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Standard and Practice

Presently, there are no collectively adopted standards in the grazing industry.  In California alone, there are over 30 grazing businesses, each with its own approach to grazing and animal management.  Fortunately, there are common practices and standards that many graziers accept and actively pursue.  Many of these are based on academic principles grounded in research and 'hard' science.  Conversely, there are graziers with little or no experience or knowledge of Managed Grazing and practices accepted and confirmed by the greater resource management and scientific community.  Outlined here are essential management practices that any potential grazier should be aware of.

1. Stocking Density / Duration     Choosing the appropriate number of animals and the size of their enclosure (paddock) should not be decided arbitrarily. Stocking density/duration effects soil structure and chemistry, water and mineral cycling, plant diversity as well as a list of other essential ecological processes that contribute to the health and viability of an ecosystem. Stocking density and duration decisions should be undertaken systematically utilizing the scientific mode to accurately determine the “correct” size of enclosure, number of animals, and the duration of time that the animals impact an environment.

2. Grazing vs. Trampling      Grazing and Trampling are two wholly different mechanical operations that have distinct applications and effects. Grazing is the process of removal and subsequent transformation of vegetation by a ruminant animal. Grazing converts combustible vegetation / fuel into non-combustible material. Grazing has a complementary, restorative effect when administered properly. Grazing can reduce infestations of weedy plants, restore healthy ecosystem function and improve the vigor of desirable plants. Grazing favors and can promote native vegetation, which is desirable for a multitude of reasons. Grazing reduces the potential for fire to spread quickly and to burn at high temperatures. Alternately, trampling vegetation has much fewer and less significant applications than grazing. Trampling can reduce flame height, provide a barrier between soil and elements and can help disseminate seed and propagate that seed. Trampling is not an effective means for fire mitigation as it does not convert or remove flammable vegetation. Trampling does little or nothing to improve nutrient cycling, and has few applications to restorative grazing. When possible, grazing should be favored over trampling. Grazing is a more thorough treatment and requires more time and resources than trampling; thus the cost of Grazing is often higher than the less desirable trampling techniques. When choosing a grazier it is important to discern beforehand which technique the grazier is using—trampling or grazing.

3. Animal Choice      Different breeds of grazing animal often have different applications in a managed grazing operation. Goats are non-selective eaters and indiscriminate when hungry. This can be advantageous in most grazing situation. However, there are circumstances when goats would be less desirable than sheep or even cattle. Sheep have more specific dietary preferences than goats. This propensity can be used to a graziers advantage when grazing areas that require certain plants to be left ungrazed while other plants (namely grasses) should be targeted and consumed.

4. Humane Treatment of Animals        The Humane Society and local Animal Service authorities have very clear and developed guidelines and requirements for different classes of animals. These regulations must be respected and abided by at all times, and potential grazers should be aware of these regulations for each county in which they do business. Furthermore, animal services should be notified of any grazing project in their province or jurisdiction. This is the responsibility of the grazier. All animals must have regular health checks and be certified scrabbies free. All working animals, such as livestock guard dogs and herding dogs, must be provided adequate care and feed and have current rabies vaccinations and registration. It is incumbent upon the service provider to maintain and provide relevant documentation to animal authorities prior to any project. Proper care of any birthing animal is prerequisite and it is preferable for animals to birth offsite. Animals should have a thrifty and healthy appearance with access to water and mineral supplements. Currently, graziers are in the process of drafting comprehensive animal care guidelines for the industry.  Graziers should have a set of guidelines for staff and employees readily available in written form and should be willing to provide appropriate documents upon request.

5. Plant Identification      Graziers should be able to identify all plants that animals will consume or have the potential to consume. There are many plants that are harmful to animals even in small amounts. Graziers should be aware of local 'problem' plants before grazing begins. Graziers should be able to determine a native plant from a non-native plant, and make appropriate grazing choices based on the constituency and diversity of plant species in a potential grazing area. Graziers should be able to determine an annual plant from a perennial plant and understand the different approaches and techniques for grazing each plant.

6. Non Point and Point Source Pollution        Often there is potential for point and non-point source contamination from grazing activity. Graziers should have the means to contain, minimize, or eliminate the possibility of pollutive activities due to grazing and should also have a thorough understanding of riparian grazing, specifically as it relates to non-point source pollution.

7. Clean Feeding      This is the technique of sequestering and feeding animals on feedstuffs which do not contain unwanted seed or plant material for at least three days prior to embarking on a project. Clean feeding reduces the possibility of Introducing exotic plants into a native plant environment.

