At Acabonac we practice a system of land management called rotational grazing. At its core, this means we move our cattle between plots of land within our pasture every 1 to 2 days. In other words, rotating them through the pasture. While cattle are the primary grazers in this system, another farm animals - in this case chickens, can play a vital role in enhancing the overall efficiency and sustainability of the operation. We think the dynamic relationship between chickens and cattle in rotational grazing is incredible and would love to share more about the benefits they bring to each other and the farm ecosystem.
Pest Control and Forage Enhancement:
Chickens are renowned for their natural pest control abilities. In rotational grazing, chickens follow cattle through the pasture, targeting insects, larvae, and parasites present in cattle droppings. They scratch and peck at manure piles, consuming pests while simultaneously breaking them down, thus reducing the risk of disease transmission to the cattle. This symbiotic relationship results in improved pasture hygiene and healthier cattle.
Moreover, as chickens forage through the pasture, they actively consume weed seeds, reducing weed pressure and promoting desirable forage growth. Their scratching and pecking behavior help to break up manure patties, facilitating nutrient distribution and improving soil fertility. This harmonious interaction between chickens and cattle leads to a more balanced and diverse pasture ecosystem.
Nutrient Cycling and Fertilization:
Chickens contribute to nutrient cycling in rotational grazing systems. As they consume insects and vegetation, they excrete nutrient-rich manure that acts as a natural fertilizer. When we allow chickens to freely roam in the pasture, their droppings become valuable organic matter that enriches the soil, enhancing its fertility and supporting the growth of nutrient-dense forage that the cattle then eat. Since we don’t use fertilizers, this nutrient support is welcome for healthier forage growth.
Pasture Health and Weed Management:
Chickens can significantly aid in pasture health and weed management. As they scratch and dig in the soil, chickens disturb the surface, breaking up compacted areas and promote aeration. This helps to improve water infiltration, root penetration, and overall soil structure. Their constant movement across the pasture also helps to distribute seeds and break up potential weed patches, effectively managing weed growth and promoting a more uniform forage stand.
Stress Reduction and Behavior Modification:
It’s been noted that cattle can experience reduced stress levels when chickens are present in the grazing system. The presence of chickens can help deter flies and other bothersome pests, which can otherwise cause stress and discomfort to cattle. Furthermore, the natural behavior of chickens, such as scratching and pecking, can be calming to cattle, promoting a more relaxed and content herd. This stress reduction can positively impact cattle performance, overall well-being, and generally help things run more smoothly for us.
In the world of sustainable farming, the combination of chickens and cattle in rotational grazing systems creates a powerful synergy that benefits both animals and the environment. Chickens contribute to pasture health, pest control, nutrient cycling, and weed management, while reducing stress levels for cattle. By integrating chickens into our rotational grazing practices, we enhance sustainability and promote a more balanced and diverse farm ecosystem for the benefit of all animals.