Sequestering carbon through well managed grazing

In this video Agricultural Consultant, Garth Kahl of Independent Organic Services shares how well managed grazing benefits our environment.

Carbon Farming Practices

Preliminary Carbon Farm Practice List as determined by The Carbon Cycle Institute, and defined by US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service.

• Mulching/compost application- Applying plant residues or other suitable materials to the land surface to improve moisture, prevent erosion, and build organic matter content, increasing plant growth on pastures and cropland.

• Prescribed Grazing- Controlled harvest of vegetation with grazing animals, managed with the intent of achieving a specific objective.

• Cover Crops- Crop grown for the protection and enrichment of soil.

• No Till/Strip Till/Direct Seed- Relying in natural practices to break down the soil from the previous crop, as opposed to disturbing the soil through tilling.

• Strip Cropping- Cultivation in which different crops are sown in alternate strips to prevent soil erosion.

• Anaerobic Digester- Collection of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. Process is used for industrial purposes to manage waste or produce fuel.

• Multi-Story Cropping- “Forest Farming”- managing existing or planted stands of trees or shrubs with an understory of woody and/or non-woody plants grown for a variety of products. This practice does not apply to land that is grazed.

• Windbreak/Shelterbelt Establishment and Renovation- Trees/shrubs planted as a barrier to reduce wind speed, protect crops, livestock, buildings, work areas; biodiversity enhancement.

• Silvopasture Establishment on Grazed Grassland- Integrating trees with forage and livestock production.

• Forage and Biomass Planting- Establishing adapted and/or compatible species, varieties, or cultivars of herbaceous species suitable for pasture, hay, or biomass production.

• Improved Nutrient Management- managing the amount, placement, and timing of plant nutrients to obtain optimum yields and minimize the risk of surface and groundwater pollution.

• Tree/Shrub Establishment- planting seedlings or cuttings, seeding, or creating conditions that promote natural regeneration. Benefits of this practice include establishing forest cover, enhancing wildlife habitat, controlling erosion, improving water quality, capturing and storing carbon, and conserving energy.

• Forest Stand Improvement- Management technique used to remove unwanted trees from an area in order to improve tree composition.

• Contour Buffer Strips- strips of perennial vegetation alternated down the slope with wider cultivated strips that are farmed on the contour. Contour buffers strips are usually narrower than the cultivated strips. Vegetation in strips consists of adapted species of grasses or a mixture of grasses and legumes. Contour buffer strips established on the contour can significantly reduce sheet and rill erosion. Strips slow runoff and trap sediment. Sediment, nutrients, pesticides, and other contaminants are removed from the runoff as they pass through the buffer strip. Buffer strips may also provide food and nesting cover for wildlife.

• Riparian Restoration- Ecological restoration of riparian-zone habitats of streams, rivers, springs, lakes, floodplains, and other hydrologic ecologies.

• Riparian Forest Buffer Establishment- Establishment of a forest buffer near a stream, which helps shade and partially protect the stream from the impact of adjacent land uses.

• Vegetative/Field Barrier or Border- A band or strip of perennial vegetation established on the edge of a cropland field. This reduces sheet, rill, and gully erosion at the edge of fields; protects water quality by trapping sediment, chemical and other pollutants; provides turning area for farm equipment; and provides wildlife habitat.

• Alley Cropping- The planting of trees or shrubs in two or more sets of single or multiple rows with agronomic, horticultural, or forage crops cultivated in the alleys between the rows of woody plants. • Riparian Herbaceous Cover- Grasses, grass-like plants and forbs that are tolerant of intermittent flooding or saturated soils and that are established or managed in the transitional zone between terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

• Range Planting- Establishment of adapted perennial or self-sustaining vegetation such as grasses, forbs, legumes, shrubs and trees for the purpose of restoring a plant community similar to the Ecological Site Description reference state for the site or the desired plant community. Provide or improve forages for livestock and provide or improve forage, browse or cover for wildlife. Reduce erosion by wind and/or water and improve water quality and quantity. Increases carbon sequestration. Conditions where this practice applies include rangeland, native or naturalized pasture, grazed forest or other suitable location where the principal goals and method of vegetation management is herbivore based. This practice may be applied where desirable vegetation is below the acceptable level for natural reseeding to occur, or where the potential for enhancement of the vegetation by grazing management is unsatisfactory.

