A Two-Year Experiment At the Glen Ellen Property

Due to the strongly believed importance of grassland restoration, Sonoma Mountain Institute has committed to taking an active role in helping both ranchers and land managers make more informed decisions in the care of their ecosystems.

The condition of our grasslands is well known to those of us involved in its restoration, but sadly, the world in general has little knowledge of its critical position in our entire ecosystem. With data collected on this project we look forward to helping and educating ranchers and land managers on more effective ways they too could be restoring their grasslands. Visitors to our website will be able to access this data and updates, via the “Grasslands” tab as it is collected.


To document the effects over time using the method of high density mob grazing to create disturbance. Create a data collection template for grazing operations.


London Ranch Grazing began in the spring of 2012 and will be repeated as conditions dictate.

Pre-grazing Data Collection

  • Soil Biology
  • Soil chemistry
  • Soil Organic Matter
  • Compaction test
  • Plant species populations and densities
  • Data point photographs
  • Thatch

Manager Observations

Daily Data Collection (At The Time Of Grazing):

  • Date, Photograph, Managers Journal Entry.

One Year Data Collection

  • Same as “Pre-grazing” data collection
Manager Notes

The Aesthetic Ecological Philosophy

Humans developed their aesthetic sense to asses, at a glance, the ecological status of a particular landscape. The nuances of how diverse and productive any particular landscape was quickly analyzed by our ancestors and that landscape was assessed for its ability to produce game and plant foods. That information registered as a discomfort and restlessness, which caused our ancestor’s to move away from an unhealthy landscape. Or it registered as a sense of tranquility and peace that encouraged our ancestors to stay in a healthy landscape.

Grazing management is powerful for effecting ecosystem health, as it can make a landscape more beautiful than any rancher’s tool.  In a rough way, we can even compare the ecological merits of a particular grazing manager by comparing the effect they have on the beauty of the land. Differing from some grazing managers we at SMI do not have the philosophy that cattle must be forced to graze certain plants, that cattle should be kept in one place until they have eaten everything and performed a minor tillage operation. We believe that if property is managed wisely when grazing the natural beautiful results will be noticed both by people all around, and by a happy ecosystem as well.

 What We Want

We will know that we have succeeded in improving the water cycle, the energy cycle, and the diversity of the land when we see the following things happen at the Glen Ellen property:

  • When we have green, growing grass on the property for a larger portion of the year
  • When we knock down dead grass and branches
  • When we see more soil covered by more plants and we see less dirt or mud
  • When we see a greater diversity of trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers

What We Do NOT Want

The ways that cattle could potentially negatively impact these goals are by:

  • Creating muddy conditions by tearing up wet ground
  • Eating too much grass so that bare ground starts to appear
  • Preferentially grazing/browsing certain species such that they fail to recover and undesirable species gain an advantage
  • Returning to a particular pasture before the grass has recovered its energy
  • Requiring infrastructure that obstruct wildlife or visual goals

What if an unexpected rain occurs?

If grazing occurs at the end of Spring to the beginning of Summer and an unforeseen rain occurs than move the cattle more quickly.  This way by the time the soil is saturated cattle have moved to a new paddock where there will still be lots of grass to protect the soil. However, if the soil becomes totally saturated, then cattle must be removed from the property. Provisions should be made with the livestock owner to take back the cattle whenever your staff finds it necessary.

How will we know when it’s time to move the cattle?

The cattle will be moved when they have eaten about one half of the available grass. Therefore, the only way that the cattle will eat too much grass is through management negligence or if the cattle remains on the property too long. The cattle should be moved three times per day. There should always be someone on the property with them, watching to make sure that they have enough grass and that they do not exceed the halfway point. You should insure that the cattle do not remain on the property too long by stipulating that the cattle will be removed upon request of staff management. If your company is in charge of trucking, than you should be completely in charge of when cattle enter and leave your property.

How can I ensure that all plants will be exposed to equal amounts of grazing?

Preferential grazing/browsing of desirable species is only possible when grazing animals repeatedly eat a certain plant while ignoring less desirable plants. This should not be possible because animals should only be on any given paddock for one third of a day. All plants should get equal exposure to grazing animals, and equal opportunity to recover.

Sonoma Mountain Intitute Notes:  Since the whole objective of the grazing project in Glen Ellen is to maximize the aesthetic/ecological character of the landscape, and because cattle will be completely removed from the property, we are in complete control of when plants will be re-exposed to grazing. Cattle will not be brought back to the site until the vegetation is fully recovered, until the plants want to be grazed again. We will know when this has occurred when the grasses have grown at least three or four extra leaves of regrowth. They stop reaching up to the sun with the same sort of purpose and they will start to lay over a little bit. This means they are ready to be grazed again.

What is the type of infrastructure is necessary for grazing to occur?

All livestock infrastructure should be portable and should  be removed and stored when cattle are not on the property. Livestock infrastructure should not leave any visual marks on your property.

Leave a Comment