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Why Grass?

April 25, 2010

What a great week it’s been! Beautiful spring weather, a little more rain, not too much mud, and grass, grass, grass everywhere! The lambs are growing, and their mamas are staying in really good shape in these conditions. I come back from the pasture with a big smile plastered across my face–it gives me joy and pleasure to see the animals thriving on pasture and to see how much the pastures have improved in the last three years.

In my last post, I joshed about running into trees because I’m always walking around with my head down, looking at the grasses and forbs. The other thing I like to do is to watch the sheep graze, not as a group, but as individuals. I like to see what they pick to eat, and what they leave behind. I spent a few minutes following one of my favorite dairy ewes around the other day and thought I would share with you:

See, I really am a geek about this! However, my passion is rooted in reason. Customers want to know how we raise our lamb. Many of them have done their research and know they want grassfinished meat, so they seek us out. Others just want wholesome lamb raised without adding a bunch of growth hormones or prophylactic antibiotics to their feed or water. I tell folks that it’s awful hard to get the hormones added to the grass, so we just skip the hormones all together 🙂

Sheep are ruminant animals. So are cows, goats, and buffalo (and some folks throw horses into the mix, too, but they are a little different). Ruminant animals have four separate stomachs, each with a different function. The first stomach, the rumen, is what enables the sheep to effectively digest and utilize grass. It begins the process of breaking down the lignin (fiber) in the forage. We humans, with just one puny stomach, can utilize some greens, but we do better with forbs like lettuce, spinach, and kale instead of grass. Ruminants give us a pathway to utilize grasslands through consumption of their meat. On this farm, about 1/3 of the land is suitable for crop or vegetable production. The other two-thirds is too hilly or too rocky or too sandy to cultivate without fighting erosion problems. However, grazing on that two-thirds helps improve the land, and grazing the one-third that could be cropped helps the lambs grow well. And eating grassfinished lamb helps you and me stay well.  Grassfinished lamb has less fat and cholesterol than feedlot-finished lamb and more beneficial fatty acids, like Omega-3 and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).

To learn more about the benefits of grazing for your health, for the animals, and for the environment, I suggest you check out Jo Robinson’s website, EatWild.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephen permalink
    April 26, 2010 2:57 am

    Nice video Nanc. Grassfed is groovy-tunes!

    • April 26, 2010 1:41 pm

      Stephen, I have a question or two for you: did you have to lime to get such gorgeous clover? And what variet(ies) are you planting? We have a lot of yellow hop, and some vetch, improved lespedeza, and arrowleaf clover, but I want/need more! I haven’t taken soil samples in a systematic way yet, just observed what grows where.

  2. Stephen permalink
    April 26, 2010 8:10 pm

    Nanc, we grow Ladino, Dwarf White, and Cinnamon Red clovers, plus a creeping type of alfalfa called Travois, and a creeping clover called Kura. I had to get the alfalfa and kura clover from Albert Lea Seed House in Minnesota, but all the other clovers came from Stillwater Milling. As for liming, I’ve never put a drop on the farm, although my soil tests say I need to. I get a lot of yellow hop if the rain is plentiful, but it’s been sparce so far this year. What type of soil do you have out there? Let me know and I’ll tell you what I would plant in your soil type.

    • April 28, 2010 8:26 am

      Shoot, Stephen, what soil types *don’t* we have? Some areas are a nice loam. A few are really sandy and a few are deep clay–the kind you can use to make your own pottery! Much of the hilly area is sandrock about 18″ below the surface. I know I want to plant some alfalfa in the sandy areas–how do you like the travois? Good to know you haven’t limed either… it’s on my list of things to pay for, just hasn’t risen to the top (yet).

  3. Stephen permalink
    April 28, 2010 7:46 pm

    I love the Travois, but it’s hard to come by. They don’t always have it in stock. I think for sheep ( like dairy cows) Ladino would be the primary clover with Trefoil (which won’t cause bloat) and Alsike for your clay soil. There’s a new creeping alfalfa called Matrix that would be a good substitute for Travois if it was out of stock. I would seed 5-1-1-1 lbs per acre. Frost seeding works the best if you don’t have a seed drill. Two or three years of this seeding rate will have your pastures clover rich, especially if you allow it to reseed in early spring or late summer.

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