Susan Jaster helps landowners in western Missouri learn about using grazing to manage their grasslands. She isn’t teaching just from books, either. Jaster owns a herd of 45 American Blackbelly sheep that she rents out for weed control. The herd has done its job behind a church in Independence, at Arrow Rock State Historical Site, and in the pastures of neighbors who need poison ivy removed. The sheep are always happy to go to work, and Jaster is always learning from them.
In addition to farming herself, Jaster is a farm outreach worker for the Innovative Small Farmers Outreach Program of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO. For six years, she has helped farmers understand how to use grazing to their advantage.
“Grazing used to be the way our livestock survived on the farm,” she says. “Now we are seeing a lot of science behind the benefits of grazing, to both the livestock and the grassland they graze on.”
Jaster says the protein and fiber levels in many weeds are high, and they make great fodder for sheep and goats, who prefer to eat rougher forage than cattle. Grazing trials at Lincoln University and elsewhere have shown that multi-species grazing (sheep and/or goats followed by cattle) is a great way to manage grassland to keep down weeds and encourage grass and clover.
“One of my recent clients is a young father who wants to cut down on chemical use on his farmland,” she says. “He is experimenting with using sheep to graze down the cover crops on their land. He’s trying to convince the oldest members of the family that bringing livestock in to graze off the cover crops will be another money stream for them, because they can grow livestock for sale and avoid paying for chemical termination of the cover crop.”
She recommends using resources from the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) service to learn more about grazing and managing cover crops. For books and articles relevant to the upper Midwest, including Missouri, visit the North Central SARE Educational Resources page at www.northcentralsare.org/Educational-Resources.
You can get in touch with Susan at JasterS@lincolnu.edu. Learn more about the Innovative Small Farmers Outreach Program by visiting their website at www.lincolnu.edu/web/programs-and-projects/innovative-small-farmers-outreach-program.