Saturday, June 22, 2024
HomeNotes From KathyUsing Grazing Principles to Solve Overgrazing Impacts

Using Grazing Principles to Solve Overgrazing Impacts

First, you know that new version of the website I promised you this week? Well – technology happened and so there’s going to be a delay. But it’s coming! So stay tuned.

Speaking of technology, some recent changes to the Google algorithms have a lot of websites scrambling. No one knows what the changes are, but websites everywhere are reporting a huge reduction in their reader numbers. On Pasture has been hit too. So, if you like what you find here, if it helps you, please share On Pasture with your friends, family, colleagues, and folks interested in being better graziers. The site only functions thanks to readers like you.

And now, my experience with overgrazing, and how grazing principles helped improve the situation….

There are lots of varieties of milkweed. This is not ours, but is the variety we planted. We also planted a whorled desert milkweed, but it only attracted a couple of caterpillars.

This spring, my husband and I brought a milkweed plant home from the nursery and planted it in our backyard. Thanks to a record breaking monsoon season, the plant grew like crazy and we were so proud of it.

And then the caterpillars came. Now, we bought the plant because Monarch butterflies love it. In the caterpillar stage, it’s the only food they eat. So we were hoping to feed a few of them. But there were about a dozen at one time and soon the plant had no leaves at all.

Our milkweed after the first graze.

What do plants need when they’ve been overgrazed? Nutrients and water! We fertilized the plant, gave it extra water, and soon new leaves were popping out.

A lone caterpillar trying to find something to eat on our poor overgrazed milkweed plant.

And so were the caterpillars, some big, some brand new and very small. I counted 14 at one time.

If I were a managing as a grazier, I would have planned for a longer rest period to make sure the plant was fully recovered. I might also have destocked or reduced the number of grazing creatures. But neither of those actions were really an option. Monarch butterfly populations are in decline and if they needed food we were going to feed them.

Soon all the leaves were gone again. Only a couple caterpillars remained for a bit and then they moved on too.

More water, more fertilizer, and more water and we waited. Just as you’d expect from what we know about regrowth periods (as Dave Pratt explains so well in this series of articles) it took a lot longer for the plant to rebound. It’s doing well now, and the grazing season for Monarch butterfly caterpillars is over, so it looks like our milkweed plant will survive to next year.

But as responsible grazing managers, we need to do something more, right? If we can’t reduce the number of grazing creatures, we need more forage. Now that the heat of summer is past, we’re heading to the nursery to buy some more milkweed plants. That way, when the Monarch butterfly caterpillars return next year, we’ll be more prepared.

Here’s to good, principle-based grazing. And thanks for reading!


P.S. If you’d like to know more about grazing principles that help solve your problems, download the free ebook “Grazing 101. It’s 156 pages of information from some of the best minds in grazing.

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. My daughter (in Thunder Bay, Ontario) watches the caterpillars “race” to a new plant in her garden. She has been very successful in nurturing the “bugs” if not the plants.

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