Inspirational ideas: Grazing management with a heart for soil health
Grasslands have enormous potential for storing carbon (C) in the soil. Carbon sequestration improves soil health, makes soils more resilient to extreme weather events, contributes to climate change mitigation and can benefit pasture quality. In sustainable livestock grazing systems, the key challenge is to find the best type of management to combine animal production with soil ecosystem services such as carbon storage,nutrient cycling and biodiversity.
Since 2005, dairy farmer Rob Richmond has been managing his pastures with a focus on building soil carbon. His efforts are paying off in the form of more resilient soils and more pasture growth. Rob runs an organic dairy farm with 300 spring calving dairy cows on 200 ha of farmland in the Cotswolds, UK. He also has 120 ha of woodland, and 10 ha of conservation land, which helps to protect birds and small mammals and attracts insects and pollinators.
His grazing practices have helped him improve the organic matter levels in his soils. He uses the method of strip grazing, which confines the cattle to a limited area of grazing land for a short period, giving the animals a fresh allocation of pasture each day. “For this grazing system you need good planning and a good infrastructure”, Rob explains, “but by moving the cows more frequently the grass can regrow more quickly and it is grazed more efficiently.” Rob’s biodiverse herbal pastures can grow deeper roots and help feed the soil. The increased leaf area builds organic matter and helps store carbon in the soil. “I don’t use mineral fertiliser”, Rob says, “and in autumn I use composted manure that feeds the soil microbes when there is little grass growth. This helps rebuild soil reserves.”
Rob’s grazing practices have produced more pasture year on year. His pastures are now more resilient to drought and to wet conditions, and carbon sequestration contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Rob states: “Soil is your capital. You need to grow it, not spend it. Learning to manage these pastures for organic milk production and soil quality building has been a steep learning curve. But I see that my pastures are now producing better in extreme weather conditions. I hope my approach can inspire farms all over Europe.”