Tag Archives: organic matter

Regenerative Farming

One of the best educational conferences, Missouri Livestock Symposium, in the state of Missouri, with an outstanding lineup of speakers every year is free to attend and a free lunch sweetens the pot.  But all that aside, it is an excellent opportunity for farmers/ranchers/beekeepers/horse owners/stock dog enthusiasts to learn, not only from ‘experts’ but mostly from each other.  Like most industry, farmers learning and networking with other farmers often results in more improvement.

Of the many takeaways from the symposium was a brochure that hubby, Allen, picked up from the ATTRA-NCAT booth on “Building Healthy Pasture Soils.”  While the bullet points they make have been known for millennia, it doesn’t hurt to revisit them to see if a return to the old ways will be profitable and regenerative for today’s farming.   The answer is already a resounding ‘yes’ for the hand’s on land owner, but is debatable (short term anyway) for the renter or absentee land owner.  As my son’s fiance pointed out, it takes at least 4 years of regenerative farming practices to turn that soil health around.  Renters will not want to invest in a long term fertility strategy; absentee landowners are typically only interested in immediate returns in the form of annual cash rent.

Excerpt from article:

Strategies for Building Healthy Soils
Let’s consider the agricultural practices that help build healthy soil. In essence, we want to increase aggregation, contribute soil organic matter, increase biodiversity, buffer soil temperature, and minimize soil compaction and disturbance. Sounds like a lot, right?

Well, not really, if we break them down into six basic principles. Let’s take a quick look at the principles that will define our soil management practices:

  1. Minimizing tillage preserves soil structure, encourages aggregation, and keeps soil carbon in the soil profile where it belongs. Tillage brings a flush of oxygen into the soil that spurs microbes into a feeding frenzy on carbon molecules, resulting in CO2 release. We reduce tillage through the use of perennial pasture and minimum or no-till of cover crops.
  2. Maintaining living roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible feeds soil microorganisms all year.
  3. Also, by maintaining living roots and leaving grazing residual, we are covering the soil all year, forming an “armor” to protect it from loss of moisture and nutrients.
  4. Maintaining species diversity is achieved with cover crop mixes and the use of diverse perennial-pasture mixes. Try to incorporate warm- season and cool-season plants, both grasses and broadleaf plants, in the same fields.
  5. Managing grazing is accomplished by planning for an appropriate grazing-recovery period on your paddocks, keeping in mind that plants need various recovery periods depending on the species, the time of year, and the soil moisture content. Overgrazing (not allowing adequate recovery) reduces root mass, photosynthesis, and the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil, decreasing soil life. Proper grazing builds soil.
  6. Finally, utilizing animal impact and grazing impact provides nutrient cycling in pastures, and contributes to soil organic matter. Additionally, the grazing action on forage plants encourages root growth and root exudation of plant sugars that feed soil microorganisms.

For livestock producers, this boils down to a combination of perennial pasture, cover crops in rotation on annual fields, and good grazing management. These simple concepts are described by ranchers Allen Williams, Gabe Brown, and Neil Dennis in a short video on how grazing management and cover crops can regenerate soils. View the video Soil Carbon Cowboys to get their take on soil health practices.

Managing means planning AND implementing.  All the planning in the world will not enact change or improvement; action and motivation drives profitability and regeneration.  If you are not motivated, not able to get things done in a timely manner, then get someone to come alongside you and map out a plan – yet YOU are the one to ‘git ‘er done.  Too many times, i see people with excellent plans stymied by their inability to get out of the chair and off the paper – i call that analysis paralysis.  Don’t be a victim!

Cheers and happy farming!

tauna

 

Tweaking the Plan

Since the first of the year, i’ve headed to the local YMCA just 10 minutes drive away and working out (walking at least 10,000 steps according to Fitbit and lifting weights) for 2 to 2 1/2 hours each morning.  Our YMCA opens a bit before 5am, so this is a perfect time for me to go.  I’m usually awake anyway and it’s far too cold outside to do anything, plus it’s dark.

Anyway, like the others who come in early to workout, i plug into my phone and listen to something.  I really enjoy listening to audio books through our local library‘s subscription to Hoopla.  Granted, i suspect there is not as many books on offer as a paid subscription like Audiobooks, but Hoopla is included in our library membership.  But, i mix up the books with Youtube of grazing and cattle management experts.  This has included Jim Gerrish, Jaime Elizondo Braum, Johann Zietsman, Doug Peterson, Greg Judy, David Pratt, Allen Williams.

Continuing education is necessary in any endeavour and as margins tighten and disappear in cattle production it becomes critical to discover little ways to squeeze a bit of income out of our chosen career despite outside pressures OR to discover that you must forge a totally different path if this one simply can no longer be financially sustained.

Regardless of one’s age, evaluation of your chosen work needs doing regularly, but having just turned 56, it may be time consider winding down and looking at retirement.  Nevertheless, the older we get, we must discover if what we are doing is the most effective use of our time and energy (which physically wanes).  If the activity is marginally profitable, then what can be done to make it more profitable without increasing labor (labor and feed are huge costs in raising livestock).  Or are we better purposed to volunteer, counsel, or help our children more.

