Animals in Ecosystems

Animals in Ecosystems: solid evidence demonstrates the positive impact of animals on ecosystems, after decades of misguided conservation efforts. Looking at full ecosystems over time has led to increased understanding of the mutually beneficial relationships between plants, animals, land, air and water. For instance, since the mid-20th century, the consensus had been that large, hooved animals put a strain on the land and should be removed from degraded ecosystems so they can rest and re-establish. Today, we know better. We know how to build and manage systems that allow animals to impart their benefits on the ecosystems they inhabit. Fertility, biodiversity, weed control, improved water retention in soils, and pest management are just a few of the yields from properly managed animal systems – not to mention the animals themselves!

One practice gaining momentum in the ranching community is intense rotational grazing (sometimes referred to as managed intensive rotational grazing, cell grazing, mob grazing or holistic management). The main premise is that by mimicking the grazing patterns of herd animals in grasslands, we can harness these benefits via a practice known as intense rotational grazing. In its simplest form, it involves limiting the portion of a parcel of land that animals can graze at any one time. In nature, predators kept herd animals tightly packed in small areas until they were literally running for their lives. Today, we can imitate predators with electric fences, ranchers, dogs, or any combination of these. We can also mimic the natural sequence of species that visit a parcel by including multiple species in the grazing plan. A common combination is starting with a grass-ruminant, like a cow, and then bringing in poultry afterwards. Cows come in first, eat/ mow the grass, stomp down dead plant material that would otherwise oxidize and fuel climate change, and spread fertility. Chickens follow afterward, distributing the cows’ fertility deposits, eating parasitic larvae that would otherwise be a health risk to cows the next time they visit that pasture and filling their bellies for free.

     

On a smaller scale, poultry is a popular option. Adding a small flock of hens to a home, homestead or small farm brings myriad benefits, including pest management, soil fertility (particularly nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and meat or eggs. At this scale, fiber-bearing sheep, alpaca and llamas can provide similar benefits. Permaculture Artisans can work on all scales and levels of complexity to design systems that will ensure happy, healthy animals while having a restorative impact on the land and producing a tasty and/ or useful yield.

We work with a large network of professionals, including certified rangeland managers, holistic management practitioners and soil biologists that allow us to create the best management plan for integrating animals into your system.

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