"Managed Grazing" What does that mean?

Grazing’ happens to plants, and never to paddocks

What is meant by "managed grazing?"  When I arrived at "Dunblane" I thought grass was there to fatten stock. Managing the grazing to me was figuring out the maximum number of animals that could occupy any given paddock without causing damage. Now I was hearing from Christine Jones that I must "manage the grazing"  What did she mean? This drove me back to my good friend "Google" where I discovered a man called Alan Savory who pioneered a farming philosophy called "Holistic Management"  Alan Savory grew  up in Africa and as a young game ranger was fascinated by the fact that huge herds of wild animals roamed the African Plains and instead of degrading the landscape, they improved it.  
The late Bruce Ward , an Australian farmer, became an expert  on Holitic Mangement. 
"By definition, grazing is a tool that requires animals to be present and active. Proper grazing management is vital for the health of plants.  Most people know that grass is essential for the well-being of grazing animals, but few people recognise how important the animals are for the well-being of the plants."  (Bruce Ward)  www.holisticresults.com.au 
The photo above was taken by Alan Savory of his work in Zimbabwe. it is an extreme example of the restorative power of animal impact on degraded landscape. The only intervention on the bare area was to congregate a very big herd of cattle for 12 hours on each of seven consecutive nights. The photo on the right is natures response. www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change.htm
This amazed me. If animals can somehow reverse such degradation, what can they do for an area of living pasture? I now know that "grazing" and "animal impact" are separate tools. However, the picture was enough to encourage me to study further.
Bruce Ward's family has made available all his teachings through a website called Bruce Ward Legacy, for which we are all most grateful.
Overgrazing is about the frequency with which a plant is bitten then re-bitten by a grazing animal.  A fully recovered grass plant is in balance—an amount of root mass below the soil surface supports a similar amount of leaf matter above the soil surface.  
When the plant is severely defoliated, the plant becomes unbalanced.  The little remaining leaf area cannot support the large root system that remains.  The plant deals with this imbalance by translocating energy from the roots upwards, to form fresh leaves that are ready to begin photosynthesis, but in the process the energy depleted roots die, and the living mass of roots below ground comes back into balance with the depleted mass of leaves above ground.  The more severe the above ground grazing was, the more root system will be destroyed.
It takes time to build a new root system (the old roots are not rebuilt - completely new ones are built).  This building occurs on a sigmoid curve (which is a doubling of a doubling of a doubling—1 unit today becomes 2 tomorrow, and 4 the next day.
Holistic grazing planning respects the time needed for a new root and leaf system to be constructed.  If the plant is bitten again before new roots are fully built, the entire root system is damaged.  If this occurs too frequently the root system becomes weakened, and plant death may ensue.
Furthermore, the rate of recovery is variable, depending on things including but not limited to the severity of the previous graze, the plant species, the season, rainfall, humidity and temperature. (Bruce Ward)
Alan Savory, as a rule of thumb, suggests that plants should not be exposed to grazing animals for more than 3 days.
In one of her emails , Christine explained "grazing correctly"     
"short duration, high intensity grazing with long recovery periods" 
I never appreciated what she meant until I started reading about it in  Holistic Management. 

Al 29.05.2013 17:46

Pad interesting comments from Alan Savory. I have read similar observations from the grazing habits of bison in the Prairies, and its impact on soil quality.

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Latest comments

28.04 | 17:47

Wow, I lived on the Haye's farmstead for a couple of years, crazy to hear of this fire coming through. Hope I can visit again one day.

15.08 | 01:17

This is all brilliantly documented Paddy - am so totally inspired by how you have transformed Dunblane.

31.07 | 06:36

Hi Peter, exciting indeed. Suggest you contact a Rory O'Leary at BVSC. He is the economic development officer. Big focus on Eden Another farmersnet@fscla.org.au

31.07 | 02:48

Sounds exciting! I'd like to discuss how this might fit in with some other opportunities for the Port of Eden.