How To Bring A Pasture Back From Death By Overgrazing

8 simple steps — plus a lot of work and plenty of patience!

Kaia Maeve
Mindful Roots
5 min readJun 3, 2024

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Before and after images of a field in Fredricksburg TX using this regenerative method. Photo by Chris Jones

Much of our natural resource wealth is in decline in Texas. This is partly due to set stock grazing for agriculture tax exemption.

If we don’t invest in bringing our pastures back to life and help them back to their natural state of building healthy soil that supports more biodiversity, we will continue to move towards a more brittle, desert ecosystem instead of the tall grass savannahs that once ranged far and wide across the state.

But fear not — there is way to take overgrazed pasture land and turn it back into fertile, rain-catching soil. It’s not easy, but the path back to health does exist.

To start, STOP grazing the land and let it rest.

Then begin to work your way through the 8-step process I’m about to describe.

You can keep your Agricultural exemption (1-d-1 appraisal) while you rest the land. Just call your county exemption agent and let them know what you’re up to. They will grant you a 1 year or more rest period.

If selling your herd is not a good option, you can pen your animals up on a smaller sacrifice zone and feed them hay until you’ve gotten through the process. This can be hard, but it is necessary if you want to stop the decline of your pastures.

If you’re able to manage them closely, this process could be done with animals in rotational grazing. Generally, it will be more challenging and labor intensive to get all of the timing windows right. It will require seeding after each move instead of doing it all at once.

Step 1 — Keyline Plow

See this article for more info on what the heck keyline plowing even is.

Here’s a short video showing some of the results of keyline plowing in one of our projects in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Step 2 — Apply organic soil amendments based off of a soil test

Typically we focus on minerals here not NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).

We’ve got multiple articles going into the art and science of soil amendment on our website. Here’s a good general overview to get started with.

You can go deeper down that rabbit hole if this piques your interests.

Step 3 — Cover crop and native seed application

We’ve found that native seed tends to take a while to come up.

Native seeds are more expensive than cover crops. Right now we’re doing a 80–90 % cover crop mix with 20–10% native seeds. This gives you the initial cover you need and invests in the long-term perennial biodiversity we’re seeking in one move.

We like to use a no-till seed drill where we can. In certain contexts, it makes more sense to do a hand broadcast. For best results, cover with organic straw or a thin coat of hardwood mulch. 1/4 inch of coverage is all you need to help the seeds germinate.

You can check out a little social media content we made on this here.

Michael Wolfert from Symbiosis TX concocting a bio-fertilizer to regenerate the land. Photo from Symbiosis.

Step 4 — Use Bio-Fertilizer/ Compost Tea to spray the cover crop and soil

We’ll make some separate videos and articles going into this but for now you can think of this as taking the goodness of compost, making it into a liquid form and spraying it all over the young cover crops and the soil to jump start the microbiology.

There’s a lot still to be learned about this field but what we know for sure is that soils with healthy, diverse microbe communities grow plants and cycle nutrients much better than those that have been sterilized through mismanagement.

Here’s a really short, simple, proven way to make a bio-fertilizer using one product.

Step 5 — Let it go to seed

Depending on the weather and the seeds you’ve chosen, you may need to let this grow for 2–3 months before letting animals graze on it so that it can go to seed and naturalize.

You’re putting money in the seed bank, creating a seed store of cover crops to keep helping you build soil next season.

Step 6 — Seed again!

Typically we do two rounds of cover crop seeding. One for the cool season mix in Fall and one for the warm season mix in Spring.

Once you’ve gotten these two mixes to go to seed, you have a seed bank and you can get volunteers when the weather is right for them to germinate.

Step 7 — Bio-fertilizer/compost tea spray again!

You can do this every quarter if time and resources allow.

Step 8 — Implement rotational grazing

Set stock grazing will ALWAYS lead to a loss of biodiversity. The animals eat their favorite plants until they decline in the landscape.

Your stocking rates will go down as your cost of inputs goes up and your soil and the plants in your pastures suffer. The only way that we know of to keep animals on a property and build the soil without constant costly inputs is to implement rotational grazing. In rotational grazing you move the animals into a new paddock as often as needed to give them fresh ground and allow the previous paddock to rest and re-grow.

Clearly this is a big topic and we’re not going to cover all the ins and outs here but if this interests you, check back soon for more!

If you want help figuring this out on your land and you are within 2 hours of Austin Texas — you can reach out to Symbiosis TX by filling out an inquiry form on the website here.

At Mindful Roots, a publication created and managed by Symbiosis TX, we aim to inspire and educate gardeners across the globe about permaculture principles, and to promote ecological harmony alongside human mental well-being.

By fostering a deeper connection with nature through sustainable and holistic gardening practices, we empower you to participate in cultivating the earth, your own health & wellness, and a healthy community.

© Copyright 2024 — Symbiosis LLC

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Kaia Maeve
Mindful Roots

I teach corporate leaders how to keep their best people happy to come to work by building a healthier company culture.