On Saturday, April 21st, Field School was held at John Abe Teague’s Farm in Telford. The topic of this session was Sustainable Livestock Management, with a focus on rotational grazing systems. Rotational grazing is an intensive pasture management system that rotates dense groupings of livestock through a series of small paddocks. A good rotational system can dramatically improve the quality of your pasture and reduce the cost of feeding livestock.
Mr. Teague shared some of his practices for sustaining his thriving herd of Black Baldies and producing excellent grass-finished beef. He encouraged students to think not of raising beef, but of raising grass. Mr. Teague daily moves cattle to a different paddock for more efficient grass management. He demonstrated how he uses a rotational fencing system created by Limestone farmer, Roger McBride. McBride has designed easily moveable fencing stands and reels (that hold the electric tape and reel it out or in as you move the fence line) to efficiently change paddocks and move cattle, which Teague demonstrated in real time. The grass height difference between paddocks was obvious—and getting the cattle to move took Teague only a minute because the cattle were already loudly lowing to be moved into the fresh heights of grass. When the calves lay down, only the tops of their black heads and ears were visible in the green sea.
Mr. Teague pointed out two paddocks where he wanted improvement: a good lesson in how rotational grazing is dynamic and there are always ways to improve. One of these paddocks was where cattle were over a longer period during the winter eating hay, which has lead to large compacted and bald dirt areas. His plan is to re-disc and seed in his mixture of warm and cool season grasses and not graze for a few months to let it establish. Another paddock had grown too high, and the cattle would not efficiently eat down if let in to graze; his plan for this problem was to bush hog to encourage new growth. Greg Quillen, our speaker from the NRCS, pointed out, “You should budget yourself a paddock that can be considered extra,” in case of unforeseen factors in the ongoing experiment that is rotational grazing.
Also presenting was Greg Quillen, NRCS District Conservationist for Washington and Unicoi Counties. Greg first wants farmers to understand the resources they have so that they can best utilize and conserve them. He cautions farmers against having more animals on their land than it can actually sustain and explained that a 1,000lb animal will require two acres of grass, even with good soil. Overgrazing leads to erosion and overall poor soil and grass health. Luckily, implementing a rotational grazing system does not have to be extremely difficult or expensive–a strand of polywire will serve just fine as interior fencing. Even just cutting one large field in half with a strand of polywire and rotating livestock between the two will benefit grass, soil, and animal health. Along with the number of animals, he encourages farmers to carefully consider their soil type, available forages, shade, and water sources before introducing or increasing livestock on the farm.
Mr. Teague also invited Randy Moss, founder of Master Organic Soil Solutions in Mountain City, TN, to talk to our group about the benefits of worm castings, and he made believers of us. Mr. Teague uses worm castings to nourish his grass because they contain 90 trace elements that fill in the gaps of traditional N-P-K fertilizers, and the results speak for themselves.