Grazing shock

If you find
Your soil has relatively low biological activity
Your soil is hard
Your soil has poor water infiltration
Your soil has low biological fertility
Grazing shock is the effect on a plant of being grazed hard or slashed and it’s a great way to build soil and improve pasture quality.

Because there is now less plant above the ground, there is less root needed to support the top.

So the plant sheds roots.

The loss of roots leaves gaps and food for soil organisms and for future root growth.

It’s a great way to build soil and improve pasture quality by feeding the soil.

This is where some of the benefit comes from the Short hard graze part of a Short on, long off rotation.

When animals hard graze a plant or when it is cut for hay, the plant goes into the plant equivalent of a state of shock.

The top (the part of the plant above the ground) is now much smaller and cannot support as great a volume of roots. The roots need nutrients from the leaves just as the leaves need nutrients from the roots.

Plus the plant no longer needs as much nutrient or water that the roots were getting from the soil.

So, to save energy the plant drops off some of the roots it no longer needs.

First it withdraws nutrients from the root in much the same way as a deciduous tree does from the leaves it sheds in the fall. When it can draw no more back, it cuts off the root.

Any nutrients that are still in the roots are left for soil organisms.

The root has become thinner and shorter in the process and so leaves a gap in the soil that enlarges as the root breaks down after being shed.

This is often the right size for earthworms and other soil organisms and it allows better gas exchange and water infiltration.

Grazing shock is more common on farms that have electric fences, but it’s not given by the electric fence.

Grazing shock is an important technique in managing pasture, because it allows you to provide

  • dead organic matter
  • a different environment
  • a range of nutrients
  • substances that help to glue soil into crumbs and
  • soil tunnels.

These all suit soil organisms and encourage them to multiply.

The process builds soil structure by releasing substances that help to glue soil into crumbs.

Hard grazing and enough rest time are two of the things you need to get the full benefit from grazing shock. Electric fencing is often cheaper and quicker than other forms of fencing and as a result makes it more likely that you will use grazing shock effectively and to your advantage.

Grazing shock is enhanced by

  • sufficiently large mobs of animals to ensure a short hard graze
  • small enough areas being grazed at any one time to ensure a short hard graze
  • mixed mobs — such as of sheep and cattle or cattle and goats to ensure that all plants are grazed and Selective grazing is minimized
  • long rest time for the pasture to get the benefit and recover fully
  • adequate nutrition to allow high levels of growth and biological activity to support the new growth
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Market garden

If you find
There is an unfilled demand for fruits or vegetables in your region
You have enough labor and skills to operate this way
Other enterprises are not providing sufficient income
A market garden can be the major enterprise on the farm and can generate significant income.

Or it can just provide sufficient income to keep things rolling financially until another enterprise comes on line. I first came across this approach when I was a boy and my Uncle Bill was growing rockmelons between the rows of young peach trees to make some income from the land in the 5-7 years it would take for the peaches to become productive and to build fertility.

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Short on, long off rotation

If you find
There are crop problems such as soil-borne diseases and deficiencies from a short rotation
Stock leave weeds and overgraze the “good bits”
Allowing a longer gap may allow recovery. A shorter “on” time may allow the benefit (to the farmer) to be gained quickly.

As well as suiting a grazing rotation, this minimizes the problems that would result if there was not a long gap between members of certain plant families.

In a Market garden this may mean you need to have a structured rotation to allow a sufficiently long gap between crops in the same family. For example between potatoes, tomatoes and capsicums in the Solanum family.

In a grazing situation, the combination of a Short hard graze to bring on Grazing shock followed by a Long rest will encourage livestock to eat the weeds as well as the “good bits” and graze the pasture or range to a more even level.

The long rest will allow full recovery and if timed appropriately may force weeds into a less competitive position and give the advantage to the desirable species. This will allow a Competitive crop in the form of a pasture to keep weeds down.

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Competitive crop

If you find
Too much time, effort and energy goes into trying to control weeds and other pests
A big part of the farm income is spent on pest control measures
Tackling weeds head-on with chemicals just leads to worse weed problems
A competitive crop is the best way to keep weeds and pests down. This is so whether the “crop” is a traditional annual such as corn or is an orchard, a pasture or an animal crop such as meat, milk or wool.

