Tag: shade

Weathering Climate Change Through Rotational Grazing

Regardless of which side you are on in the climate change debate, there’s no denying that weather is becoming more and more unpredictable. Extreme rain, heat and drought in the Midwest and throughout the country present new challenges for farmers. Rotational grazing is a solution that can enhance a farm’s ability to withstand the effects of these weather extremes.

Improving soil health and building organic matter through rotational grazing both reduces erosion and increases the moisture-retaining capacity of the soil.

Jim Munsch

“If you are doing rotational grazing correctly there is always something growing on the soil, and it is abundant,” says Jim Munsch, a Wisconsin beef farmer and rotational grazing expert. “If you have a vibrant plant growth covering the soil, you dramatically reduce the incidents of erosion in high-rain events.”

After 30 years of rotational grazing on his farm in southwestern Wisconsin, Munsch boasts zero predicted erosion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil erosion prediction calculations. NRCS measures the soil loss tolerance rate, or T, to determine the maximum soil loss allowed without damage to crop productivity.

“If you lost T every year, nature could not keep up and eventually there would be no top soil,” explains Munsch.

The cover resulting from rotational grazing drastically reduces that loss, even with heavy rainfall. Additionally, the process of intensive grazing–moving the animals daily–and allowing time for regrowth builds organic matter, which increases the soil’s ability to hold moisture.

“When we used to have crops on the land at our farm, we had organic matter of about 1.8%,” notes Munsch. “Through 30 years of rotational grazing, we now have fields that are, on average, around 4% and some with 4.5% organic matter.”

For every 1% of organic matter, the soil can hold 20,000 gallons of water. That’s about ¾ of an inch of rain. On a farm such as Munsch’s with 4% organic matter, moisture from a 3-inch rain will be absorbed. A farm without that level of organic matter will experience runoff and erosion.

“From an environmental stand point, it is important for the soil to be able to hold a lot of water as a shock absorber for these large rain events,” notes Munsch. “Climate change also brings periods of drought. And if your soil is holding 20,000 gallons of moisture per 1% of organic matter, you are building up a reservoir of moisture in the soil to help you ride through a drought.”

Additionally, rotational grazing creates a canopy of standing grass throughout the pasture, which shades the soil, keeping it cool and reducing evaporation.

Carbon-building through grazing

Building organic matter in the soil takes time. Munsch estimates that it took about 15 years of rotational grazing on his farm to build significant organic matter. Rotational grazier, Vince Hundt experienced a measurable difference in organic matter within five years at his farm in Coon Valley, Wisconsin.

Vince Hundt

“We soil tested 35 acres that we transitioned from crop land to rotational grazing in 2008 and then again in 2013. I was astonished that all the tests came back having moved from the 2-3% organic matter category to the 3-4% category in just five years of managed grazing,” notes Hundt.

Building organic matter through managed grazing is the simple process of plants using the sun’s energy to pull carbon-dioxide out of the air, then hanging on to the carbon and releasing the oxygen back into the atmosphere. The carbon-collecting capability of rotational grazing has many scientists calculating it as a possible key to reversing climate change. While that calculation remains open to debate, there’s no debate on the ability of rotational grazing to build healthy, profitable pastures.

“With rotational grazing a cow walks along, eats the grass, leaves most of the carbon behind in the form of manure, and moves on to the next paddock. With the cow gone for the next 30 days or so, the fertilized plant now has even more vigor and a rest period to regrow and build an even larger root system that is made up of even more carbon.” explains Hundt.

Underground, the pasture plant community is building a monster root system and a powerhouse of diverse biological activity.  “It all starts with carbon,” adds Hundt. “It’s the key to the kingdom. If you want the soil on your farm to be resilient and able to handle any weather, you need to elevate the carbon content, biological diversity and organic matter, and the best possible technique to do that is rotational grazing.”

The importance of mobile shade

With an increasing number of days with high temperatures, the ability to put shade where you need it is becoming more and more valuable. Mobile shade allows for uninterrupted grazing, even on the hottest days, even in managed grazing systems that include paddocks with no trees. Utilizing movable shade structures such as the Shade Haven results in even distribution of nutrients throughout a paddock, while also minimizing production losses associated with heat stress.

“A lot of us in the past have used trees. If we knew it would be really hot, we would put the animals where they have access to the shade of those trees,” explains Munsch. “But with more and more hot days, it restricts where you can put animals. With the Shade Haven you are actually moving shade onto a pasture that may not have natural shade, so you can now use that pasture or paddock.”

That sentiment is echoed by other leaders in the rotational grazing realm. In the December 2017 issue of The Stockman Grass Farmer, grazing expert Joel Salatin calls mobile shade “far superior to shade trees because we can place the urine and manure on precisely the spot where it’s most needed.” In that same article Salatin discusses the profitability of mobile shade and predicts, “I’m looking for the day when shademobiles dot the countryside with every herd of cattle.”

As weather challenges the agriculture industry, Shade Haven is happy to be part of the solution for farmers throughout the U.S. and the world.

Grass-Fed Galloways Love Shade at Weil Family Farm

Geoffrey Weil and Galloway calf, Weil Family Farm, Greensboro, NC

When Geoffrey and Tess Weil first encountered their 111-acre farm in Greensboro, North Carolina, they saw lush green rolling hills and a property they could restore to a working farm. They also envisioned an opportunity to raise cattle on grass without growth hormones or antibiotics.

