presented here in a clear and concise manner. Kudos, everyone.

This question came to mind when I was doing some academic reading( http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1516-35982010001300019 ) on alternative forage options. I would like to see more trials for a greater range and accuracy of numbers however this system, as described in the research as a chicory, plantain and clover based pasture, is still rudimentary compared to a pasture with permaculture principles applied to it. I would love to see the same studies ran comparing pastures with permacultural concepts applied to create a high performance grazing system; being able to then identify, in numbers, "high performance". We have the knowledge and have applied the principles- too bad we don't have the lobbying for funds to throw some real numbers out there. Tangent closed.
 
Marco Banks
pollinator
Posts: 1018
Location: Los Angeles, CA
161
books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur urban
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Brick Johnny wrote:
There are a vast number of plants that have a higher Feed Conversion Ratio than that of grasses while simultaneously producing more DM and being more nutrient dense.



Yes and no.  Do they have the capacity to continually grow throughout most of the year?  Do they quickly regenerate after being eaten by a ruminate?  Are they as tolerant of drought, heavy rain, frost or heat?

They may be more nutrient dense pound for pound if you are comparing then in a static time frame without consideration of other variables, but pastures are dynamic and the growing season does not end as soon as a plant has been grazed.   If these alternative plants do not quickly regenerate and allow that cow to come back over it for a second, third and fourth pass as the season wears on, the cumulative nutrition of grass will out perform it.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2457
391
books cat chicken duck rabbit transportation trees woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
One common mistake is people calculating in nitrogen and nitrogen fixation, but failing to account for proper PH levels in the soil. A lot of legumes require PH levels in the 6.7 area, while grass can tolerate PH levels at 6.0 or even lower without ill effect. Depending where a farm is located, that can be huge, In Maine and New England it is; because with mid-west coal plants toxic plume landing here due to the topography, jet stream, moisture levels, etc, we have low PH levels. It was called acid rain in the 1980's but probably has a new name now.

If we were to convert our hay fields and pastures to heavy legume fields, we would be spending a lot of money on lime and liming products in order to get the PH levels up to where they would flourish. Add to that the fact that PH levels have to be established first for the plants to properly take in that nitrogen, major and minor nutrients, and it becomes even more important. We are not talking a one time application here, we are talking tons of it every few years to maintain the proper PH. So for us, it is far cheaper to just grow grass, and not fight with nature and what falls from the sky by trying to grow heavy concentrations of legumes.
 
Travis Johnson
pollinator
Posts: 2457
391
books cat chicken duck rabbit transportation trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Another issue we have here in the Northeast is weather, particularly cold weather.

We are having one of the snowiest seasons in recorded weather history at over 100 inches of snow this winter, and winter is not even over. But from January to March we had a lull in the snow and very little snow cover and got some deep cold. Without snow cover to insulate legumes from that harsh cold, we get something called winter-kill. That is just what it sounds, the cold winter killing our legumes.

So to hedge our bets, because reseeding fields is VERY expensive, we take into account aspect and topography. On my farm I have a lot of North facing slopes which is where the wind predominately comes from. That means on some exposed fields, I can only plant 10% legumes into the sward mixture. In other areas where there is more protection from the wind (leaving snow from drifting as much) I can increase it to 25% of the mix, and 50%, etc. On some really wind protected fields I can get 90% legumes in a field.

At first the latter statement seems to conflict with my first post on this thread about PH levels, but it does not because we we can target certain fields for heavy doses of lime and not heavily lime all our fields heavily. Generally wind protection means smaller fields too, because the bigger the field, the more wind will rip across it. In this case I have 120 acres of active fields. Only 2 acres of which has 90% legume sward. 42 acres is in 10% legume for a sward, 15 acres in 25% legume for a sward, and the rest in 75% legume for a sward.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2064
Location: Toronto, Ontario
157
bee forest garden fungi hugelkultur cooking rabbit trees urban wofati
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think the answer to the original question has been given. Best return of calories for materials input, resilient to grazing and weather extremes, and accommodating of low soil pH.

I think it's also good to hear that the gross ratio can be shifted, and that practical pastoralists are experimenting with it.

I think one thing to consider about providing optimal grazing, whatever we think that means, is that having a pasture that is nutrient-rich but calorie-poor wouldn't necessarily be the best in all cases. Humans, for instance, if we eat a nutritionally-rich, calorie-poor diet, will experience weight loss, and potentially muscle loss, as well. Additionally, excess amounts of certain vitamins, like C, for instance, are excreted once the body has more than it can use, and excesses of other nutrients and minerals can build up, displace others, and cause problems where otherwise there would be none.

I think the observation that cattle on certain types of nutritionally rich grazing can have stomach issues, such as bloat, suggests that calorie-rich grass, in however diverse a mixture that can be cultivated, makes a great base for a polycultural pastoral mix that includes one- to three-dozen other species.

It is likely, in my opinion, that ruminants' ideal pastoral mix is closely linked to the dietary habits of their ancestors. If cattle ancestors didn't evolve eating fields of chicory, brassicas, and alfalfa, but rather grass, interspersed with occasional nutrient-dense and medicinal plants including the above selection, there's no guarantee that they are capable of benefitting from such an "improved" pasture.

I would go with the grass-based polyculture, myself.

-CK
 
pollinator
Posts: 1105
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
55
kids trees urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Wow, can you give a source for that?  Seems odd if grasses are so small.

Love your celebration sig!

Marco Banks wrote:Grass has one of the highest conversion rates, taking the same amount of water, CO2, and sunlight and converting it to much more biomass than other plants.  Ultimately, it's about calories per acre.  While some plants may be more nutritious, you've got to have enough calories to keep the animals full and gaining weight.  

Grasses are some of the most productive plants on the planet in that regard.

 
Posts: 28
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
All this input is great. The question has been answered sufficiently. I'm in Kentucky and everything in this thread, I would agree with. Don't try to fight what grows in your climate and soil conditions. Add the grass and conserve the soil. Let the animals enrich it and rotate your pastures. It is expensive to establish and maintain a proper mixture but worth it for nutrition and soil management. I'm speaking from 40 years of getting in the dirt and watching stuff grow, not clicking on a computer and theorizing.  
 
Getting married means "We're in love, so let's tell the police!" - and invite this tiny ad to the wedding:
It's like binging on 7 seasons of your favorite netflix permaculture show
http://permaculture-design-course.com/
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!