(This piece was originally published in the March 2015 newsletter from Six Sigma Ranch.)
Something interesting happened during the first five years we owned Six Sigma Ranch, and it wasn’t what my university degree in agriculture would have led me to expect.
The previous owner, Russell Rustici, had raised cattle on the property for 30 years, a practice that we put on hold during our first five years while we developed the vineyards. It puzzled me to see that the grass quality in our pastures declined during these five years. Shouldn’t the pastures grow spectacular grass when we let them rest from grazing? The answer to that question, in short, is “no.” And it took quite a bit of research to understand why. Stay with me for a minute…
Imagine a tree. Each year it grows leaves and then drops them to make room for new ones. Now imagine your lawn, likely comprised of fescue and other perennial grass species. You mow it, which removes the old growth and makes room for new growth. The result is that your grass stays healthy.
Now imagine that you don’t mow your lawn. The grass will get tall, but the old growth will crowd out the new growth, and eventually the plants will die. In the same way, land left un-grazed in arid climates like ours becomes a desert. For proof, look at large parts of Africa and the South West of the United States; as soon as human populations push the native grazers out of the picture, the desert takes over. That’s a serious problem.
In short, grass that gets moved (or grazed) stays healthy, while grass that is ignored gets weak and dies. Historically, large herds of grazers kept the world’s grasslands healthy. Predators kept the herds tightly bunched and moving, preventing overgrazing.
Today, moving herds of cattle continue to improve the quality of the pastures at Six Sigma Ranch. And, while it makes sense for the ecological benefits alone to keep cattle on the Ranch, it offers several extra benefits. Cattle make fertilizer for our vineyards, decorate the pastures, and supply our customers with some of the world’s finest pasture-raised beef.
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