• Herbaceous Wind Barriers- Herbaceous vegetation established in rows or narrow strips in the field across the prevailing wind direction for the purpose of reducing soil erosion from the wind and soil particulate emissions to the air, protecting growing crops from damage by the wind or wind-borne soil particles and enhance snow depositions to increase plant-available moisture.

• Critical Area Planting- Establishing and protecting permanent vegetative cover on sites that have, or are expected to have, high erosion rates, and on sites that have physical, chemical or biological conditions that prevent the establishment of vegetation with normal practices that cannot be stabilized by ordinary conservation treatment. Benefits may include reduced soil erosion and sedimentation and improved water quality.

• Residue and Tillage Management- Management of the amount, orientation and distribution of crop and other plant residue on the soil surface throughout the year. This includes all soil disturbing activities like tillage, nutrient applications and harvesting of residue. Residue and tillage management should be used on all cropland fields especially where excess wind, sheet and rill erosion are a problem. This management is most effective when used with other conservation practices like grassed waterways, contouring, field borders, etc. Residue management systems can be designed to accomplish multiple purposes including reduced water and wind erosion, maintaining or increasing soil organic matter, increasing moisture available for plant use, cost savings from reduced fuel usage, reduce soil particulate emissions and CO2 losses, and provides food and escape cover for wildlife.

• Forest Slash Treatment- addresses woody plant residues created during forestry, agroforestry, and horticultural activities to achieve management objectives. Reduce hazardous fuels, the risk of harmful insects and disease, protect/maintain air quality by reducing the risk of wildfire, and improve access to forage for grazing and browsing animals. More information can be found here-

• Filter Strip- An area of permanent herbaceous vegetation used to reduce sediment, organics, nutrients, pesticides, and other contaminant loadings in runoff.

• Field Border- A band or strip of perennial vegetation established on the edge of a cropland field.

• Grassed Waterway- Broad, shallow and typically saucer-shaped channels designed to move surface water across farmland without causing soil erosion. The vegetative cover in the waterway slows the water flow and protects the channel surface from the eroding forces of runoff water.

• Hedgerow Planting- Establishment of dense vegetation in a linear design to achieve a natural resource conservation purpose including habitat, food, cover, and corridors for terrestrial wildlife, enhance pollen, nectar, and nesting habitat for pollinators and offers food, cover, and shade for aquatic organisms that live in adjacent streams or watercourses. Provides substrate for predaceous and beneficial invertebrates as a component of integrated pest management; intercepts airborne particulate matter and reduce chemical drift and odor movement; provides screens and barriers to noise and dust and increase carbon storage in biomass and soils, and for use as a living fence, boundary delineation and contour guidelines.

• Conservation Crop Rotation- A system for growing several different crops in planned succession on the same field, including at least one soil-conserving crop such as perennial hay. Including a soil-conserving crop in the rotation reduces the risk of soil erosion and runoff to nearby waters. Conservation crop rotations in Minnesota typically include row crops alternating with small grains and hay or vegetable crops. Conservation crop rotations are most effective when used together with nutrient management as well as upland erosion and runoff control practices such as conservation tillage, contour farming, and grassed waterways. Practices similar to conservation crop rotations include cover crops, strip cropping, and contour buffer strips.

• Cross Wind Trap Strips Conservation Cover- An area of herbaceous vegetation, resistant to wind erosion, and grown in strips perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction. As the name implies, cross wind trap strips entrap wind-borne sediment. Cross wind trap strips catch wind-borne sediment and other pollutants, such as nutrients and pesticides, from the eroded material before it reaches water bodies or other sensitive areas.