This is an important part of Crop-beaten-weeds which in turn is the result of fine-tuning your crops and cropping system so they do the weed control for you, without chemicals, with better yields and for less effort.

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Crop-beaten weeds

If you find
Weeds seem to do better than crops and pastures do
Much the same weed problems occur in much the same way year after year
You set out to grow a crop but it seems that your job is more about killing weeds than growing anything else
You can adjust your crops and cropping system so they do the weed control for you.

If you do it this way you can beat weeds without chemicals and get better yields with less effort.

The first step in beating weeds is to understand the weed, where the weed fits into your farming and what aspects of your farming are allowing the weeds to get ahead. Once you have a good understanding, you have the potential to get back in the lead.

It may seem that good weed control can only be achieved with a massive amount of weedicide, but many farmers and graziers achieve excellent weed control with no herbicide at all.

The key is to change the balance such that your crops get more support, and the weeds get less.

Most important is to adjust your system so the crops get a strong advantage and the weeds are struggling to stay alive.

What it takes will vary from one farm to another and from one farmer to another and from one season to another.
Continue reading

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Understanding weed characteristics

If you find
Weeds succeed each year despite all attempts to beat them with chemicals
Weeds on your land have developed resistance to all the chemicals that it is feasible to throw at them
Weeds seed before you have a chance to get ahead of them
Understanding the way the weed works may allow you to get ahead.


  • you can understand why a weed has a particular characteristic or behaves in a particular way
  • you have the chance to understand how that benefits the weed and therefore
  • how you may be able to get ahead of it by applying an appropriate tactic to counter that benefit or to give that benefit to your crop plant.

Generally, weeds are more of a problem when your crop is having difficulty. When there is plenty of sun, water, nutrients and no limiting or damaging factors, weeds are not as much of a problem as when your crop is not performing optimally.

This is because weeds are better adapted than desirable plants (such as crops including pastures) are to almost any difficulty.

Most crop and pasture plants are fussy and less capable in any but ideal conditions.

Pioneer plants such as weeds are usually well adapted to hard soils and to soils low in moisture, nutrients or in any other way below ideal. If you let your soil deteriorate, you take the advantage from your chosen plants and give it to the weeds.

Plants have three main lengths of lifecycle: Perennial, annual and biennial.
ANNUAL plants complete their life cycle in a year or less, starting from seed and producing another generation of seeds before dying.
BIENNIAL plants take more than one year and often less than two years to complete their life cycle. The first year is often spent establishing and the second year is spent producing seeds. The plant generally dies after this.
PERENNIAL plants continue to live from one year to the next, often producing seeds each year.

Weed control is particularly important with perennial weeds because as well as weed seeds, you will have weed plants that may continue to set seed for years.

In theory, it is easier to eliminate annual and biennial weeds (than perennial ones) because they can be beaten by eliminating the seed phase. If you stop them seeding, there will be no weeds once the seed bank in the soil is exhausted. The existing plants will die after one or a few years and if they are not replaced, that weed problem ends.

Unfortunately, they are usually at least as well adapted to our farm systems as the perennial weeds are and they run through their cycle quicker than our crops and thus seed before harvest.

Plants have few opportunities to move. The best opportunity to move or spread is when they produce seeds and they have many mechanisms for getting seeds to move.

Some plants have ways to spread other than through seeds:

  • HORIZONTAL runners cover a lot of ground for kikuyu grass, Pennisetum clandestinum, and couch grass/bermuda grass Cynodon dactylon
  • CLIMBERS move up into trees and can move across and down to the ground to start new plants: Ivy, honeysuckle, jasmine and others
  • Some plants grow to become huge clumps that droop to the ground and put down roots to get nutrients for the existing plant or to establish a new plant. One blackberry can take over a gully

Because plants have limited opportunities to move, this is often the easiest point to protect yourself from weed spread.
The points where you can beat weeds are:

  • keeping weeds from arriving on your land
  • removing existing weeds
  • preventing weed seeds from germinating
  • preventing weed seedlings from establishing
  • preventing established weeds from seeding
  • capturing weed seeds that are about to spread

If you can beat the weed at one or ideally at every one of these stages, you will have few weeds and weed problems.

