Improving Soil Health with Rotational Grazing
March 28, 2023
From cattle to carbon, water to wildlife, and economics to the environment, rotational grazing of livestock has many benefits.
Rotational livestock grazing allows plants to regrow between grazings. This establishes deeper roots, improves soil health and builds soil's organic matter. It also reduces flooding, soil erosion and nutrient runoff. It sequesters carbon, increases water retention, and supports bird and wildlife habitat. All of this can be achieved while providing an income source for farmers and ranchers.
Meet four recipients of the Leopold Conservation Award from Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin who are finding environmental and economic success with rotational grazing practices.
PETE AND MEAGAN LANNAN are innovative ranchers who found a way to raise beef cattle amid exorbitant land values in Montana's Paradise Valley. As owners of Barney Creek Livestock, they became land managers who show others how rotational grazing can heal landscapes.
They built relationships with owners of ungrazed and degraded properties by explaning how their stewardship could conserve and enhance natural resources. Landowners have noted an influx of birds in pastures grazed by the Lannan's cattle, lending credence to the adage that "what's good for the herd is good for the bird."
- - -
JOE AND CHRISTY TOMANDL own and manage three dairy farms in northern Wisconsin. When they aren't rotationally grazing their cows, they feed harvested perennial forages during the winter. A managed grazing system protects their farms' woodlands and wetlands. Grazing is delayed in some areas for grassland nesting birds.
Joe, a former high school agriculture teacher, developed a two-year, work-based program that links aspiring graziers with dairy farmers. The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship is a structured pathway to transfer knowledge, skills, and farmers to the next generation. Joe oversees more than 200 approved training farms in 15 states.
- - -
LOGAN PRIBBENO is rebuilding the light soils his family has farmed for over a century with the help of rotational grazing. He also grazes cattle on fields of cover crops and harvested crop residues at his farm and on rented fields. Doing so puts money in their neighbors' pockets while helping recycle nutrients. It's a win-win for the local farm economy and soil community.
Winter grazing of cover crops allows pastures of native Nebraska range to rest, while maximizing snow catch and minimizing wind erosion. Pribbeno's Wine Glass Ranch is divided into 90 paddocks, with more than 100 miles of cross fencing to allow for high intensity, short duration grazing.
- - -
LANCE GARTNER believes in working with nature, rather than against it. He's created a low-input cattle ranch that is both economically and environmentally resilient.
His grazing strategies leave taller grass on the land, which makes the North Dakota landscape more drought tolerant. He's partnered with local, state, and federal agencies and programs to install conservation practices such as reseeding more than 410 acres of crop fields with native grasses. His cattle are grazed as long as winter weather cooperates, with hay typically fed for just five weeks when the snow is deepest.
- - -
Sand County Foundation works to inspire and empower a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean water, abundant wildlife habitat, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Sand County Foundation's Leopold Conservation Award celebrates the voluntary efforts of farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners who improve soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat on their working lands. To read and watch more the inspiring stories of landowners who have received this recognition, click here.