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.

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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.

One thought on “Using Grazing Principles to Solve Overgrazing Impacts

  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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