The Weil Family Farm raises a hardy breed of Galloway cattle. The couple discovered the breed while on vacation in the Scottish Highlands. “When we came back, we did some research and discovered that not only are the Galloways a heritage breed, they are also on the conservancy watch list as a threatened breed,” notes Geoffrey Weil. “So, we’re also helping a threatened species establish its numbers.”

Thirty-two Galloway cattle, both black and white, graze the farm’s four 15-acre paddocks. Committed to sustainability and rotational grazing, the Weils use a Shade Haven mobile shade structure to get maximum impact from their pasture. “There are trees on the east side of the pasture, and no trees toward the west,” Weil explains. “In the morning the cows, luxuriate in the shadows created by the trees on the eastern part, and then in the afternoon they gravitate to the Shade Haven on the western part of the pasture.”

To prevent distress of land under the Shade Haven, Weil moves it sometimes two or three times daily. “It is very easy to re-deploy. In fact, the cows like it so much that when we move it to another area, they follow it as if it were a bucket of feed.”

The ease of moving the Shade Haven allows Weil to control the distribution of nutrients throughout the pasture. “I would recommend the Shade Haven to anyone interested in rotational grazing,” notes Weil. “At the same time, I’d recommend the Shade Haven to anyone who is trying to spread manure around the pasture and control where the cattle are eating.”

Weil disagrees with feeding grain to fatten cattle and hasten their time to market. “Integral to our vision of raising cows is that cows are not supposed to eat grain. We raise our cows on pastures of clover, fescue, and ryegrass.”

Galloway beef has won awards for its superior flavor. Ultimately the Weil Family Farm will sell its high-quality, grass-fed Galloway beef to individuals and local restaurants. “Since our cows can only eat grass and supplements that conform to AGBA standards, our cattle will take an extra year to get to market,” says Weil. “But it will be worth the wait.”

While grass is a must on Weil Family Farm, so is the Shade Haven.

“It’s funny the way our cows tend to gravitate toward the Shade Haven,” says Weil. “We leave it out all the time – unless we are expecting severe storms. Even when it’s cloudy, you find our cattle under the Shade Haven. It’s a comfort zone for them.”

Casting Shade on Nutrient Management


For beef and dairy farms, crop fertility is ranked as a leading expense, second to the cost of the land. Rotational grazing practices address the pasture fertility issue, moving animals from paddock to paddock every three days. Through this practice, the animals return nutrients to the pasture by grazing, drinking water and depositing the nutrients back on the paddock. A blazing hot sun presents challenges to rotational grazing practices.

“The issue then is not the addition of nutrients, it’s the distribution of nutrients,” explains Wisconsin beef farmer and managed grazer Jim Munsch. “There are university studies that say without shade, most of the nutrients tend to gravitate toward the water source in the paddock. On a hot day, if you have no shade, the animals will either stand on the highest part of the paddock to get the breeze, or they will stand around the water point.”

If there are trees in a pasture, animals will congregate there and deposit minerals primarily in that area. Munsch adds that “true converts to rotational grazing” considered trees as weeds, for that very reason. On a hot day, animals migrate toward them, resulting in unequal distribution of nutrients in the paddock. The solution, eliminate the trees.

Yet, without shade, the animals suffer, and any farmer raising livestock is concerned about animal comfort. Dairy cows are especially susceptible to heat stress, which impacts production and ultimately the bottom line.

Enter Shade Haven

“This in my view is a movable tree,” says Munsch. “Wherever you need nutrients, wherever nutrients have negative migration…a way to get nutrients back into that place is to bring shade there on a sunny day. Shade Haven allows you to move nutrients where you want them. For instance, in my paddock I move cows every day. Here in Wisconsin you can occupy a paddock five or six times during the year. So you have five or six opportunities to move nutrients where you want them.”

The standard time animals stay in a paddock is three days. If all three of those days are sunny, Munsch moves the Shade Haven structure within the paddock daily. “It’s like parking your manure spreader in a place. So if you have a high concentration of animals under there for a good part of the day, you are going to want to move it.”

It’s also wise to move the structure after heavy rains that have saturated the soil. “If the ground is soft, after a couple inches of rain, they are going to beat that little piece of land up pretty bad.”

The nitrogen dilemma

Nitrogen is a typical add to soil by many conventional farmers. Purchasing nitrogen can be expensive. Munsch argues that nitrogen can be added to the soil by encouraging legumes to grow in your pasture. Legumes fix nitrogen from the air. “In fact there is a net positive on nitrogen simply by encouraging legumes to grow on your pasture,” Munsch says. “The economic trade off is legumes for nitrogen, so you don’t have to buy nitrogen, and animals take care of the distribution of nutrients within a paddock for phosphorus and potash and trace minerals, needed to maintain the health of the legumes.”

“On our farm, we have not applied purchased fertilizer to our grazing land in 25 years,” adds Munsch. “This is a product of managing animal distribution and selective out-wintering.”

With dairy cows, who are very susceptible to heat stress, Shade Haven is effective with the distribution of nutrients that keep the pasture healthy and fertile. “The thing that keeps them [dairy cows] in the barn is the shade,” notes Munsch. “By facilitating the animals to spend time in the paddock by providing shade you are moving nutrients out of the barn, out of the lanes, and onto the paddocks.”