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Gabe Brown on Building Resiliency through Soil Health

Farmer, Author Gabe Brown Discusses Soil Health & Diversity

Gabe Brown is one of the great bridge builders in farming. No matter which corner of agriculture you come from, or even if you don’t work in agriculture, Brown’s talks about how regenerative farming can restore our ravaged soils to vitality make sense. Moreover, he presents it with a plainspoken, pragmatic aplomb that captivates and never alienates, instead drawing listeners into the pleasure and excitement he gets from trying out new ideas. He explains techniques with a clarity that eludes many professional educators, and when the moment requires he can drive straight to the core of an issue with one stroke.

At an Acres U.S.A. conference some years ago, an audience member said it all sounded great, but asked why he should put in the extra work. Brown simply asked him if he cared about his grandchildren. People who come away from a Gabe Brown talk unsatisfied are rare as hen’s teeth.

Now, after many years of explaining his soil-building wizardry in person, Brown somehow found time to write a book, Dirt to Soil that tells his story and explains what he does and why it works. The book includes farming practices, a philosophy of nature and the story of how Brown and his family survived several years of natural disasters in the mid-1990s, an ordeal that proved pivotal. We last interviewed Brown in our October 2013 issue. We reached out to him for another talk five years later at his farm in North Dakota.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

Gabe Brown: From Dirt to Soil

ACRES U.S.A. How did people such as Ray Archuleta, Dr. Kris Nichols, Dr. Christine Jones and others impact your effort to reinvent your whole way of working?

GABE BROWN. In my book, Dirt to Soil, I tried to tell the story in chronological order as to the people I met along the way and how they influenced me. I learned bits and pieces from many individuals, organizations and Nature herself, and it was up to me to take that information and apply it on my ranch. I wanted to show other producers that you’re not alone. You can glean information from many places, and it’s up to you to take that information and apply it as best you can in the stewardship of your own operation. Continue Reading →

Shift the Workload: Focus on Livestock Culling, Genetics

Raising livestock on any size operation is hard work. There’s no way around it. However, you can minimize your personal time and labor investment by shifting your farm’s workload from yourself to your animals. They have their entire lives to spend doing a few simple jobs: eat, grow and reproduce. You, on the other hand, have numerous important things to do. This mind-set for management of any species will lead to a low-input ranch that can be run on just a couple hours per day.

A Red Angus crossed with Belted Galloway, 4-month-old bull calf.

My shift-the-workload philosophy is a product of my diverse experiences in agriculture. I have a bachelor’s degree in animal science and agribusiness from West Virginia University. I have worked on ranches in Montana and Texas, and for renowned grazier Greg Judy in Missouri. As an intern at his ranch I learned how to harness the power of nature with mob grazing.

I now own Rhinestone Cattle Co., a grass-fed beef and consulting operation in western New York. I have taken much inspiration from the work of Tom Lassiter, Gearld Fry and Ian Mitchell-Innes. Continue Reading →

Top 10 Reasons to Raise & Eat Grass-Fed Meat

Diana Rodgers lives on a working organic farm west of Boston, Massachusetts. Clark Farm raises lamb, goat, pastured pork, eggs, vegetables and berries. The animals look serene in the golden green pastures. They are healthy and relaxed. They are part of the landscape, shaping and impacting the grass and forest lands of the farm. Not only are they important to the health of the ecosystem, red meat from these animals is a true superfood — meaning that per calorie, there is a high level of nutrients in the food.

Healthy cattle grazing healthy pastures produce healthy beef that provides benefits to the soil, economy and people’s overall health.

However, most people believe the healthiest product on Clark Farm must come from the vegetable patch. This misperception and false portrayal of red meat led Diana Rodgers, R.D., a real food registered dietitian to create the film Kale vs. Cow.

“I’ve been feeling increasingly frustrated with the wrongful vilification of red meat from a health and environmental perspective. There don’t seem to be any films that advocate for regenerative agriculture that also admit that red meat is actually a healthy food to eat,” said Rodgers.

Realizing that Rodgers is right about the public perception of raising and eating red meat, we reflected on the reasons we choose to do both. We delve into the top 10 reasons cattle, sheep and other livestock are part of healthy living for humans and the ecosystem. Continue Reading →

In Support of Small Cows

By now most people know that more revenue and more pounds do not automatically equal more profit, which is why I am going to show you that small cows can be profitable.

I believe that you can single-trait select females for one thing: the percentage of her weight that her calf weighs at weaning. I regard this as the ultimate measure of a cow’s worth. It is a defense against the trap of selecting females based on simply having the largest calves and ending up with a bunch of massive females that will eat you into the poorhouse.

Small Cows: By the Numbers

Divide the calf’s weaning weight by the cow’s weight and multiply the answer by 100 to get the percentage. In the case of ranches that allow cows to wean calves naturally, weigh calves at the same age every year, between 6 and 8 months.

A 1,000-pound cow that weans a 450-pound calf has weaned 45 percent of her weight. A 1,500-pound cow weaning a 550-pound calf has only produced 36 percent of her weight.

Continue Reading →

Interview: Author, Advocate Courtney White Unites Groups at Odds through Regenerative Agriculture

Courtney-WhiteFinding Common Ground

“Courtney, the Berlin Wall fell down up here.” These were the words of a Forest Service District Ranger back in 1998. He was talking about the wall between ranchers and environmentalists in the region, and people passing out the hammers and helping with the teardown were, and still are, called the Quivira Coalition. Courtney White, the subject of this month’s interview, co-founded Quivira in 1997 because he was dismayed and disheartened by the nasty, unceasing legal and ideological dogfighting over the disposition of Western lands. He thought it might be a good idea, for example, if environmentalists heard from scientists about the importance of fire to restoring grass. Or if ranchers and farmers heard from a peer about the advantages of moving livestock around, and heard it while conservationists and environmentalists were in the room. As the ranger indicated, the simple idea of bringing people together to relax the grip around each other’s throats and learn a few things, turned out to be terrifically well-timed and apt. After 17 years as director of Quivira, White decided to concentrate full-time on writing books, of which the eminently useful Two Percent Solutions for the Planet is only the latest example. Reached at home in Santa Fe, he graciously agreed to reflect on the past two decades of building coalitions and opening eyes.

Continue Reading →