You can learn a lot from pasture walks

Pasture walks are a popular “buzz word” among range and grazing enthusiasts

Pasture walks are a popular “buzz word” among range and grazing enthusiasts. Many of us might call them “ranch tours” – but just the same, pasture walks are meant for learning from the land.

In addition to the ranch manager telling attendees about his/her grazing management efforts – and lessons learned along the way, those in attendance are asked to share their own grazing experiences as the group tours through the pasture.

University of Nebraska Extension educator Terry Gompert has hosted pastures walks throughout his state and the region over the past two decades. He says, “The power of pasture walks is in the group of ranchers/attendees sharing knowledge with each other.” Gompert says he learns something new on every tour he attends.

That said, he encourages all landowners to participate in a pasture walk – or host their own. Gompert shares these tips to visit about during a pasture walk:

  1. Identify the plant species in the pastures. Discuss the grazing practices, season and length of grazing and any impacts that may be having on plant diversity.
  2. Monitor riparian areas. Gompert advocates that these areas need to be grazed for a short period once or twice a year. He says, “Anywhere that I see cattle have been kept off of streams permanently, I’ve seen that they get into trouble with the productivity and health of their land.”
  3. Examine the “litter” on the ground. Litter is considered the dead material (leaves, grass matter, etc.) that covers the ground. Gompert calls management of litter one of the most important elements in grassland management.

He says, “You don’t want bare ground. Plant litter keeps the soil cool and moist, allows rain to infiltrate, and it builds organic matter and carbon.” Gompert says 1% of organic matter is worth 40 lbs. of nitrogen each year for free.

He adds, “In years of abundance landowners need to build litter. In years of deficit or drought, they need to maintain it.”

Obviously, litter can be managed for through grazing practices. Gompert says the grass that isn’t grazed should be knocked down by the livestock so that it can be recycled as litter. Thus, he says animal impact has an important role on the land. Along with this, hoof prints become reservoirs for capturing water, as well as a means of pushing seeds into the ground.

Gompert recognizes there is a balance in too much litter and not enough. Too much will prevent grass growth. “It needs the hoof action so grass can grow.”

He concludes, “I truly believe the only way to heal land is with properly managed animal impact and grazing.”

If you are interested in hosting a pasture walk, visit with your local NRCS or Extension office.