I've got 15+ acres of pasture that isn't in great shape (not terrible, but clearly not great) and I'm slowly bringing it along to a better state. Grazing cows is helping, as is the addition of externally sourced hay for winter feed.
I'm not adding conventional fertilizers or cutting hay, so in a sense I'm "wilding" the pastures to see what forage thrives. At the same time I'm trying out some additions of clover, annual rye and orchard grass - and last summer a bunch of hawk weed (boo!) moved into the whole area.
Converting highly maintained lawn into natural meadow is a great idea. There are many parallels to what I'm doing ... except I need to feed cows at the same time. The need to create forage for cows suggests different species and, notably, generally preventing grasses from going to seed. Does the need for forage create an entirely different problem, or can the same processes used to turn a lawn into meadow be utilized for pasture improvement?
The preparation process itself would probably be similar but you are dealing with other requirements, like keeping your herd fed, and so that bottom line would have to drive the logistics if you were to do that. For instance you could focus on converting a a few acres at a time.
But more importantly, based on your circumstances, it might not be possible to have both the regular grazing and a fully functional meadow. For a meadow's regenerative capacity to take full effect, it has to at least be grazed rotationally so it can flower and go to seed. Rotational grazing also allows meadow plants' roots to grow deeper, making them more resilient while sequestering more carbon and building healthier soil.
Owen Wormser wrote:. For a meadow's regenerative capacity to take full effect, it has to at least be grazed rotationally so it can flower and go to seed. Rotational grazing also allows meadow plants' roots to grow deeper, making them more resilient while sequestering more carbon and building healthier soil.
Ah - the need to seed is interesting and something I hadn't considered. Generally when managing pasture the point is to prevent the grass from going to seed because it forces the grass to stay in a growth state. With a rotational graze that means the grass sees a cow roughly every thirty days.
I guess its ultimately an empirical question around the amount of forage generated: a healthy meadow grazed late in the season might, on an annual basis, still produce as much or more forage than pasture. It just requires a shift in the rotational cycle.
This leads to another question ... if all of the pasture is converted to meadow and then I want to have the cows graze it, how often does a given patch of meadow have to go to seed? A similar question - is it necessary for all of (and area) a meadow to go to seed, or can strips of meadow in seed act as the seed bank?
Companion Planting Guide by World Permaculture Association