Steve Sickle’s family started farming in Brantford two generations ago. When Steve took over the business from his dad, improving soil health on the farm was a first priority for him. To Steve, this meant the introduction of beef cattle.

Beef cattle love grazing – they have ruminant stomachs after all – and grazing is good for the health of grass. Think about how many times you mow the yard over the summer and the grass just keeps growing back. It’s healthier when it’s grazed or mowed.

Farmers know that by implementing a rotational and customized cropping plan, grasslands will flourish. But there is a science to protecting and expanding Ontario grasslands and Steve has a PhD on the subject. 

In a nutshell, this is how it works on his farm: Calves are born in March and April and shortly after move to a pasture with the remains of a cover crop like wheat stubble. Cows delight in forage variety and, like the soil, glean health benefits. 

In early May, cattle are then moved to straight grass pasture where they are rotationally grazed in different areas throughout the summer to give time for the grass to grow. Clever innovations on Steve’s farm, like moveable shade covers that can be inched around with a tractor, take advantage of manure for fertilization and the sun for grass growth.

Towards the end of the summer, it is time to move the cows and calves again onto a field with corn stubble or other cover crops like oats, peas, turnip, radish and sunflowers. 

And at Steve’s farm where not tilling and moving the soil is the norm, cattle assist by maneuvering their way around the field, leaving nutrient-rich manure and gently disrupting the soil with their hooves. A symbiosis of sorts.

Steve says after years of pasture management with beef cattle he has a farm with healthy grasses and clean ponds that are home to mallard ducks, cranes, songbirds, earthworms and deer. 

He also has land that is resistant to erosion and drought thanks to the robust root systems of grasses and forages, and it’s more productive and biodiverse. It’s beautiful, too. 

Ontario agricultural grasslands improve soil and water quality, benefit from wildlife and biodiversity, and mitigate carbon change through carbon sequestration and storage. 

Interested in learning more about the role of Ontario grasslands to the environment? Check out our latest video from Steve’s farm.

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