Pasture Management

The Pumalín Project has put substantial effort into restoring degraded pastureland into healthy, productive landscapes where domestic livestock and wild creatures can flourish in harmony. Proper pasture management signifies that the quality of the soil and pasture grasses improve over the years, while supplying proper nutrition for livestock—but reaching this aim requires overcoming the specific characteristics of the ecosystem. The climate of the Pumalín Project presents the challenges of extremely high rainfall (5,000 – 6,000mm of rain annually) and low seasonal temperatures. Few places in the world face these climatic conditions; the closest parallels are coastal British Columbia and the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. All pastures in this area are totally "artificial," seeded with European cool weather grasses. No palatable native grasses can be found here, as prior to settlement, all land was covered by Valdivian temperate rainforest, not grasslands.

In general, pastures in this region are in very poor condition. Settlement practices were crude: land was cleared primarily using fire, and few mechanized means of clearing up stumps and trunks were available. Rustic European pasture grasses (all exotic species) arrived through deliberate sowing but also in the intestines of livestock. The invasive (but native) marsh grass junco tends to creep into and dominate pastures, but is tough and undesirable.


Damaged forests

The temperate rainforest typical of the region

In the area within the Pumalín Project, the farms in Hornopirén, Rincón Bonito, Vodudahue, Pillán, Reñihué, Río Gonzalo, and El Amarillo all faced these obstacles. Given the ecological issues with keeping livestock in this climate, the experiment of restoration began with skepticism as to the possibility to recovering past damages. The restoration aim was to establish a rich mixture of correct species of European cool-weather grasses and build soil health. Controlling junquillo has proved a significant challenge. Through using two techniques—changing soil pH through the application of calcium and high-frequency mechanical cutting—the farms have managed to control, but never eradicate, this reed. 22 years of work has reduced the junquillo to just 1 – 2% of its former prevalence, but it remains a threat.

All farms use a high-rotation intensive grazing system with electric fences, watching very carefully the rotation times. Selecting specific animals reduces damages to pastures. The farms raise mostly sheep, as they are smaller and do not walk through water. The cattle operations bring in younger animals and then fatten them up, as they are somewhat lighter and lower-impact. Fields are actively regenerated every several years, either through overseeding with direct seeding or through blowing cut grasses when seeds are at their peak and rolling the material into the soil with waffle or Briome rollers. Biostimulants produced on-farm improve soil fertility, important given the fragile nature of the rainforest soils.


Our Rincón Bonito Farm

Recovered landscapes at Río El Amarillo

The farms pasture animals on an "optimum," not maximum, pasture regime, and therefore keep stocking rates 10 – 15% lower than what one typically sees in this area. Consequently, these pastures are the best found in the province, achieved through low stocking rates and intense observation of the quality of grasses during the rotation cycle. Yet while observation indicates that this pasture regime is achieving good results, an extended scientific study of soils would be necessary to know for sure if soil fertility is being replenished. These farming operations will continue to evaluate how proper pasture management can ensure the health of both ecosystem and livestock.

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