Monday, December 27, 2010

Let Freedom Ring

What a wonderful time at Christmas for family to all get together once again.  I personally enjoyed, second only to seeing my grandchildren, to hear and see the younger adult generation grow.  As one of the older ones now, I am interested in how these young adults plan on keeping this country free and prosperous.  Only a few of these young adults realize the extent of their effects on our country.  EACH one carries a vote.

The Senate Bill HR 2751 , which soon is expected to be signed by our screw-ball president, no caps because none deserved, will be forced on us very soon.  This bill favors big Agribusiness, which includes the vehement sized Chemical conglomerates, and is designed to force all Americans to purchase their food from where the government sees fit.  Isn't that great.  Once again, our congressmen , whom we elected, that's right you and I who voted them into office must take some of the blame, have taken the bribe of big money and ignored the ones who put them in office.  And once again, we give up yet another one of the few freedoms we had left.  As Americans we are going to have to wake up and quit giving away our freedoms.  When are we going to say NO MORE.  Most of us responsible parents would never allow our children, that is those of us who really care, to abuse us or our sentiments the way our elected officials do almost in every session of congress.  These politicians work for us.  They are our employees.  They are suppose to do what we direct them to do. 

This congress can not even enforce the laws and bills they had in place already.  And yet we allow them to stay in office, vote in more regulation, giving them more opportunity to choose and pick which laws to enforce or should I say which ones pay THEM the most. 

I encourage conversation with all these young adults to help save our country.  I speak primarily on food and farming issues only but this type of political abuse is rampant in many other areas as well.  Many of our customers have come to us to buy food because they have experienced first hand the dangerous effects modern agribusiness has had on the health of their family.  In most cases, when John and Sally Public are given the chance to view our modern poisonous, heartless, degrading, and despicable system of food production from Agribusiness in this country, they begin a search for an alternative.  Many, many times these parents have followed the long and treacherous gamut of fix-a-flat doctors prescribing an endless list of chemical drugs, trying to cover up these repeated offenses we commit by feeding our children fake food.  Hypocrates of hundreds of years ago said "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food".  Our freedoms have been taken away from us one vote at a time.  Lets take it back, one vote at a time as well.  Your grand children's and my grand children's life depends on it.     

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ionophores

Our government has made an official announcement.  For the year 2009 we have used almost 29 million pounds of antibiotics in our animals.  Most of these animals wind up as food.  Therefore, my guess is that much of this antibiotic use has been run through our fellow Americans.  Which by the way, my grandchildren are part of that group as well.  For some, this seams to be of no consequence.  The many reasons why this is a disgrace is obvious to anyone with a conscience.  We have well over 1000 animals on the ranch.  I used an antibiotic one time this year, and the animal died anyway.  It was in the form of an injection.  Most of the usage referred to in the government announcement was in the form of an ionophore.  This is now a very common practice of feeding livestock an antibiotic in the solid form mixed in with their grain.  This solidified antibiotic is referred to as an ionophore.  Most all feed stores sell standard feeds with these ionophores.  Years ago, before I became concerned about who was eating my meats, I used these ionophores by the ton.

The use of these harmful drugs in masses comes about because of the way we choose to manage our livestock operations.  What I'm saying is we can stop this abusive, inconsiderate sloppy management practice of mass medication by simply improving our livestock management skills.  When I was using those old methods I thought it was necessary and that it was OK because many other ranchers used ionophores as well.  Using ionophores as a weight gain tool is unconscionable.  Even if you don't have a concern about who eats your meats once they leave your farm, this use of mass feeding antibiotics reduces its effectiveness.  This is because of resistance built up in the very bugs we fight.  This makes it even more difficult for those of us on the ranch who use antibiotics only conservatively to have a high degree of success.  I see this as a very selfish attitude.  I hope it is more of a lack of education.   

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Changing Times

Just got back from the Acres 2010 Annual Convention in Indianapolis.  I am seeing a major sweeping change among small and maybe not so small producers all across this country.  Two basic issues are changing the way some in agriculture are farming.  One is driven by the poor quality of food our current agribusiness promotes and its indifference to the harm it brings.  The other is the growing interest in changing a broken agriculture system that makes money for everyone except the farmer.  When one looks closely it is quite easy to see that these are one and the same issues.

