Species-rich grassland: a review
book review by Lynn R. Miller
Species-rich grassland by Dr. Renate Vanselow
German edition copyright 2019
English translation copyright 2020
published by Starke Pferde
264 page hardcover
“Wherever possible, horses graze on tender sweet grass at the bolting stage. In doing this, they simultaneously stimulate the growth of new vegetation. Their behaviours create a mosaic of diverse structures. Selective grazing, intensive nibbling of particularly tasty vegetation, the avoidance of excrement-contaminated patches, the scraping open of rolling spots and the ripping open of the vegetation during wild chases bring about an extremely richly structured and thus many-specied forage savannah.”
– Dr. Renate Vanselow, Species-rich grassland, page 29
This time around, this generation, we Millers have been farming for 54 years; immersed in natural systems and process, keeping our distance from synthetic chemicals and poisons; and with complete belief in the power and health of nature’s staggering diversity.
Dozens of years ago I gave up trying to convince people of the life-giving properties of species-rich farming and ranching. It took too much from the necessary work while putting us in the fool’s game of either/or polemics. In the late sixties when I was first introduced to the arguments for organic farming, I wondered after its limitations. And then there was biodynamic, and regenerative and wholistic and… each imbued with the politick of their dogma and routines. Right off I wondered after the piling on of limitations implicit in the demand for adherence. At the center, without the advertising lingo, nature always offered to farmers the wider answer: it is the raw math of unfettered biological diversity which gives life its optimal vitality, holds life secure and in so doing gives us this day and the ones to follow. Species-rich, the term, is, at its core, about harmonies and harmonic balance.
Until now, I cannot remember any instance when I found a deep-seeded scientific tome on a tight and narrow subject to be anything but a chore to read. For me, Dr. Vanselow’s Species-rich grassland is a wandering wondering thrill to read, to hold and to peruse, not so much for traditional definitions, narrative and accessibility to information, but because it spills out in a thousand directions with its connections to so many aspects of biological health and human existence in a natural world.
The subtitle is “The secret key to equine health.” It’s in there. But, if you are open to it, it goes much further including the health of any and all livestock, wildlife, soils, watersheds, forests, and climate (yes, plus humans on the inside, working with nature). This is purest unfettered and wholly artistic science in aggressive search for applicable examples and answers. I maintain that science in service to corporate profit is something else again. It cancels, by process default, its definition; instead it morphs into ‘research and development,’ nasty words denoting with stark clarity the purpose at hand. “Let’s make more money!”
But I digress. The book at hand is ‘rich’ with information focused on mixed species horse pastures and their benefits. The charts, excellent photos, and juxtaposed examples will be endlessly useful to genuine agronomists and curious livestock folk. The thick and varied history in Europe of pastures (think of cheeses identified as from that pasture in; think of the herding rhythms for sheep timed and tied to the cycles of the various plants) go hand and glove with Dr. Vanselow’s extraordinary thesis. Don’t get me wrong, if you even could, this book is not for casual reading. While scientists might feel right at home with the text, intelligent and focused farmers embracing their curiosities will find it to be absorbing. LRM