Pasturing livestock offers benefits for consumers, producers, animals and the environment, so Organic Prairie producers provide their animals with as much pasture as they can. CROPP Cooperative’s own production standards require that cattle have access to well-managed pasture as a significant portion of their feed whenever it is in season.
Once, nearly all livestock were raised on pasture. But not all pasture-based farming is the same. A modern method known as managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG) offers significant benefits over both confinement and old-style grazing methods.
In MIRG, animals are moved from paddock to paddock 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.
Cattle are literally born to eat grass, so pasture-fed cattle are healthier than cattle fed strictly grains and kept in confinement.
Pasture-based farming lets the animals do the work. They harvest and feed themselves and fertilize their pastures, overseen by the farmer in a carefully-managed system. The net result is significantly less fossil-fuel consumption, less erosion, less air and water pollution and greater soil fertility.
Studies show that, compared to plowed cropland, pasture can bind up many more tons of carbon dioxide in the organic matter of soils. This is an important factor in the reduction of greenhouse gases, meaning that increased amounts of land in pasture may even help to slow global warming.
Pasture-based farming can free farmers from the large, expensive machinery used to grow feed crops, and they don’t have the waste disposal and disease issues that come with confinement feeding. Their farms become safer places for children to be around the animals and help with farm work. Pasture expert Bill Murphy observes, “When they come to pasture farming, it is such a relief for farmers. They get rid of all these problems: crop failure, pesticide failure, huge debt.”
Pasture management is, in some ways, about old knowledge taken to a new level. At Organic Prairie, we’re hopeful that pasture farming will continue to grow.