Around The Farm

A Tour of Pasture Grasses

Holistic grazing management systems, as used at Stone Barns Center, have many benefits to livestock health, biodiversity, and soil health. Over time, these practices will improve pasture quality, plant density, plant diversity, and soils, which will lead to a healthier and more productive flerd (flock + herd). You can learn more about our rotational grazing practices here.

Understanding the plant species that are in the pasture will assist with management decisions. Different grasses have different growth patterns and root architecture that will respond differently to management practices. Taking accurate inventory of our pastures will allow us to make more conscious management decisions to improve the health of the pastures in the long term.

Holistic grazing management sometimes requires that pasture lands be rested. The plants in these photos were taken from an area that had been previously heavily grazed and mowed. This year, when we noticed bobolinks settling down to nest in this spot, we let the pasture grow tall through mid July before grazing it so the bobolinks could raise their young easily. Bobolinks are ground-nesting birds, who typically hide their nests under broadleaf plants and legumes amidst tall grasses, and they need enough insect activity in the fields to feed themselves and their young. Two nests have successfully fledged young bobolinks in the area where these plant samples were taken, and two nests in another field.

We are hoping to continue to see species diversity improve over time, and have already found over 150 species of plants in our pastures and along the edges of our pastures and trails.

We invite you to learn more about some of the species of grasses found in our pasture. Captions courtesy of Senior Land Manager Shane Hardy.


This grass spreads vigorously through rhizomes, and is often considered a major pest in grain fields. In our pastures it is not hugely abundant, but it is a high quality forage grass.


This powerful pasture grass grows abundantly in our pastures. Less desirable in mid summer, it nevertheless makes an excellent and nutritious late season forage grass.


A native grass that shows up in woods, field edges, along our rock walls, and in pastures visited less frequently by our livestock. Our goats and sheep will sometimes eat it, though its forage value is low. Its seed heads may attract lots of birds, including wild turkeys.


An abundant “weed” of lawns and pastures, this is a look at the seed head of wild onion grass. Edible and tasty, it often imparts a garlic flavor to both meat and dairy products when grazing animals eat a lot of it.


This is a short, sod forming grass which provides nutritious forage. Overabundance is a symptom of overgrazing.


Another good forage grass, more abundant in our pastures this year than last. It will only persist if it is not grazed too short.


A mustard family plant, demonstrating the quintessential architecture of the mastaurd family seed heads. It shows up in heavily disturbed areas like around our corrals.


A widely used grass planted hay, it has a good forage value, and we’ve been seeing more in our pastures this year.
A forb, not a grass, whose leaves are beloved by sheep, and flowers loved by pollinators. It is often a sign of compaction, which it will help remedy, potentially working itself out of a job.


Not technically a grass, rushes are a similar type of plant which usually grow in wet places. This rush can grow in both wet and dry places, and is often a sign of compaction. We see it on our trail edges and high impact areas of our pastures like around gates.


Early, low growing delicate grass with a sweet vanilla like smell. Often a sign of compaction and low fertility and productivity. Not loved by our grazing animals, but part of the community in fields that have a history of compaction and overgrazing.


A legume, full of protein and digestible nutrients for our animals. Through symbioses with rhizobacteria it makes unavailable atmospheric nitrogen usable for its own amino acid production, and adds accessible nitrogen to the pasture soil.


One of our most abundant pasture grasses. It is good forage, and grows prolifically in the early spring, but is less dominant in the summer and fall. It forms distinct bunches that can allow for other plants to grow in between.

Powered by GTranslate