There is great potential with animals to accelerate soil health and regeneration through planned, strategic grazing management.
Livestock also have the potential to reduce machinery movements throughout the vineyard at certain times of the season. This can reduce costs and time spent doing tasks, but it also limits the damage to soil from machinery compaction, herbicide use, and tillage.
Sheep are often used to graze during the vine dormancy period. Ducks, geese, cattle, and llamas are also used, each with specific requirements.
Animal urine and faeces also bring valuable nutrients and microbes that can contribute to soil biodiversity and improve soil health.
Most vineyard environments with low trained vines mean that animals in the vineyard post bud-break will damage shoots, but there are some vineyard training systems that allow for (small) animals to graze safely (and usefully) in vineyards all year round.
Animals have been part of the world’s natural ecosystems and landscape for centuries. They moved with natural rhythms working with seasonal conditions and natural predation to keep them moving and grazing across the landscape.
When humans interfered with these rhythms and patterns of behaviour it fundamentally changed the way plants and animals interacted. This affected the way plants grew and interacted with the soil’s microbial network and the way soil was formed and kept healthy.
There is great potential with animals to accelerate soil health and regeneration through planned, strategic grazing management. The aim of this technique is to keep grazing light and frequent, leaving a larger vegetative biomass behind so that plants recover quickly, keeping them in a vegetative state for a longer period. This promotes root growth and the production of root exudates that help feed the soil microbial network and pump carbon into the soil.
Livestock also have the potential to reduce machinery movements throughout the vineyard at certain times of the season. This can reduce costs and time spent doing tasks, but it also limits the damage to soil from machinery compaction, herbicide use and tillage.
Animals are potentially the most difficult of the regenerative agriculture elements to introduce into a vineyard system. A successful vineyard grazing system requires the following:
- Good seasonal planning, both before and during the grazing season
- Good knowledge of pasture species, feed density and recovery periods. This is essential to avoid overgrazing and compaction
- Good quality infrastructure including fencing, water, and yards. This ensures easy and timely movement and removal of animals throughout the vineyard
- A reliable supply of disease-free, healthy animals that can be supplied, moved and removed in a timely manner
- A dedicated livestock manager that checks on livestock welfare, pasture conditions and seasonal considerations weekly
The most effective systems for both soil/plant regeneration and cost reduction have a combination of the following:
- High stock numbers relative to cell size
- Smaller grazing cells. This will depend on pasture density/species and the desired outcome of the vineyard operation
- Frequent movement through the various cells
- Active management and plans with the ability to rest pasture adequately to prevent overgrazing and compaction
- Flexibility to deal with unplanned weather events both before and during the grazing season
For further information
Grazing Vineyards Kelly Mulville