• Wetland Restoration- The return of a wetland and its functions to a close approximation of its original condition as it existed prior to disturbance on a former or degraded wetland site.

• Combustion system improvement- Installation, replacement, or retrofitting of agricultural combustion systems and/or related components or devices for air quality and energy efficiency improvement by addressing the air quality resource concerns for particulate matter and ozone precursors by mitigating actual or potential emissions of oxides of nitrogen and/or fine particulate ma:tter to improve the energy efficiency of agricultural combustion systems.

You may locate a full list of USDA NRCS Conservation Practices at: wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/national/technical/cp/ncps/?cid=nrcs143_026849

Grazing Principles & Best Practices Checklist

By Lydia Strand

Created as an educational resource for the Pacific Northwest Fibershed

How to use this checklist:

Use this document to establish or reevaluate a managed grazing system focused on the production of fiber animals. This checklist was written to be most comprehensive for individuals raising sheep. This document may be adapted for use with a variety of fiber producing livestock, by taking a few adjustments to include dietary and internal parasite management requirements specific to that livestock.

Why Managed Grazing?

·         Builds fertility and organic matter of soil, with sheep doing the work

·         Increases forage production

·         Allows for extended grazing seasons in certain geographical areas

·         With proper livestock management, can sequester carbon -Increases livestock productivity

·         Mimics the natural cycle of grazing sheep -Minimizes and/or allows for better control of internal parasites

·         Allows for better water absorption and retention capability -Sequestering carbon mitigates greenhouse gas emissions

The Role of Grazing in Climate Beneficial™ Agriculture

Well-managed grazing is one of many landscape management practices known to enhance the drawdown of atmospheric carbon into the soil. These conservation practices may also be referred to as ‘carbon farming’ because they follow a model of building Total Carbon and Soil Organic Carbon levels by increasing water holding capacity, enhancing biodiversity, increasing forage quantity and quality, and more. A Carbon Farm Plan is a whole-farm approach to inventorying current practices, and identifying and modeling all opportunities to capture carbon on the farm or ranch landscape: learn more at

Fibershed and the Carbon Cycle Institute developed the Climate Beneficial™ verification in the Northern California Fibershed. The Climate Beneficial™ verification supports and increases value for producers who are grazing fiber-producing animals on managed landscapes, where carbon farming practices are being implemented in accordance with a Carbon Farm Plan; the Pacific Northwest Fibershed is a member of the Fibershed Affiliate Network and is exploring the development of a localized verification program. Learn more at  

1. Keep it Simple- Start with a basic idea and adjust according to what you see is and isn’t working. Have an idea of your main objective(s), ex. meet nutritional needs of flock and soil, enhance pasture quality and yield, maintain and improve your natural resource core etc.

2. Organize- Form your basic short and long term grazing goals, and determine the best use of a grazing system on your land. Put these goals in writing using words, sketches, diagrams, etc.

3. Infrastructure- Considered a supporting practice of a carbon farm plan, infrastructure includes: fencing (whether permanent or portable), the establishment of an efficient water delivery system to ensure sheep aren’t having to travel outside of their comfort zone to access water or compacting the soil by using the same access to water throughout the grazing season, and stress-free systems for safely moving sheep from one grazing space to another taking special consideration for ewes with lambs who are just learning how the managed grazing system works.

4a. Understand How Animals Graze- Keep the sheep moving. Planned grazing mimics natural, instinctual sheep grazing cycles. How would that look on your farm?

4b. Monitor For Signs That Sheep Have Sparse Forage Available- Signs include: more time spent grazing, grazing as individuals as opposed to in a group, established browse line in areas where there are trees or tall brush, and midday grazing during the hot season.

