Advanced Cell Grazing – Permaculture Livestock Systems at Zaytuna Farm

by Nick Burtner

Cell grazing is not a new option when it comes to large animal management. However, brewing at Zaytuna Farm is a dynamic and advanced cell moving method that combines age old and newly discovered techniques and strategies.

It has been said before, and most of us permaculturists have used our power of observation to see, that nature will opt for balance. This becomes apparent when we see an overgrazed pasture begins to degenerate and before long the cows and/or sheep start getting intestinal parasites. Or we see this when we over plow soil and the result is that we get an abrupt influx of weedy legumes to accumulate nutrient. In the end nature wins.

The Zaytuna Grazing Method (ZGM), invented by Geoff Lawton, hybridizes a multitude of different animal management systems from Allan Savory to Joel Salatin and Regen Ag. The ZGM then incorporates a permaculture twist that will regenerate landscape and grow both productive food, crops, and even vegetation for other uses such as timber, nutrient accumulation, and wildlife habitat.


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The method starts with the construction of a permanent solar powered 9000 watt electric fence called a “laneway” (see photo above, red lines are the laneway), which was also created according the features of the land, much like a swale is created on contour. If possible the laneway should be preplanned in the earthwork stage (at the beginning) of a farm’s creation. On this 66 acre farm the laneway travels through a very diverse landscape of food forest, pasture, swales, ponds, river flat, road frontage, and regrowth forest. The diversity of such landscape provides a multitude of benefits to the grazing animals such as biodiversity in their diet to ensure animal health and proper nutrition. Ideally the grazing cells, after a herd has grazed on it, should remain fallow (left alone) for up to 70 days at a time for regrowth. This cuts down on pest and disease infestations.

It is important to note that if you take in an animal that was not born on this type of diverse landscape and has only had grain feed its entire life, then it would be wise to carefully wean the animal onto the new, more diverse diet or the animal may get shock and die.

The laneway has a series of gates about every quarter acre to half acre and also has switches about every five acres that turn large portions of the laneway on or off to consolidate energy when not in use. The gates allow access to grazing pastures that are created using spindles of electric fence woven through pigtails to create temporary grazing cells (see photo above) where the animals stay two, four, or seven days at a time before being moved to another pasture. Keep in mind that with 25 or more acres you can have two or more groups of large animals being moved across the property at the same time and still not compromise on the amount of time allowed for the cells to regrow after grazing. If you’re working with a smaller property, then use your own judgment on the amount of land and the quantity of animals with your diversity and your landscape in regards to whether it’s suitable to use one or more grazing herds at a time.


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Permaculture, with all of its practical techniques, has another dimension of strategy. When we add the element of time we are allowed to be creative to plan for soil rehabilitation and even reforestation using grazing animals. The image above portrays an example of stacking a laneway, a swale, a food forest, pasture, slope, and time. This is doing something very clever. By using the slope of the land we are allowing the manure from the grazing animals to be washed into swales where their nutrient is then spread via rain that fills the swales — causing it to travel and infiltrate across the property. Below the swales are food forests which take up some of the nutrient for the production of food and biomass. The area below the food forest and before the next swale is called the interswale. In this system the interswale is a grazing cell where the animals are eating fresh pasture and depositing more manure for even further nutrient penetration further down slope. (Example in diagram below.)

It is important to note that the diversity of animals and manures that hit the pastures and swales will have a great beneficial impact on the soil. If we were to move a chicken tractor over the cells after the cows have grazed on them then we will deposit a different diversity of nutrient and also clear the area quickly of pests and even greatly diminish conditions favourable for unwanted vegetation (weeds). It is also important to note that large animals typically enjoy tree leaves and the cells should be placed just out of reach of the food forests, unless we are wanting to thin them holistically with the herd.

By using these methods a farm can maintain a healthy, disease- and pest-resistant landscape that benefits all life in both created and natural ecosystems. Savings on purchases of food, antibiotics, and medical treatments for the animals will be of great value using the ZGM as well. Many farmers are also looking for multiple income streams and gaining the best possible yields while improving the soil structure and resale value of their land. This system allows for just that. With swales and ponds on the property there is the additional option of aquaculture. The food forest systems can grow food for not only aquaculture, but also the grazing animals, and for humans that live on the farm or to sell in markets. The pastures produce beautiful organic and lush grasses that provide for a healthy herd that can be used for dairy or meat — products that will call top dollar as this method of grazing far out-produces organics in nutrients. And a large crop can be planted in an interswale. The crop can be rotated every growing season which will allow the grasses in the interswale to regenerate when not being used for a crop or grazed on.

This system also allows for just a few employees or ranch hands, because once set up, moving the cattle between cells is the hardest part of the job – which isn’t that hard at all.

P.S. The recently created Zaytuna Farm Video Tour – Part II has a section on cattle laneways. It’s worth a watch.