  1. Last year, i used a lot of iron (tractors, rotavator, plough disk, no-till drill) to establish, first, 18 acres of annuals, and second, establish a permanent ley on 50 acres.  The first experiment resulted in quality grazing, but not more grazing as measured in cow days per acre, than my poor quality forage already growing.  So, i don’t plan to incur that cost again, though my soil may have experienced some improvement.  The second experiment was severely hampered by the lack of rain for the seeds to grow.  However, it may have been a blessing, 1) a better kill of the toxic endophyte fescue due to dry and hot weather, and 2) the seeds hopefully did not germ and will come up this spring.  Time will tell on that here in about 3 months.  However, this project was extremely expensive at $175/acre.
  2. Last year, i also had lime spread on the 160 at the rate of 2 tons per acre for a cost of $66/acre.  The addition of lime typically doesn’t show any production increase for a couple years.
  3. Bale feeding was used quite a lot on various parts of my paddocks.  This may very well be the fastest way to build soil health, but it’s expensive (like all inputs) and time consuming to place the bales.
  4. Last year, I also synchronised my cows with hormones and AI’d a good portion of them.  The reason was because i was going to shorten my breeding season once again to 45 days vs 65 days.  This is expensive, but it does seem to help.  However, due to ragweed allergies, i am simply unable to remove the bulls from the pasture on 1 September, so i will change my plan and leave the bulls in for 60 days and simply sell those that do not calve within the 45 day window.  This does not, however, address the fact that i don’t want to calve for 60 days.  Nothing to be done for that.  Allergies rule my schedule in this regard.

So, tweaking my plan for this year will be to:

  1. no mechanical disturbance or seed inputs (including broadcast)
  2. no liming or other fertiliser input purchases (save up to $100/acre)
  3. Utilize bale grazing extensively to increase soil health (microbial activity) and organic matter (improve tilth) (the only down side here is the time spent to set the bales in the paddocks in proper manner in preparation for winter grazing)
  4. eliminate the synchronising and AI costs.  This eliminates the time spent in mustering and sorting the cows 3 times, shots and CIDRS, semen costs, and AI technician expense.  All these costs add up to about $80 per cow.
  5. purchase hay early for possible reduced cost per bale (purchasing in winter tends to drive up cost due to increased demand)  (delivered hay costs from 4 cents to 15 cents per pound depending on quality and demand)
  6. Manage my time to allow ultra high stock density grazing (UHDG) at least part of the year to increase forage diversity, water infiltration, and soil health.  (time is a problem here because of my farm being a 35 minute drive from my home, it is counter productive if this increases labor that would be expensed to cows)

OR:

  1. let go, rent out the land, and sell my cows – no work.  the drawbacks are having to quibble with renters on their lack of care and watching your land erode, grow up in brush, and/or wash away.  Repair and clean up can be costly at the end of the renting period.

So, should i continue ranching – and realistically, i plan to – giving it up unless necessary is not really a consideration, although it should be,  then i need to decide whether to reduce the number of cows to what my pastures can sustain during the non growing season (winter  – about 5 months and summer heat – about 1 month), OR increase cow numbers to manage the growing season flush and buy in enough hay to feed them during the winter.  Hay purchase and feeding will also improve the soil, so there is added value to that.

No one else can make this decision, although there are a lot of suggestions and i really appreciate all the expert and seasoned ranchers sharing their experiences – these have guided me .

Just Breathe,

tauna

 

 

30 Day Checkup

Time for an update on the annuals.  It’s now been 33 days since planting on the 26th of May and it’s been terribly dry until just now.

The soil had some moisture in it when i tilled the 18 acres the first go on 18-19 May, but then we received a rain (4/10s) which delayed the second tillage until 25 May, at which time my husband seeded the hills right behind the second tillage so we could wrap up this project for the first stage.

Then weather set in hot, dry, sunny, and windy.  Some of the seeds germinated and some even sprouted and grew.  If we didn’t get a rain soon, those brave spindly plants would soon wither and die.

At last, over the course of 14-15-16 June, we received 1.5 inches of rain and temps cooled just a little bit – a breather for plants, soil, animals, and man.

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What a difference a 1.5 rain made – this was taken four days after the rain, but the soil is good here.
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This photo is taken immediately to the east of the previous photo and at the same moment.  Growth exhibited on 20 June, four days after that 1.5 inch rain.  What a difference soil quality makes!

Rainfall has been scarce until 28-29-June, when a gully washer of 7 inches fell in a bit over 24 hours.  Thankfully, not much soil moved because i was careful to leave grass strips and there was still some dead plant material.  Ideally, there would have been new root growth to help, but the previous dry weather compounded by my poor soil restricted growth tremendously.

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Taken day after the two days of 7 inches of rain.

 

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Thilled to see so many lespedeza seedlings.
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Mystery – why is one sunflower so green and healthy and this one right next to it yellow and sickly?  Why did i photograph my shoe?!
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A very little soil movement can be seen in this photo although it is on a slight slope.  Can you believe that this is 33 days growth?  My clay hills are pretty dead which is the reason for trying to bring them alive by building organic matter and eliminating toxic endophyte fescue.
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This shows some definite soil movement after a 7 inch rain, but it didn’t move very far.  Encouraging!

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So, bring on the next 30 day!  With that 7 inch rain and little of it running off, there should be a massive increase in forage growth.  Excited!

Cheers and Shabbat Shalom!

tauna