As usual I spoke on improved grazing and the elimination of inputs in the form of hay equipment, tractors, chemical fertilizers and all pesticides, GMO grains and most all other consumptive costs that steal both quality and profits from our farmers.  I also spoke on the absolute necessity for biodiversity.  This not only includes different species and varieties of forages but also the importance of having many different species of grazing animals on the farm for better utilization of what the farm grows.  Our animals have the availability of almost 200 different plants to select from throughout the year.  Our beef cows, dairy cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, laying hens, etc., have a better chance of improving our utilization of forages grown on our farm than the traditional mono-cultured practices of today promoting only one type of animal per farm. 

I spoke to many small farmers at the convention that are currently working on this exact system.  I am seeing young farm families getting very excited about creating a good future for their families.  Many women are taking my wife Dawnnell's recommendation and they are the force for their addition of the farm family dairy.  The young wives and mothers are instrumental if not paramount in the success of a multi-species farm.  These small dairies can be the nucleus of a quality farm.  Not only does the dairy provide milk for the household but provides immediate income from the sale of milk, cheese, or butter to customers who see the absolute necessity of improving their diets. A calf every year is free for increasing the herd as demand comes or provides income from the sale of meat. Then comes the hogs to help balance this supply and demand.  With litters of 8 to 10 on average these grazing hogs will prove to be one of the best money makers on the farm.  Sheep and goats not only provide revenue from the sale of meat and or milk but improve the flora and fauna of the entire farm and eat weeds and other forages not readily consumed by the cow.  Laying hens and pastured broilers give the quickest return on investment and are in the greatest demand from valued customers.  The beef herd being the slowest to return the investment dollar are important for tremendous landscaping across the farm improving soils and organic matter.

These family farm systems are growing at a rapid pace.  And the expertise among these new farmers is exponential.  The idea of commodity farming and toiling day after day, year after year, so the feed or fertilizer dealer can make large incomes while farmers and their soils go bankrupt is absurd.  Access to good food is rapidly becoming limited.  There will be a time, if not already, when these good farmers and what they produce will be a priority to the households not fortunate enough to own their own farms in which to produce life saving foods.  If I lived in the city I would be securing, for the good of my family, a good relationship with my farmer to insure the health of my family for times to come.      

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Winter Grazing

Moved the main cow herd into a one of the five grazing cells on the ranch.  There are about 20 different paddocks in that cell to graze through.  By estimation I expect to get to about January 5th before going into the next cell.  Most of that grass height and density looks about like 4000 to 5000 pounds to the acre.  Because of the lack of rain during the summer and fall the next 2 cells appear to be less dense and lower in height which will definitely reduce total forage availability.  All of this talk and calculation of forage is primarily a plan to reduce if not eliminate all winter hay feeding.  Some may not see the importance of this.  This cow herd using the old traditional winter hay feeding system could rack up a feed bill in excess of $40,000, and sometimes a lot more depending upon the winter severity.  It is well worth my time to work on this part of my grazing plan.

I invite you all to visit the ACRES USA convention next week in Indianapolis.  I will be giving talks on Holistic Systems.  You can also pick up a copy of my new book, Ranching Full Time on Three Hours a Day.  I urge you to keep those livestock moving to a new paddock each day, all winter long

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Grazing Dairy Cows in Tall Grass

As many readers know we have a small herd of Jersey milk cows here at the ranch.  Because they have been such a small part of what else we do, they do not get the best of the available forage on the ranch.  The dairy is primarily my wife's project with about 10 head total.  She practices once per day milking and lets them raise their calf at side until about 10 months old.  The better cows will produce about 2 to 3 gallons of raw milk per day in addition to what the calf gets.  Our fencing on the ranch was originally designed for the large beef herd so the dairy cattle so far have to make do.  We keep the Jerseys in about 30 acres close to the house, with irregular poly wire movements for controlled grazing.  The big beef herd comes through about every 3 or 4 months and takes the excess growth in this 30 acres back down.  One of the errors we have made in the passed is allowing the beef herd take this growth down to much and we run short on quality forage for the Jerseys.  We have plans for installing more permanent paddocks just for the Jerseys.

