Return a third to the soil

This simple way to improve your soil while you enhance your animals' production and quality was refined and promoted widely and very clearly by Leon Sivvyer.

Leon was a biodynamic beef farmer at Halton, about 80 km/50 miles inland from Newcastle, Australia.

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It is an easy way to get the benefits you would normally only get from green manures. A very good permanent pasture can sometimes deliver similar benefits to those of a green manure, but only after a long time. This is a way to speed that up and increase the benefits.

Leon's method takes little effort, takes nothing away from your animals and will do wonders for your soil. It will allow you to get
All you do is
  1. GRAZE your pasture but shorten the grazing time so about a third of the pasture is left. This has little impact on the animals because by this stage they have picked the best out of the pasture (young leaves and stems with high nutritive value and high digestibility)
  2. SLASH it so the remainder is spread all over the soil surface. This will be returned to the soil rather than used for production. The animals leave behind the part that is best for the soil, the bits that improve soil structure and feed soil organisms. These are the stems, older leaves and decaying material with low nutritive value and low digestibility. Note: You may need to modify your slasher to spread the material rather than leave it in windrows. If you can't do that, the alternative is to stagger your trips through the paddocks each time you slash. So a windrow now will have one next to it in a few months when you graze and slash again. And so on until you have covered the whole paddock in windrows over several separate slashings
  3. REST the pasture and let it regrow
  4. REPEAT.

Naturally, this method only works if you graze rotationally, rather than using set stocking. You can vary the timing to suit your needs, species and weather.

Slashing about a third and leaving it on the surface is a good rule of thumb for what will deliver the greatest benefits to soil and animals. In the process, you can slash any weeds the animals didn't eat and give the soil surface a short exposure to sun and air.

Leon would slash in one direction then in the other to get the material finer and to speed its breakdown. However, the fuel and time spent on the second slashing are probably better spent on other things. Slashing only once is also likely to improve soil structure faster because it slows the breakdown of the carbohydrates that bind the soil into crumbs.

Leon was a striking character with a ruddy smiling impish face and white hair and beard. He died a few years ago after inspiring many people to take the path to better soil and animal management.

No shrinking violet, he was an inspiration to many and he stirred many others up. His radical and strongly-expressed views left a mark on Australian farming and grazing. He loved to promote his decidedly aromatic home made fish-based fertilizers and his playing of music to animals and pastures and thus to the ever-surprised neighbors.

He is fondly remembered by many of us.

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This page was updated on December 27, 2007