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Animals play an important part in restoring soil health. We start with the where, the what and the how.

It's a given that animals are a critical part of restoring and maintaining farm ecosystem health. But only if managed correctly.

And when it comes to management, we believe there are three things to consider. The Where, the What, and the How.


Simply put, WHERE are we going to put the animals to have an impact? Are we doing conservation grazing, for example managing a site of special scientific interest that needs to encourage certain outcomes such as an invertebrate breeding environment.

Is it pastoral grazing, to maintain a cultural landscapes and improve biodiversity, soil and water health.

Or is it on depleted cropped land? Using animal impact on land that is cropped with plants for human consumption helps maintain soil health in otherwise 'continuous cropping' systems. In farmer speak, this is also referred to incorporating grazing animals into the arable rotation.

Many look at this third type of 'where' as simply 'mixed farming'. Returning to what our great grandparents used to do. However we should be wary of such a comparison.

For starters, the economics, the climate and the objectives of farming have changed a lot since then. And furthermore, we believe we should harness all the science and technology available to us now so we can improve on what was done three generations ago,

Mixed farming for climate smart agriculture is more than what our grandparents used to do.

Our farmers can choose to incorporate livestock into their rotations in a number of ways, based on their specific farm context.

1. Grazing arable residuals.

This is the practice of running large mobs of animals on the fields that have just had their primary crops harvested. For example the fields of wheat stubbles you see behind hedges in august. The animals eat any spilt grains and unwanted 'weeds' as well as tramping straw into the top of the soil. Their muck encourages birds and insects onto the fields.

2. Grazing arable crops.

This involves planting a crop destined for human consumption, such as oats or rapeseeds in such a manner that it can also be grazed by animals before being harvested later in the year. For example, sowing oats earlier than usual in the autumn and then mob grazing over the winter. This removes any diseased plant leaves, encourages the plants to grow bigger root systems, and provides natural fertiliser to the field.

3. Grazing cover crops.

Planting a diverse cover crop before a short season spring arable crop is possible for some of our farmers. In these situations the farmer can choose cover crop varieties that are also suitable for grazing. The grazing often removes the need for herbicides to kill the cover crop, it provides manure to the fields as well as trampling the plants into the soil surface which feeds the soil microbes and worms.

4. Grazing break in arable.

To use this tool, farmers pause their arable rotation for a year (or number of years) to grow a crop that is only designed to provide grazing for animals. This offers the most significant benefit to the soil.

It allows for multiple grazing events as well as the opportunity to have a diverse mix of plants in the ground for an extended (multi-annual) period. Over this time the plant-microbe symbiosis develops and does wonders for underground communities. This is also the system most suited to cattle. However it is expensive for the farmer to remove land from more lucrative arable cropping.

And that's the role of Grassroots. We pay our farmers a premium for their beef so they can justify taking actions to improve soil health that otherwise wouldn't be economic.

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