Any weed infestation begins with at least a single seed or any other propagule — a part of a plant that is capable of developing into a full plant. If you can beat it when it is a seed, a seedling or before it has a chance to flower, you will only have a brief problem with it. If you allow it to set seed, it can turn into a major problem.

Remember that what matters is the relationships between things rather than the things themselves. If you can work out where the relationships fall down, you will find it easier to resolve the problem than if you focus on any single thing.

This table shows some

  • Characteristics of the weed – what the weed has, does or is
  • What these characteristics may mean for you (this varies from farm to farm) and
  • Some approaches you could try that may assist you against the weed.
Weed characteristic What these characteristics may mean Approach that may assist you against the weed
Large numbers of seeds Poor seedling establishment
Poor seedling survival
Low germination rates
Make conditions (particularly competition) tough at germination and soon after
No bare ground around seeding and germination — maintain full Ground cover.
Seedheads break off with multiple seeds attached An effective method of dispersal with built-in insurance: If one of the seeds on the seedhead germinates but does not survive, there are several others that may when conditions are more favorable. Use windbreaks to confine seeds to specific areas
Note: A windbreak need not be particularly tall, and it need not be permanent. It could just be a tall crop, such as corn (maize), to catch the seedheads and prevent them spreading
Prickles on leaves or stems The weed would be attractive to stock otherwise Allow pasture to grow tall when the weed is starting to grow. The competition will beat some of the weeds. Others of the weed may survive by switching to upright growth and this usually means fewer prickles plus the weed will be softer and more palatable. A short hard graze at an appropriate stage may get rid of it
Rosette at base Weed is trying to commandeer nutrient, light and water, most likely for next year when it will seed Vigorous crop or pasture may outcompete.
Allow pasture to grow tall when the weed is starting to grow. The competition for light will reduce the effectiveness of the large flat rosette at catching sunlight. The weed may survive by switching most of its effort to upright growth. A short hard graze at an appropriate stage may get rid of it
Make sure there are no bare patches
Grow a broad-leafed crop every few years
Weed is tall compared to crop The weed gets the light and shades the crop Grow a taller crop, such as an older variety
Weed grows from a crown or other underground store Base of plant is providing nutrient to kickstart the aerial part Exhaust reserves by hard grazing or slashing before any stem has returned the nutrient it took to grow it.
For example, if you slash blackberries before they get to about 1 m (3 feet) high, there is a good chance you will exhaust them, although it may take a few grazings or slashings
Remains after hard grazing
Survives hard grazing
Unattractive to stock May need to graze the field hard to make the weeds stand out and then remove weeds individually.
You may be able to make the weed more attractive by spraying it with molasses or by providing some high protein feed such as lupins so animals can digest it
Weed is able to get from a germinating seed to producing seed quicker than the crop is Weed has quick lifecycle so it can reproduce even in a short season Consider slashing the crop as a green manure or using it for grazing, silage or hay making before the weed gets to seed.
Grow a vigorous crop and beat the weed at its own game. Oats will beat most weeds or at least give them a run for their money. Plus it is well suited to taking the weed out by grazing or cutting the oats for hay.
Many oat varieties are suitable for grazing and regrowing to regraze as a Cut and come again crop.
So, if you let the oats regrow and conditions are right you’ll have a second chance at beating the weed by grazing or cutting the oats for hay. Then it might be time to sow a summer crop and have a third go at beating the weed.
If that is not suitable or sufficient, plant an out-of-season crop (a summer crop if the weed is in a winter crop and a winter crop if the weed is in a summer crop) and prepare the seedbed before the weeds get to seed.
Weed is very vigorous A tough competitor that needs an even tougher crop Pick a suitable crop that can grow vigorously, preferably beating the weed at its own game.
For example, a vigorous variety of oats will beat most weeds or at least give them a run for their money. You may be able to take the weed out by grazing or by cutting the oats for hay.
Many oat varieties are suitable for grazing and regrowing to regraze. So, if you let the oats regrow and conditions are right you’ll have a second chance at beating the weed by grazing or by cutting the oats for hay. Then it might be time to sow a summer crop and have a third go at beating the weed.
The weed looks and behaves in a similar way to your crop The weed possibly evolved in a cropping system similar to yours You will need to fine tune your management or find some particular weakness in the weed or strength in your crop.
For example, if you grow wheat or a similar winter crop and you have a problem with wild oats, you may have to delay sowing until the wild oats germinate. At this point, grazing, tillage or sowing the crop may kill a lot of wild oats.
You could also choose a tall variety of wheat that can outgrow the oats.
However, the best approach is probably to change crops and beat it with a suitable competitive crop that doesn’t match the weed’s patterns of growth.
Weed has uses in other places Weed may be an escaper from another farming or gardening situation and thus has had a positive value there, rather than being considered a weed Take advantage of the uses it has in other farming or gardening situations by turning the weed into a benefit:

