Biodiversity in your pastures provides many benefits to pasture productivity, soil health, animal performance, and wildlife habitat. The table below shows typical composition of our home pastures on our old Missouri farm.
There were many other less plentiful species present that are not listed. Nine different plant functional groups are represented in these pastures with 40+ individual species.The main point I wanted to make was the functional diversity of the pasture. A good mixture of cool-season and warm-season species, annuals as well as perennials, and grasses and legumes.
Much of this pasture started out as predominantly endophyte-infected tall fescue. While we did overseed legumes into the pasture, all the other species appeared in response to the grazing management we imposed. Aggressive grazing in the Spring followed by longer summer recovery periods was the approach we used to change the composition. Fescue is an aggressive, dominating grass only if you allow it to be. Every third year we stockpiled 1/3rd of the farm for winter grazing and that allowed the legumes and annual grasses to go to seed.
We began doing daily rotation of both our cattle and sheep in 1988. Putting a heavy grazing impact on the tall fescue base in the Spring and early Summer is what allowed the pastures to flourish with diversity.
We relied on legume N-fixation, high stock density grazing, and building organic matter to provide the nitrogen required for grass production. In 23 years on that farm, we used N fertilizer on limited pastures a total of three occasions. N fertilizer is not at all necessary to have high producing pastures.
Editors Note: We like Jim’s approach to adding biodiversity to his pasture because the cost is so low, unless you consider the brain power it takes to look at what we have and then figure out the steps for using our livestock to get where we want to go. We’d love to hear about how you changed your pastures with your management. Your examples might be just what another reader needs to make improvements at his or her own place. Drop us a line, or add your thoughts below! Thanks!