Tag Archives: grazing

Is bird-friendly grazing ‘for the birds’?

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Rotational grazing is generally considered ecologically beneficial because of its potential to build soil and maintain diverse and robust plant communities. Grass-based farming (i.e. pastures for grazing and haying), however, can come in conflict with the ecology of other organisms such as grassland birds.

Some have suggested that refuges – areas that aren’t grazed by cattle during the nesting season – may help reconcile the use of these ecosystems by cattle and grassland birds including the threatened bobolink.

A Bobolink nest built on the ground in a cattle pasture. Photo: Gerald Morris, BECO

A Bobolink nest built on the ground in a cattle pasture. Photo: Gerald Morris, BECO

To assess whether strategically placed bobolink refuges can have meaningful impact on conservation efforts for this species, Bird Ecology and Conservation Ontario (BECO), a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of birds in Ontario through the use of ecological research, is teaming up with the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) on a 2-year study in the Ottawa Valley. The project is funded by the Government of Canada through the Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands initiative.

Starting in May 2016, wildlife biologists with BECO worked with 5 farmers on 8 pastures that are each rotationally grazed by 1 herd of beef cattle (herd sizes vary, as do stocking density, rest period, etc.). Across the 2-year study, each pasture has 1 year of treatment, when ~2 hectares remains un-grazed during the bobolink breeding season (mid-May to mid-July) to provide refuge habitat, and 1 year of control, when all paddocks are grazed during the nesting period. When possible, the order of refuge treatment vs. control was randomly assigned.


Grassland Bird Field Assistant with BECO, watches for signs of Bobolink nesting activity. Photo credit: Andrew Campomizzi, BECO

Grassland Bird Field Assistant with BECO watches for signs of Bobolink nesting activity. Photo credit: Andrew Campomizzi, BECO

In May, June and July, the BECO crew located and monitored breeding success in nearly 90 bobolink territories. In these territories, they found and monitored 32 nests, of which 15 fledged young while the others were predated or destroyed by cattle trampling. After year 2, they will compare the proportion of bobolink that fledged young in each pasture under treatment and control.

The conservation implications of this study are important and complex. If refuges are effective at supporting bobolink conservation in pastures, what does this mean for grass-based farmers who may already feel the burden of conservation efforts in an agricultural landscape composed primarily of monocultures and field crops? If refuges don’t improve bobolink reproductive success, then what does the future hold for this charismatic grassland species?

Conference Sneak Peek: Spotlight on Abe Collins, grazier & keynote speaker

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abe-212x159Abe Collins is a Vermont-based grazier, educator and consultant with a passion for topsoil formation and farmer leadership in achieving grassland productivity and environmental security. He has milked cows, herded sheep, and finished beef cattle. Abe’s company Collins Grazing focuses on new topsoil outcomes for producers and communities. This is accomplished via farm design and construction, accelerated gains in soil, and grass, livestock, farm, and watershed environmental monitoring. Abe is the co-founder and a board member of the Soil Carbon Coalition, a board member of the Grassfed Exchange, and the Chair of the Soil and Water Task Force of the Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative. He has helped clients on ranches and farms in the US, Canada, Mexico and Australia to grow more and better grasslands, improve topsoil health, design scientific research initiatives, design and build farm infrastructure and deploy advanced soil and environmental monitoring technologies. In his presentations, Abe offers clear windows into grazing management, topsoil creation, environmental monitoring and modelling technologies and the environmental security benefits of management for topsoil formation.

Why do you want to join us in Orillia?
The question of how to grow food, topsoil and water security at the same time has been the primary one in my life.  Graziers and farmers are the people who can do this, and our skillset for achieving a deep topsoil future is growing as our community experiments, learns and shares information.  Embracing our expanding job description and honing the skillsets needed to grow food, topsoil and water security is a significant shift that can bring new opportunities for our children and our communities.  Every grazier and farmer I’ve worked and visited with has taught me, and I aim to learn more and share what lessons have stuck at the Orillia gathering.

What can attendees expect to learn/take away from your workshops?
The needs of human nutrition, livestock, soil organisms, plants, watersheds and farm businesses are shared ones. We’ll drill into practical grazing and cropping management that yields meat, milk and crops while also growing the soil aggregates that infiltrate and purify precipitation.  Good grazing management, grazing and cropping integration and Keyline soil formation and landscape design will be our focuses.  We’ll also touch on opportunities for accelerating our learning as land managers, for tracking and quantifying our progress via environmental monitoring technologies and policy examples and suggestions that can help us to gain ground.

What do you love about your work/research?
I love everything about working with people who are fully engaged with each other and with soil, water, grasslands, croplands and livestock to grow great food and environmental health.  I’m continually impressed by the commitment, creativity and passion that farmers have for making their landscapes and businesses work to their full potential.

Are there any other fun or interesting facts about your work that you’d like to share?
I believe pure water and flooding regulation are some of the most important crops that we can grow.  That is to say, growing clean and regulated water at the watershed scale by growing topsoil on our farms is a prominent opportunity before us that we should work to reliably produce and profit from.  Society needs what we can offer like never before.    New technologies and methods for monitoring soil, water, weather, biodiversity and agricultural yield — relative to our land management — are key to increasing our ability to manage for topsoil formation and to providing a performance basis for payment for watershed services.

Besides being our Keynote Speaker in a presentation called “Growing Clean Water: Managing For a Deep Topsoil Future” (Friday December 5 from 10:30 – 11:30 am) Abe is facilitating the following workshops:

December 5, 2014: Curious Grazing 
8:30 am – 10:00 am
In this workshop Abe starts with the assumption that “by attending to the needs of plants and soil organisms we can achieve improved livestock performance, per-acre production and continual improvement of soil health.” Abe will review the basics of plant physiology and soil ecology and how we can meet the needs of forages and soil organisms. He will share grazing, cropping, and soil treatments that producers around the world are working with in their whole-farm systems and succeeding with, including cocktail cover-cropping and mob grazing.

December 5, 2014: Keyline Design and Water Management 
1:30 pm – 3:00 pm
Keyline Farming is a whole-system approach to accelerated topsoil formation and broad scale farm design and management developed in Australia beginning in the 1940s by the late P.A. Yeomans and family. Yeomans’ innovations yielded conversion of infertile subsoil to topsoil within a matter of years via sequenced subsoiling and grazing management. His development of the Keyline Scale of Permanence included logical water-harvesting systems that stored water first in soils and then in large, linked dams that served as irrigation for dry times. This workshop will outline the Keyline soil improvement process and Keyline landscape design. Abe will cover Keyline through the outline of the “Keyline Scale of Permanence,” including the specifics of Keyline landscape design, earthworks management and soil improvement, with illustrations from his experience.

 Don’t miss the ecological conference of the year!
To learn more about Abe, the other presenters and workshops, and to register,
visit https://conference.efao.ca/.

Celebrating 35 years of Learning, Farming and Sharing!