Originally published November 8, 2017 on Modern Farmer
Sarah Flack has spent nearly all of her 48 years surrounded by cows, sheep, goats, and chickens—first on her family’s Vermont farm, then studying pasture management at the University of Vermont and, more recently, traveling the world as a consultant to livestock outfits looking to do the right thing. Last year, Flack distilled her experience into a guide, The Art and Science of Grazing, so authoritative that both Joel Salatin and Allan Savory blurbed the book.
Of course Flack’s approach is anti-feedlot, but she doesn’t believe it’s enough to simply turn animals out on the same patch of grass season after season. “Rotational Grazing,” in which livestock is circulated among several paddocks, represents a step up, though it’s not ideal because the pastures’ “recovery periods are kept the same length, even when plant growth slows,” writes Flack. “Pasture quality will decrease each year due to overgrazing damage, increased weeds, and rejected forage.”
Instead, she advocates for the “Management Intensive” method. Despite the intimidating name, the system is basically rotational grazing with the “of course” twist of paying close attention to plant health. Animals are rotated among paddocks more frequently and in a carefully considered way that allows pasture to recover and sprout anew. And livestock isn’t merely grass-fed, but nourished by a diverse mix of annual and perennial grasses (crabgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, fescue), legumes (a category that contains beans, as well as alfalfa and clovers), and forbs (pretty much everything else, including weeds like dandelions).
We’ve excerpted Flack’s detailed diagnostic (below) to help you recognize and address a whole host of problems that can a affect your pasture—and ultimately your animals and the environment. As Flack puts it: “When done well, grass-based livestock farming is a beautiful way to have a positive effect on a parcel of land and on a small part of the planet.”