5. Understand The Forage Needs Of Your Sheep Breed Based On Your Geographical Area And The Seasons- Consideration of palatability (affected by fiber content/texture, bitterness/ sweetness, water content, abundance, green over dry, leaves over stems) and cool and warm season forage varieties for possible grazing season extension, keeping in mind that forage quality, plant digestibility, and intake deteriorates as plants mature and the grazing season wanes.

6. Determine Your Grazing System- Will it be a fixed or managed system? System examples include: managed intensive grazing (MIG), flash grazing, strip grazing, mob grazing, grazing season extension, targeted grazing for weed management, and optimally moving livestock to nutrient dense fresh grazing space in frequent succession with long recovery periods for pasture once grazed. Plants should be grazed during active growth with no re-grazing of the same plants during that rotation. Intensive grazing with short periods per space allow for forage trampling, which keeps the soil covered and allows forage not grazed to regrow or compost back into the soil.

7a. Stocking Rate Basics- Stocking rate is the total number of animals on a farm at a given time. A higher stocking rate for the overall available land may mean resources are stressed.

7b. Stocking Density Basics- Relates to the number of grazing animals (or weight of animals) at a given time, per acre. Optimally, the smaller the grazing space, the more often the stock move, allowing for a higher stocking density per acre. This promotes less selective and more even grazing, equal scattering of manure, greater and continuous access to nutrient dense forage, and greater forage density per pasture. There are variations to this set-up that may be less management intensive, however, overall forage quality may be impacted.

8. Pasture Recovery Periods- A four inch residue should be left in each grazing pasture to mitigate overgrazing and for successful forage growth and soil health. Adequate pasture rest periods are vital to the sustainability of any managed grazing system. Some pastures are grazed for a short time, once each season; other pastures are grazed multiple times with a minimum of 30 and up to a 90 day rest period between grazings. Plant maturity in these pastures may be an issue for forage palatability; an option to mitigate this would be a multi species grazing system, as some livestock are dead-end hosts for certain types of internal parasites and are less choosy around forage consumption.

9. Utilize Local Resources- Your local resource conservation district or university extension office can aid in soil testing for nutrients, carbon, and organic matter, as well as farm and grazing planning, which can offer information on native vegetation, soil health improvement, best forages for specific livestock, soil type and water intake, and seasonal grazing patterns. COMET Planner is an online tool available to assist in projecting the amount of carbon sequestered on your farm when implementing and maintaining proper land and livestock management practices.

10. Keep Your System Flexible- Processes may/will change from season to season. Take photos, keep written records, and test your soil annually at the end of the grazing season, making sure to avoid times of drought or excessive rainfall.

11. Monitoring- There are three primary land management tools: rest, grazing, and animal impact. Adjust systems and operations based on the analysis of what you see and the response of the land and sheep. Understand the effect of your actions, assume you may be wrong and look for the earliest warning signs of trouble. Take measurements, keep written records, document with photographs from season to season to track management changes, both positive and negative. Other aspects of monitoring land management include: plant growth rates, water cycle, mineral cycle, unfavorable patterns, and land and animal performance, as informed by Holistic Management, International.

12. Add Beneficial Practices- Look at the whole farm or ranch for opportunities to complement managed grazing with co-beneficial practices such as forage & biomass planting/seeding, rangeland seeding, or compost application. A Carbon Farm Planning process or Conservation Plan can inventory opportunities for planting trees, strategically thinning areas, or restoring a watershed.


COMET Planner-

ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture/National Center for Appropriate Technology-

Carbon Cycle Institute-

Pasture and Grazing Management in the Northwest-

Pasture and Hayland Renovation for W. Washington and Oregon-

W. Washington and Oregon Pasture Calendar-

Drawdown; The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming -

Oregon Tilth -

Independent Organic Services -

Natural Resources Conservation Service -

Oregon State University; Outreach and Extension Services -

Oregon State University; Small Farms Program -