  • Capeweed (Arctotheca calendula) is a very productive pasture plant and many a farmer in the south of Western Australia would be out of business without it. But it can give plenty of problems if you don’t manage it well.
  • If you are willing to run goats, many thistles and woody weeds (blackberry, briar etc) make good grazing or browsing. Some goat farmers are willing to agist their animals on your property.

Applying this understanding of weeds
Pick a weed that matches well with one or more of the characteristics in the left column and check whether the middle column fits that particular weed in that situation on your farm.

If it does, then some of the approaches in the right column might work for you.

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Managed lifecycles

If you find
Non-desired species are not profitable and some eat into profit
Pests allowed to complete their lifecycle produce greater numbers of offspring than the existing generation
The offspring of desirable species are profitable
Desirable species which are allowed to complete their lifecycle will produce offspring and this is where much of the profit in farming comes from — seeds, lambs, calves and so on
Two key aspects of Lifecycle management on farms are:

  1. managing the lifecycles of desirable organisms to keep them alive and reproducing well, and
  2. disrupting or breaking pest lifecycles to reduce the number in this and any following year. This has become the emphasis over the past few decades on many farms — farms have become places to kill weeds, pests etc. Remember when farms were about Growing not killing?

Lifecycle refers to the cycle each organism (living thing) goes through in its life. Many lifecycles are simple and consist of these basic stages and no more:

  • Birth or hatching for an animal and germination for a plant
  • Establishment and growth which may just involve more of the same until it starts to develop flowers or other sexual organs or may include substantial changes such as a caterpillar developing, going into a cocoon and developing further so that it can emerge into the
  • Reproductive phase when it produces eggs, live young, seeds, spores etc depending on the type of organism
  • Aging or senescence which is the phase of wearing out, falling apart and returning to the litter layer to become food for the organisms which come next
  • and then back to the beginning again.

Other organisms have a more complicated lifecycle where the reproductive and growth stages may go on for years, decades or even centuries. This applies to larger animals which usually breed (or can breed) every year, perennial plants and some others.

Managing the lifecycles of desirable species

Farming’s key aim is growing produce for the family to live on and to sell.

For those organisms that are wanted, the idea is usually to allow them to complete their lifecycles because that allows harvesting one or more stages of the lifecycle.

By managing the lifecycles of wanted species to keep them alive and reproducing well, we keep our farms the way we want them.

The offspring of Desirable species are usually profitable.

Desirable species that are allowed to complete their lifecycle will generally produce similar or greater numbers of offspring than the existing generation and this is where much of the profit in farming comes from — seeds, lambs, calves and so on.

Managing the lifecycles of undesirable species

By managing so that we break our pests’ lifecycles, we reduce the number we have the following year.

By interrupting the lifecycle of a species you do not want, you make it hard for it to live, reproduce etc. To do this you need to know the species’ Predisposing conditions or Necessary conditions and remove at least one of them at the right time.

Sometimes you have to take from one and give to the other. This needs to be to your advantage.

