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The Art and Science of Grazing
How Grass Farmers Can Create Sustainable Systems for Healthy Animals and Farm Ecosystems: A Book Review

Reviewed by Nancy Glazier, Small Farms Specialist, Livestock & Field Crops Team,
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Penn Yan, NY

Added July 26, 2016.
An experienced grazier knows the art and science of grazing go hand in hand. Sarah Flack hits the mark with her new book, The Art and Science of Grazing, How Grass Farmers Can Create Sustainable Systems for Healthy Animals and Farm Ecosystems. It is written for all graziers with all skill and experience levels; it is a great resource to get the beginner off on the right start and has valuable information for the experienced grazier.

Though Flack has lived in and traveled to distant parts of the world, she now lives in Vermont. The book is written from the perspective of mesic, or humid climates: think the eastern US. It is scientific, but clearly written for the layperson; written to benefit conventional and organic farms. References are listed in the Notes section if the reader has interest in delving deeper. Call out boxes highlight additional or critical points. The art portion is covered at the conclusion of chapters with spotlighting successful grazing farms. All is highlighted with great pictures and illustrations, all numbered to be referred to in the text.

This book is a good read all the way through and afterward a resource go-to on the bookshelf. It is broken down into four parts: Laying the Groundwork, Grazing from the Plant’s Perspective, Grazing from the Animal’s Perspective, and Designing and Managing a Grazing System. Each successive chapter builds off the preceding chapters. The Contents are listed by Part, Chapter and Headings. This helps to quickly find what you are looking for. An Index is included in the back of the book to search for words or short phrases.

What I really like is how Sarah drives home the importance of management, particularly in averting overgrazing. That is the biggest challenge I see as an educator. She stresses paying attention to occupancy and recovery periods, and modifying them as the season advances, and adding acreage as needed during summer slump.

Fertility management is reviewed. Many pastures are brought back into production from idled land. Soil testing is the important first step to know what amendments are needed.

Chapter six is a review of common pasture plants, including some that are sometimes considered weeds. With proper management weeds are fine additions to pastures. Sarah describes annual and perennial species of cool- and warm-season grasses (including small grains), legumes and forbs. She points out the importance of matching species to one’s soils, drainage and climate.
Eat Now, Chew Later. Part three of the book looks at the ruminant digestive system and nutrition from pasture. Pasture quality is a moving target, but Sarah does a great job walking the reader through it. She covers basic nutrition, collecting and understanding a forage analysis. She reviews manure scoring and why it’s important with pictures to help with descriptions. She continues with a chapter on grazing behavior that includes a review of toxic or mechanically injuring (thorny) plants, and other potential health concerns associated with grazing.

Part four brings it all together with Designing and Managing a Grazing System. Chapter 14 covers design and infrastructure including fence, water, and electric, even some cool labor-saving technology. The next chapter brings goals, plans and management together for a successful system. Worksheets are provided to develop your own plan. Recordkeeping is recommended to keep track of what transpired – rain, temperature, residency, recovery, number of livestock – and plan for future grazing.

Things don’t always go smoothly on the farm. Flack has developed troubleshooting tables for livestock, plants, and soil. A glossary is included that helps define and clarify related jargon. Resources are listed for further reading.

Sarah provides the science and reminds us of the art of grazing with her chapter endings. There are no cookie-cutter grazing systems and this book will help you develop and manage yours. So much great stuff in one book! I read it cover to cover.

Nancy Glazier is Small Farms Specialist for the 10-county North West New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops Team, Cornell Cooperative Extension. Her office is in Penn Yan, Yates County. She can be reached by email at nig3@cornell.edu.