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Order vs. Wildness: The Land Management Question

A member of the Virginia Monarch Butterfly Society called me: “Do you know where we can plant a pallet of milkweed seed?”

I didn’t even know Virginia had such an organization. Beyond that, I wondered where in the world they procured a pallet of milkweed seed. As I talked with the lady on the phone, I suppressed my laughter realizing that a couple of hours before I had had a totally frustrating in-the-field meeting with the landlords of one of the farms we rented.

By Joel Salatin

The landlords were more than a little dismayed at the weeds we had created with our mob grazing management. In September, right when the monarch butterfly larvae needed them, those weeds included a healthy contingent of seed-pod-bursting milkweeds. The monarchs were euphoric. The landlords weren’t. This 90-acre pasture farm had been continuously grazed for years before we rented it. The sparse grass never exceeded a couple of inches in height; clover was virtually nonexistent; thistles dominated the plant profile.

In three years, by using mob grazing and aggressive hand tools we vanquished the thistles, but a plethora of edible and often delectable weeds (like milkweed) thrived. Indeed, that afternoon at our pasture-based summit, Daniel (my son) and I exulted in the biomass volume we had stimulated. Fall panicum, milkweed, redtop, clover and some goldenrod offered color and variety to the orchard grass and dominant fescue sward. The landlords, however, did not share our euphoria. As we stood in armpit-high biomass, arguably more than had been on the farm for decades, all the landlords could utter was a contemptible and emphatic: “Look at all these weeds.” I was incredulous. Outdoor and wildlife lovers, the landlords could not make the connection between this diversified, voluminous biomass and the overall health of their pasture farm. We could scarcely walk through the biomass jungle, replete with spiders, field mice and a host of creepy-crawly insects.

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Drought Planning: Grassland Preservation

Drought planning and preparation should be a priority for most ranching operations, as ranches are likely to be located in areas of natural grassland and one of the formative factors for grasslands is erratic mois­ture availability. Drought is not just dry weather; drought occurs when there is a significant reduction in normal pre­cipitation. A desert area that received only 9 inches of rain is dry, but it is not in drought unless annual precipitation falls well below 9 inches; an area that is in a 40-inch rainfall belt and received 20 inches is in a serious drought.

Our home ranch in Nolan County, Texas, was in a 20-inch rainfall area that was very drought-prone; local wags said that the 20-inch average came about because it would rain 60 inches one year and then skip two years.

Build the health of your range, your bio­logical capital, when growing conditions are good so that you can survive the drought that is surely coming.

Where moisture availability is con­stant, the vegetation tends to be made up of longer-lived plants (trees). If drought kills most of the local vegetation, grass­es and forbs can germinate from seed and reproduce quickly, but trees require much more time to reach maturity. The fantastic ryegrass and clover pastures of England and Ireland did not come into being until the oak forests that were originally there disappeared into ship timbers and charcoal kilns. If humans were removed from these areas, the oak forests would return because of the uni­formity of the local moisture patterns.

The frequency and severity of droughts vary widely according to location; know­ing the probability of drought in the local environment is essential informa­tion for formulating drought planning management strategies. Equally important is recognizing the early signs of impending drought — the sooner drought is recognized, the more effectively its effects can be offset. If drought is recognized as a normal occur­rence, and it is, then plans can be made to reduce its impact upon the operation and upon the soil-plant-animal complex on which the operation depends.

The National Weather Service keeps detailed weather records for many places in the United States, and an examination of these records for your area is a good place to start in determining the likeli­hood of drought and need for drought planning. There is nothing you can do to keep drought from occurring, but you can do a great deal to reduce its impacts.

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Livestock Grazing: The Organic Farmer’s Dilemma

Livestock grazing organically is one of the hardest things to do, and a dilemma for most organic farmers. Why do most farmers farm the way they do? Because it’s easy — easy to spray, easy to buy technology, easy to plant with a no-till machine.

An Angus calf grazes.

But it’s not always easy to make money, provide quality food, or be sustainable.

And about the way farmers care for their livestock? Locking them in a small box, calculating the “perfect ration,” and keeping it “simple”? When problems do show up, grab a drug — that’s easy! It’s a routine that can be taught. It’s certainly easy to get production and volume, but what about the well-being of that animal? And if we are what we eat, we have a problem.

And then there is organic farming. Is it easy? Well, the “not doing things” part is easy. If I just stopped all the negative practices and things went great, then organic would be easy, too. But is that a sustainable system for feeding the world and producing quality food? Organic can produce crops that yield as much as any other production system, but in more sustainable, environmentally friendly ways, providing better quality food while using less energy.

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Acres U.S.A. Podcast Episode 1: Abbey Smith and Charles Walters

Abbey Smith, global network coordinator for the Savory Institute.

Abbey Smith, global network coordinator for the Savory Institute.

 

In Episode 1, we interview Abbey Smith with the Savory Institute and ask her about her life as a teacher, rancher and world traveler. She’s spent years studying and practicing holistic grazing methods, and is trying to help the Savory Institute reach their goals of creating and protecting 1 billion hectares of sustainable grazing land around the world.

Then, we turn back the clock and present a talk from Acres U.S.A. founder Charles Walters. He details the challenges facing eco-farmers, which is still applicable today, and how those challenges increase in the face of the popularity of conventional farming.

Enjoy. If you have feedback or ideas, please email us at podcast@acresusa.com.

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 →