How to Use a Leader-Follower Grazing System

In a leader-follower grazing system, animals with different forage needs pass through a pasture in succession, using the land more efficiently without destroying its ability to support livestock.

| January 2015

Leader-follower grazing system

An ideal restoration agriculture grazing system would be a multispecies, mob-stocked, leader-follower system beginning with cattle.

Photo courtesy Acres U.S.A.

Restoration Agriculture (Acres U.S.A., 2013) by Mark Shepard reveals how to sustainably grow perennial food crops that can feed us in our resource-compromised future. The goal of a restoration agriculture system is to take advantage of all the benefits of natural, perennial ecosystems by creating agricultural systems that imitate nature in form and function while still providing for our food, building, fuel and other needs, and this book is a guide to creating such a system based on real-world practices. The following excerpt from chapter 9, “Livestock & Restoration Agriculture,” deals with adding livestock to a perennial agriculture system.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Restoration Agriculture.

Stocking Rates for Multispecies Grazing

Everybody who lives in grazing country has seen a pasture where there are just too many animals on the pasture. Plain and simple. The animals eat every morsel of green until even the closest cropped golf course green appears lush. Once they’ve eaten the pasture down to those levels, there’s not enough feed for the animals and their health and nutrition suffer. Soil compaction becomes an issue because there is no longer any more root penetration to drill channels for water to percolate down into or to add fibrous carbon to the soil. Overgrazing of animals is one of the largest causes of land degradation and desertification on a global scale. Degradation from overgrazing is used by the proponents of animal confinement operations as a propaganda tool to eliminate the small grazier or rancher as competition in the food markets. As practitioners of restoration agriculture we will want to be especially aware of the anti-overgrazing bias that exists in many circles, because our goal is one of restoring health and vitality to the earth-plant-animal system, and not degradation. By being observant and by carefully managing our grazing patterns we will be able to ensure that this is so. Overstocking a pasture with one type of livestock and not rotating them to new pasture is the sure way to ruin.

That said, understocking a pasture can also lead to overgrazing. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is actually possible.