The offspring of non-desired species are unprofitable. Pests allowed to complete their lifecycle will generally produce greater numbers of offspring than the existing generation.

By eliminating one stage of the pest species, you eliminate the chance for the species to survive. If all stages are permitted, you need to tackle another aspect, such as its Habitat or change the species you want to grow and that the pest harms.

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Animals on the move

If you find
Animals that stay in the one spot:

  • breed parasites
  • cause a buildup of weed seeds
  • cause a buildup of nutrients in stock camps and generally sour the ground
  • cause over-grazing.

By preventing animals from staying in the one spot you can eliminate many or all of those problems.

Keeping animals on the move — every day or so rather than keeping them moving constantly by droving — is a key part of rangeland and pasture management.

This way they:

  • get fresh pasturage
  • leave parasites behind
  • distribute manure more evenly across the landscape
  • do not create weedy spots and
  • need not cause overgrazing.

Move them frequently enough and you reduce all these problems and improve your pasture management.

This usually means:

  • better pasture composition
  • fewer weeds
  • better use of existing pasture
  • early warning of pasture shortfalls or excess (such as can be cut for hay or silage) and
  • earlier/better awareness of problems with animals or pasture.

And because you are out with your animals and on your pasture or rangeland more often, you get the benefits of applying the old saying The best manure is in the footsteps of the farmer.

This will help you to stay in contact with the areas that may need more attention through your Fertile footsteps.

Having Closed gates lets you choose when animals move. If you leave the gates open, the animals choose and they are then in charge of your pasture management and your animal health program.

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Closed gate

If you find
Grazing animals have different objectives to managers of animals
Animals will roam all over the place picking at the smorgasbord of delicacies and leaving the bits they don’t want, thus allowing those plants to develop into fully-fledged weed problems
Animals will stay in one place too long if given the opportunity
Close the gate to keep the grazing animals where you want them.

All other gates can be open except those that need to be closed to confine grazing animals.

This allows you to choose when and where they graze, at what density and for how long at a time.

You can then manage your pastures and rangelands to suit you rather than letting sheep, cows or goats decide your future.

Ironic as it may seem, the pattern is part of Keeping animals on the move — every day or so rather than keeping them moving constantly by droving — and this is a key part of rangeland and pasture management.

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Rolling harvest

If you find
Having a single harvest each year means there may be just one day when the whole year’s farm income arrives
Paying bills that come in regularly can be difficult with a single paycheck
It is difficult asking storekeepers and other suppliers to extend credit until the next harvest payment
There is a lot of risk, stress, activity and demands around a single harvest each year, with everything building to a crescendo
On many farms there is one harvest with a heap of activity building to a crescendo.

And often building to high levels of stress and an increased financial risk because of a lack of income diversity and ecological Diversity.

A rolling harvest allows for more than one crop and thus more than one source of income, spreading the load, the income and the risk.

Cut and come again crops are a rolling harvest of a single crop that can be cut and sold or used then can be left to grow back until ready to be cut again.

This gives more diversity of income over time and also spreads the climate risk by allowing for harvesting to happen at different times and in the process, ideally dodging some of the weather that might interfere with harvests.

However, having a range of crops or varieties (such as in an orchard where different peach varieties might reach harvest readiness one after another) allows for a spread of risk.

This is because if one variety, species or time in the market is hit by disease, market access issues or market flooding, there will hopefully be another that is not hit.

Sometimes you may be able to choose the different crop or variety to be one that is usually in the opposite stage of the cycle.

For example the old Up corn, down horn saying referred to corn (grain crops in the general sense, not just maize) prices rising at the same time as horn (animals and their meat products) went down.

This was because as grain prices rose, it became more expensive to feed animals with it and farmers would sell off their livestock. As grain prices fell, farmers would buy livestock to feed on the cheaper grain, forcing cattle prices up.

And of course, a lot of movements in markets are random or hard to predict for other reasons.

If you can make it so that you don’t have to harvest grain at the same time as the weather is perfect for making hay or at the time your sheep need to be mustered for flystrike control etc, then you can ease the stress on you and your family.

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