Good Grazing Practices with Sarah Flack

Nationally-known grazing consultant Sarah Flack shares her childhood experiences with farming and how they’ve helped shape her ideas about good grazing practices.

| June 2016

Sarah Flack’s The Art and Science of Grazing (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016) is a comprehensive guide to grazing management for ruminant farmers. Flack’s principles help farmers design and manage successful grazing systems that meet the needs of their livestock, pasture plants, soils and the larger ecosystem. In the following interview, Flack shares her history of growing up on a farm, how that has influenced her ideas about grazing practices, and offers a glimpse at what farmers can find within the pages of her new book.

You grew up on farms, and in the book, you give two vivid examples of childhood experiences that taught you the power of both good grazing management and bad grazing management. What were those experiences, and what is it you learned from them?

SF:  When I was a child my family lived on the South Island of New Zealand for a number of years.  Since both my parents were scientists interested in farming, we spent a lot of time visiting farms and talking about ecology, plants, and soils.  Once, during a night of heavy rain, a landslide happened. A big area of the neighbors’ overgrazed sheep pasture slid down the hill and hit the back of our home. I got a vividly memorable lesson in what bad grazing practices can do!  We were lucky that we all were safe and the house wasn’t too badly damaged.  We had lively family conversations over meals for the next few weeks about how different types of grazing practices can either help, or damage, plants and their roots.

When we moved back to the United States to the farm in northern Vermont, I got hands-on experience as my parents used high stock-density grazing (it was called mob stocking back then) to improve overgrown, poor-quality pasture.  Watching the poor-quality pastures on our family farm transform into high-quality, highly productive pastures through the use of good grazing practices got me even more interested in the beneficial role herbivores can play in our ecosystem.

The book is called The Art and Science of Grazing. Are the art and the science two separate things, or do farmers need to study and practice both? Which one is more important?

SF:  In the book, each chapter explains (in farmer-friendly and easy-to-read language) part of the science that addresses what pasture plants, soils, and livestock need in order to thrive.  But I didn’t want the book to be all science, all theory. I knew it would be important to include real, practical examples of how farmers are using and applying that science on their own farms.  So I wrote real-life farm profiles (one for almost every chapter in the book) that describe how farmers creatively apply the principles of good grazing to their own farms.  Really, both are important!  We need to know the science behind what we are doing, but then we need to find the most practical and creative way—the art, if you will—to apply that science on each farm.

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