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Diversity in Pasture Plants Has Big Effects on Herd and Flock Health

By   /  April 30, 2018  /  11 Comments

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Before I began farming, I was an oceanographer. I used to study tiny, planktonic crustaceans called
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About the author

Gary Kleppel and his wife Pam co-own and operate Longfield Farm, a small sustainably managed operation 15 miles west of Albany. They use holistic techniques, such as management intensive grazing and sheep-poultry inter-grazing, to produce a diversity of products, including grass-fed/finished lamb, fiber, and free-range poultry and eggs. The focus is on soil health and regeneration. The Kleppels also use their farm as an education resource to help the public better understand small scale agriculture and its value to communities. Gary spent the past 38 years as a college professor where, for the past decade, he has been conducting research in agricultural ecology and sustainable food production.


  1. Kellan Cook says:

    Gary, thank you for sharing! As I plan to try not mowing this season for the very same reason I am curious it you use temporary electric netting and if you have found the non-mowing to inhibit the strength of your fences?

    • Gary Kleppel says:

      Yes, we do use temporary electric fencing and there can be a loss of charge, especially when the pasture is wet. I use a weed whacker or a small mower to cut a fence line early in the season and I try to return to the same line on each subsequent rotation (though that’s not always possible).

  2. Jesse Jackson Jr says:

    Many variables impact health and body condition score but . . . . I’ve witnessed similar results with cattle and goats as well. The chance to pick and choose is great for them but to maximize gain per acre ranchers also need to limit access to mimic the predator driven herd behavior before european settlement. Movement and long rest balanced with a diverse diet. Good article and I look forward to the follow-up.

    • Gary Kleppel says:

      Thanks for your comment Jesse. Fred Provenza did some really interesting research on dietary diversity. He also edited a book with Michele Meuret called, The Art & Science of Shepherding that documents the amazing French high country shepherds who move their flocks through vegetatively diverse landscapes which provides in balance in the diet and excellent growth in the livestock. A good read.

  3. Gary Jones says:

    Need more detail. How did the sheep in managed pasture deviate? Emaciated or obese?

    • Gary Kleppel says:

      Thanks for your question Gary. To answer, let me say that both flocks had good body condition scores (BSCs). The way Corine calculated deviation is that she subtracted each BCS that she measured on her sheep and she did the same with the data that I measured on my sheep. She looked at the “absolute value” of each deviation, so that deviations were positive. Then she took the mean of the deviations. So this method doesn’t really look at whether the sheep were closer to 1 or 5, just where there was more variability.

    • Gary Kleppel says:

      You probably noticed that my response to your question was not clear. The sentence “The way Corine calculated deviation is that she subtracted each BCS that she measured on her sheep…”, should read:

      “The way Corine calculated deviation is that she subtracted each BCS that she measured on her sheep from the optimal value of 3… ”

      Hope that makes it clearer.

      • Gary Jones says:

        The meaning was clear enough even if the language was off a bit. Still, the needed data is the measured BCS. That’s the science part. Data.

  4. Chip Hines says:

    Another resource for value of grazing plant diversity is Fred Provenza’s research at Utah State. Contact Beth Burritt for help in getting this research.

    • Kathy Voth says:

      Here’s the website for information about research done by Fred Provenza and his colleagues: http://behave.net

      Beth Burritt manages the site and has done a great job of providing information and a list of all the research. Thanks, Beth! And thanks, Chip, for pointing this out!

    • Gary Kleppel says:

      I had another paragraph in this article that described some of Fred’s work, but we decided to save it for another article. Stay tuned.

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