Even though we have not done a good job of grazing the Jersey paddocks, some of these cows have done really well.  The success has been much higher with the home raised cows compared to the ones we bought off other dairies.  We have found the commodity dairy cow has been raised and bred to perform on high concentrates with lots of grain and does not adapt well to grazing.  Particularly Tall  Grass grazing.  But the cows and heifers we raised here show great promise.  The big noticeable difference in our system compared to more traditional dairying is better animal health with lower or no health costs, lower milk production per cow, much lower labor, less fluctuating milk production during hot summer weather, no manure in or around the barn to speak of(most milkings come and go with not a single manure dropping in the barn), a milk high in butter fat and a taste that is what I call milk shake quality.  We can't brag about having cows that give 20,000lbs of milk at the coffee shop.  But then I'm not sure that was ever such a good idea under any system.  At only a fraction of that milk production our milk cows are highly more profitable than our best beef cow.  Only time will tell but I expect to see many of these jerseys milk for ten years or more compared to 1 to 3 years for traditional dairy cows, which makes a huge difference on the bottom line

We are increasing our herd size very slowly with primarily from heifers within our own herd.  Our grazing program is improving with more fence for the dairy cows and we will stay with Tall Grass Grazing with long rest periods of 90 days or more.  With only a few years of this system behind us I'm not sure what the future holds or even if the system could work on a much larger herd size.  I do believe this system shows much improvement over any traditional system I've seen and the product for the concerned consumer is of the highest quality.  What started out as a single family milk cow for our own use is now serving quite a few customer families and it looks like we are still growing.  The biggest caveat I have for the dairymen who may want to try this system is beware.  The cows you currently own will probably not work.  Just like our modern beef cows, the modern dairy cow has forgotten how to graze economically.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Growing Forage

I've moved cattle to a new paddock first thing this morning.  Outside temperature 26* F. This is also the time of day  I like to check out the condition of the forages.  We've had  only about 1" of rain since the first week of September.  And even with this drought, grass continues to grow.  The trees are mostly leafless, and most warm season grasses have been dormant due to the frosts we've had.  But the cool season growth is doing an amazing job even though its very dry.  We all know the wonderful benefits of our tall fescue for winter feeding.  But down deep in the sward is the really good stuff like tender ragweed, narrow leaf plantain, burnett, yarrow, some of the vetches and many, many other forbs and herbs that love this cooler weather.  They are very green and growing well. And the livestock love them. Most of these so called weeds are higher in most all nutrients than any of the domestic forages.  The crab grass is mostly dormant except down deep in the sward.  I guess it is kept at a more warm, protective temperature due to the companion plants all around.  This dense sward of multi-species of grasses, legumes, forbs, herbs and other woody species seems to me to act a little like a green house.  That is, I believe keeping these plants packed in tight to each other helps keep the sward as a whole at a more productive and protective state.  They tend to stay green longer into the winter and continue growing even after the temperature drops well below freezing.

Most neighbors are feeding hay.  I feel for the cattle as much as I do for the farmer.  Dried out hay will never be as nutritious as green forage no matter whether it is alfalfa, clover or fescue.  My cattle seldom if ever go into that slump of growth period they used to when it would get dry in the summer or when they were forced to rely only on dried hay for their nutrition over the long winter months.  I estimate we are growing about 100 to 300 pounds of dry matter of forage per acre per day right now.  Even at on the low end growth of 100lbs per day per acre we are still growing more each day than what the herd is consuming across the ranch.  If we were not in this drought period I would surely be understocked even more than I am.  I may have to supplement a little hay just before we come out of winter because my measurements tell me I am running a little short.  That is, I am not positive I can make it completely through this winter with no requirements for hay feeding.

Some big changes started occurring on my ranch when I quit using chemical fertilizer.  We began to grow more grass.  I am not the only farmer who has experienced this phenomenon.  I now feel like I have been lied to.  More than that, I feel like there are just a whole lot of educated experts walking around out there spouting off about technology they know little to nothing about.  Biological farming will always produce more than synthetics.  And life exists because of biology not because of synthetics.  As farmers we must learn to park the tractor.  Growing more grass has nothing to do with working up the soil with a farm implement and planting new domestic grass seeds.  This bare ground, no matter for how long, is very costly.  Working and maintaining a perennial stand of forages across the ranch or farm has everything more to do with how we manage the grazing throughout the year.  A thin stand of grass in a paddock can be improved faster with heavy hoof action than any other way.  I still contend that drought and economic instability is more self inflicted than the results of rain or market fluctuations.  Most of my problems still continue to be ones I cause myself.       

