The Grass Is Greener
Why Pasture-Based Farming Makes Us Happy
by Ron Rosmann, Organic Prairie Farmer
Pastured and Organic
Pasturing methods are a good fit with organic farming, but organic does not always mean pasture-raised. USDA organic standards require “access to pasture” as part of an organic livestock system. This standard is under review, but currently does not specify how often or how long animals are outdoors, nor does it require they be fed live grasses.
Because of their commitment to working in harmony with nature, Organic Prairie producers prefer to provide their animals with as much pasture as they can. The Cooperative’s own production standards require that ruminant (grass-eating) animals have access to well-managed pasture as a significant portion of their feed whenever it is in season—a minimum of 3 months in most regions. Many Organic Prairie farmers pasture their livestock for all but the coldest winter months.
Some Organic Prairie farmers raise their beef on 100% pasture, all the time. However, due to a popular preference for fat-marbled meat, consumer demand for 100% grass-fed meat is still relatively small. There is growing demand for meat that is pasture-raised and then grain-finished, to provide both the benefits of pasture and the flavor that many customers enjoy. It’s one piece of a broad, gradual trend toward positive change in the food system.
Just as organic production is about more than just organic feed, pasture-based production is about more than animals eating grass. “Pasture benefits go back to type of farm, lay of land—utilizing it to the most,” says Wisconsin Organic Prairie beef producer Fred Pedretti. “Pasture and organic really work well together. It’s a fairly simple system once you get the right number of livestock for the acres you have—you use the system that works for your farm.”
Modern Pasture: Rotational Grazing
Once, nearly all livestock were raised on pasture. That usually meant turning them out to graze freely, often resulting in overgrazing, trampling and waste. But all pasture-based farming is not the same. Modern methods known as Management Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG) or Holistic Resource Management (HRM) offer significant benefits over both confinement and old-style grazing methods.
Managed rotational grazing involves dividing a pasture into pens or paddocks, and shifting the livestock from paddock to paddock as they graze. Animals are moved based on the condition of the grass. This allows the farmer to avoid overgrazing, while giving livestock access to pasture at the peak of nutrition and the right height for grazing, and letting the animals spread manure evenly over the entire pasture. Rotation also extends the grazing season, and often produces enough surplus grass during the summer months to provide silage for feed in winter. Organic Prairie’s own pasture protocol is designed to maximize production in the pasture and promote growth and well-being in the ecosystem.
Page 1: Pasture Basics