Regenerative grazing may improve soil health

October 30, 2015

This pasture management methodology basically consists of managing grazing on the plots of land according to a predetermined calendar adapted to variable annual conditions and receiving the animals in a staggered way. It achieves considerably better soil conservation and cuts the carbon footprint per litre of milk produced by 10%, which helps to combat climate change.

The improvements in soil health resulting from targeted grazing are largely due to the longer resting periods of the plots of land. This method achieves a lower percentage of bare soil, higher values of infiltrability and a larger number of earthworms, which help to oxygenate the soil and render it more fertile. What is more, a larger quantity of roots and a greater presence of macrofauna were observed on the pastures analysed.

The new pasture management techniques achieve up to 14% more grass as the experts have been able to demonstrate throughout the project. The production of 'extra' grass constitutes a saving in the purchase of fodder and highlights the technical and economic effectiveness of regenerative management. What is more, the sheep managed using this methodology produce the same amount of milk with the same composition, and they have the same weight and body condition.

In addition, at Arkaute (Araba-Álava) when the regenerative practices were deployed, chemical fertiliser was eliminated, the consumption of agglomerated feed was cut by 4% and grazing time was increased by 7%. These data signify a 10% reduction in the carbon footprint per litre of milk produced.

Field research in Araba-Álava and Navarre

The research was conducted at the Model Farm at Arkaute (Araba-Álava) with an experimental flock of dairy sheep of the latxa breed; at Roncesvalles with the experimental flock of the Navarrese Institute of Agrifood Technologies and Infrastructure (INTIA), and at various beef cattle farms belonging to Urduñederra -The Orduña Local Development Agency (Bizkaia)-.

The regenerative management implemented in the three areas in the study were based on the direct sowing of the pastures, the use of perennial and leguminous species in the sowing, organic fertiliser and regenerative grazing. In the trials at Arkaute and Roncesvalles, the flock of sheep was divided into two homogeneous groups, one under regenerative grazing management and the other under free grazing management.

Soil life recovery

The main indicator of targeted or regenerative grazing is the time that the plots are allowed to rest so that they can recover after grazing. That way, the life of the soil and that of the plants that grow in it get the chance to recover. This targeted management offers advantages: it increases fodder production and quality, it helps the plants to recover, and the animals are prevented from selecting the grass. That way, more homogeneous grazing takes place across all the plots. The more even use of the pasture means that the droppings are also distributed more evenly, thus improving soil health.

The permanent pastures (linked to the practices of direct sowing) also display a significant carbon fixing capacity. All these beneficial effects are achieved by adjusting the livestock densities, the time the animals spend on the pastures, and the time the plant life has to recover.

Elhuyar Fundazioa

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