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Interview: Forging a Better Path — Texas Farmer Jonathan Cobb Embraces Shift from Conventional to Biological-Based Practices

Jonathan Cobb Interview

Jonathan Cobb

Jonathan Cobb interviewed by: Chris Walters


This month’s interview swings our focus away from storied veterans to a newcomer, a young farmer trying to forge his way in the middle of Texas. Like a lot of others who dedicate themselves to rational agriculture based in soil science, Jonathan Cobb left his family’s land for a while, getting an education outside the ag school monolith, getting married and trying out urban life before coming full circle back to the land in 2007. He encountered an event in recent Texas history that felt apocalyptic at the time and still strains belief — the summer of 2011. As the worst Texas drought in about a century kicked in with a vengeance, temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for nearly three months, the land turned into brick and reservoirs dropped like a second-term president’s approval rating. As he relates, it forced a fresh look at all sorts of things. Along the way, a business Cobb ran with his wife, Jennifer Brasher, had to be folded, and he began a momentous transition away from row crops and into livestock. It also bears remembering that despite the influence wielded by the liberal enclave of Austin a mere hour away, rural Texas is not known for its open embrace of progressive ideas. For Jonathan’s refreshingly candid account of how he meets his challenges, read on.

ACRES U.S.A. Tell us about your neck of the woods near Rogers, Texas.

JONATHAN COBB. It’s Blackland prairie; really good, really rich, deep soils with a long history of farming there. My great-grandfather was a sharecropper since around 1900. My grandfather farmed it and then my Dad stayed. He was the youngest, and he stayed on the family farm. We were all gone when I decided to come back about eight years ago. I had been in Fort Worth doing landscape design and then came back and started farming. Continue Reading →

Corn Silage Starch Fill

silage.tifA recent field study of fresh chop corn silage shows that waiting for that last 3 to 5 percent of starch fill may not be worth it — especially if you intend to feed that silage to lactating dairy cows. As the plant matures and kernel starch fill continues, the rumen digestibility of the starch decreases, explains Dr. David Weakley, director of forage research for Calibrate Technologies. In dairy cows, when the amount of rumen degradable starch is less than expected, milk production can suffer. In addition to lower rumen digestibility, more mature starch also means that kernel processing may not be as effective. That, in turn, could further decrease the amount of starch that is available to the cow.

This report appears in the January 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Diverse Plant Communities Resist Invasive Species

diverse-oak resist invasive.tifHerbivores consume more nonnative oak leaf material in areas with diverse native plant communities than in less diverse communities. Why diverse plant communities tend to resist invasion by non-native or invasive species remains uncertain. Researchers from the Illinois Natural History Survey and the Morton Arboretum have been examining the potential role of herbivores on the invasion of nonnative plant species in diverse plant communities. The researchers examined herbivore damage on leaves of non-native oak trees in arboreta across the United States. They found that non-native oaks in regions with high oak species diversity showed more leaf damage than those in regions with low diversity.

This article appears in the December 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Calf Rearing with the Madre Method

Photo by Laura Joseph

Photo by Laura Joseph

by Phyllis & Paul Van Amburgh

Madre Method: the unencumbered suckling of a calf on its own biological dam from birth to the age of 10 months.

There are three main commonalities of all successful dairy farms: the first is farmers that read and research, second is a good mineral and feed program for cows and soils (or nutrition program, as it may be called when incorporated in a feed ration), and the third is a good heifer program. Farms that do a top-notch job raising their replacements have healthier cows that perform and thrive. These farms suffer far fewer problems with their cows than the ones who lack proper management or the ones who rely on purchased, unknown, young stock.

Eight years ago we began raising our replacement heifers one-to-one on their mother. We have tried numerous other methods, but found all fall short. Most dairy farmers dismiss the technique of cows raising their own calf. They fear a financial disaster if they don’t sell all the milk from all of their cows.

We have seen that a cow raising her own calf for an entire lactation, as nature designed, is by far the best method of raising calves; it produces the healthiest, strongest, most disease-resistant, most resilient cows. In our opinion it is the only way to raise calves in a grain-free herd. It is also by far the most economical method for raising young stock. Continue Reading →

Improve Soil Health with Mob Grazing

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis places posts without having to leave his 4x4 vehicle.

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis places posts without having to leave his 4×4 vehicle.

by Tamara Scully

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis comes from a long line of pioneering innovators. His grandfather raised purebred cattle, sheep and racehorses. His father was one of the first to use an air seeder. Dennis himself is now a leader in promoting Holistic Management grazing techniques, and he has pushed the boundaries of high-density stocking on the 1,200-plus acres of the family’s Sunnybrae Farms.

Today, the pastures of Sunnybrae Farms are thriving, with over 40 types of native plant species and a variety of legumes, none of which were ever seeded. The pastures boast a very high plant density, and water is retained in the soil with little runoff. The carbon content of the soil has dramatically increased over the past two decades, along with the microbial activity. Soil warms up earlier in the spring, stays cool in the summer and produces well into the fall. Salt and mineral supplementation of the 800 to 1,000 head of cattle that call these pastures home has been greatly reduced, as the nutrient content of the forages has increased. Continue Reading →

Cattle Bloating Can Be Prevented with Diet

friendly cattles on green granzing land are trusty

You must wait two hours until the frost is off before putting animals onto legume pasture.

Cattle bloating can be prevented with a good diet.

With grazing season starting again, please keep in mind that legume pastures (clover and alfalfa) tend to cause bloating problems at any time of the grazing year, but especially when frosts are still happening. Pasture bloat is entirely preventable, but unfortunately every year I hear of a few farmers that have lost a handful of animals.

How can it be prevented? In short, make sure there is effective dry fiber in the cows’ bellies prior to putting out to lush pure stands of legume pasture. Realize that it takes a few days for the same group of animals to be on the same legume pasture stand (rotating through it onto lush growth) before any problem will be noticed.

Generally, bloating will be seen by day 4 or day 5 of animals on heavy legume stands. This is especially true if the animals are fed very little if any forage in the barn during milking times. Granted, the animals want to eat the fresh feed compared to the preserved feeds they’ve been eating all winter, but they must be persuaded to eat some effective dry fiber in the barn area about a half hour before going out to pasture. Putting molasses or some other tasty type feed on (or in) the forage will work. Otherwise they will pig out on the lush pasture offered. Continue Reading →