8. Parasite Management      Because of the nature of Managed Grazing, management of parasites in the grazing animal is essential. There are many ways to reduce the parasite load on the grazing animal, including natural methods. Graziers should regularly monitor all animals for both internal and external parasites.  Animals that have parasite infestations should be treated appropriately.

9. Animal Supplementation        The amount and degree of supplementation varies from herd to herd and fluxuates seasonally. Generally, animals will need to be supplemented for protein and minerals after May and provided mineral supplementation throughout the year. Graziers should have a general understanding of nutrition and supplemental feeding and of local mineral deficiencies in plants and soil, including the most common, selenium and copper deficiencies, in plants and soil.

10. Percent Fuel Reduction Calculation      Fuel reduction can easily be calculated by a grazier. The formula for fuel reduction is as follows: 0.03 X 100 (total number of goats) / per day . This will provide a baseline estimate for fuel management in pounds removed each day. The formula is based on an average 100lb goat which consumes roughly 3% of its body weight each day.

11. Animal Feed Preferences      Grazing animals have unique feed preferences depending on the environment, their breed, and their character. There are well documented studies which suggest different class of ruminant animals preferences for a variety of feedstuffs. Graziers should be aware of these preferences as they ultimately effect the decision making process in any Managed Grazing operation.

12. Grazing Timing      Grazing timing is essential to effective grazing technique. Without knowledge of plant growth cycles and the idiosyncratic qualities of a plant a grazier is unable to determine the appropriate timing and interval in which to graze a plant. Plants respond differently to grazing at different points in their life cycle. It is imperative to understand the different cycles that a plant undergoes as well as plant physiology and internal processes in order to determine the 'right' grazing timing. The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a graze is dependent upon grazing a plant at the appropriate time in its growth and germination cycles. This is true in restorative grazing as well as grazing for fuel reduction.

13. Proper Removal Disposal of Deceased Animal        It is uncommon for a working grazing animal to die on-site. A goats lifespan can range between 8-15 years for a healthy working animal. Goats can occasionally become sick and die without any indication of sickness or malaise. Sick animals should be removed from sites as soon as possible. Animals that die onsite of natural causes or due to poisoning or other unforeseeable events should be reported to animal authorities immediately and removed according to local regulations concerning removal and disposal of livestock. Generally, local animal service agencies can facilitate the removal and disposal of a dead animal. Tallow companies can also be contracted for removal and disposal of deceased animals.

14. Fuel Type        Graziers should have a familiarity and basic understanding of fuel type as it relates to grazing for the purpose of fire mitigation. Proper fuel management reduces the volume and density of combustible vegetation and increases the spatial distance between combustible vegetation. Graziers should have a sound understanding of grazing effectiveness on both light and heavy fuels and be able to determine the appropriate methods for ecological fuel reduction. Heavy fuels such as brush, small trees, and shrubs require higher stocking densities and more rigorous grazing in order to impact the fire environment and mitigate the fuel load, while light fuels such as grass and weeds do not require the same intensity of graze as do heavy fuels. Graziers should be aware of their subsequent effect on the fire environment, as mismanaged grazing can create a more severe fire environment rather than mitigating the intensity and propensity towards fire.

15. Fuel Management        Fuels Management in a grazing environment refers to the appropriate management of combustible fuel over the duration of the fire season. graziers must have adequate knowledge of local growing conditions, plant types and most importantly the regenerative capacity of a plant. Many plants, both native and exotic can regenerate many times over the course of the fire season. In order to effectively manage the fuel load on a given site, Graziers should time each graze so that it corresponds to the growing patterns of the vegetative environment on respective sites. Fuel Management timing is an essential component of proper fuel management. Grazing a plant prematurely and or arbitrarily can have little or no effect on mitigating fire potential. Moreover, grazing (for fire mitigation) should concur with local weather patterns and seasonal patterns that underlie the vegetative fire environment.

16. Fire Hazards      Many graziers utilize machinery and electronic equipment that can spark and start a fire, including but not limited to: deep cycle batteries; fence and battery chargers; mowers; chainsaws; motorized vehicles; solar panels; a variety of metallic or reflective materials.  Graziers should be aware of the fire hazard that they pose, especially in urban interface zones. Graziers should take appropriate measures to minimize the potential for their equipment to start fires. There are a variety of techniques a grazer can employ to reduce and or eliminate their fire risk.