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dry Fall

It's the last day of October, Halloween, and we've had only traces of rain since the first week in September.  My forage estimates tell me I currently have about three months of forage now standing.  Without more rainfall in the next 30 days I will not have enough forage to get through the winter without feeding some hay.  Most paddocks are holding what water has fallen.  We are getting about one half inch growth of forage every three to five days.  If we could get a good soaker, growth of our fescue could top over one inch per day during this normal good growing time.  I shouldn't be complaining since many of my neighbors are currently feeding hay and many have fed hay more on than off for most of the summer.

Most farmers I run into are suffering under our current economic structure.  This is apparent when it now is almost impossible to know of a farmer who neither he, his wife, or both hold jobs in town just to keep thinks together.  My ranch/farm is a business.  A productive business does not require a second, or third job to keep things going.  If you own a McDonald's franchise you shouldn't need to have a teaching job or sales job to pay the bills of that business.  My business is 35 years old this year.  It has become more difficult each year to make the ranch profitable.  I would like to blame someone else for this difficulty but a great deal of the blame I know comes back to my management.  I know I must reduce my input costs even more, and select for livestock that can produce on what the ranch grows.  I also now am very aware that most outside help from chemical sales companies, fertilize dealers, equipment companies, feed gurus, corporate fix a flats with their latest gizmo and the land grant universities supported by these sharks, are not in business for my good.  They are all in the business of building wealth.  And the only place they have to get that money from is from the pockets of us ranchers and farmers. 

I have said for years that the only real builders of wealth are farmers who create from the energy of the sun, rain water and their keen intellect.  Aside from earth mining of our hard elements, all others live from the backs of us ranchers and farmers.  All other products and services stem from the only product man can not live without, food.  We as ranchers/farmers have fallen behind in keeping this in perspective and have allowed politics and the greed of others to sway our better judgement.  We have been taught to produce without question, a commodity with low value and less nutrient density than our bodies can survive on and then give it away as if it has no value.  When in fact, food is the only real need in this world.  All else is only a want or desire, not a need.

I wonder where I could buy a good 2 inch rain?  Now that's a real need. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

WHY ORGANIC MATTER?

If the benefits of organic matter were better known, chemical fertilizer could be a thing of the past.  Here on the Rockin H Ranch we have been successful at increasing levels of organic matter as much as 1% per year or more for the last few seasons.   My soil analysis results provide evidence that NO purchased soil amendments are necessary.  What I am saying is that by increasing my soil organic matter levels I have been able to sequester not only carbon but also the soil nutrients required for quality plant production.  All reported levels of nutrients are above average including both major and micro elements.  Before initiating my Holistic System my levels of calcium where low enough that the soil samples results that came back from the lab were suggesting applications of lime.  Now there are no suggestions of any elements.

There is little debate whether or not as grass farmers we can sequester carbon through our forage programs.  At a six inch depth of soil, a 1% increase in soil organic matter would weigh about 20,000 pounds.  If soil organic matter is 58% carbon we would have sequestered about 1160 pounds of carbon.  On my 1000 acre ranch this would be about 1,160,000 lbs of carbon taken out of the atmosphere.  Although not all carbon dioxide, but this is a healthy thing for everyone who breaths air. 

Nothing on the planet can compare to this carbon sequestering  like forage plants.  Trees are very poor at building soil organic matter because they only drop leaves and the tree itself will use up most of this.  Forage plants grow their full height sometimes several times a year and can completely give it all up back to the soil during the year.  When livestock stomp this carbon material into the ground massive root systems develop when we use tall grass grazing techniques.  When the tops of these plants are taken by the animal this root system begins its process and is now organic material.  The spaces left where these roots are begin to hold rain water much better than before. And since organic matter can hold four times as much water as soil our capacity to avoid draughts during the dry summers has all but eliminated grass shortages during the hot summer months.  We now collect this rain water that once left my ranch.  If this practice was used world wide, I contemplate how much flooding and all the deaths and costs of such sloppy farming could eliminate. 

Organic matter helps break down pesticides very proficiently.  In other words, when you increase your organic matter levels the pesticides become less effective.  Of course they also can become obsolete and unnecessary under my system.  No wonder big chemical companies don't stress the importance of organic matter.  Which would lead one to ponder that maybe this is why chemical fertilzers are promoted at the University level instead of sound methods of improving organic matter in the soil.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Winter Feed

It's business as usual around the ranch.  We are moving cattle daily, trying to promote as much growth as we can before winter.  One of our main objectives to help us reach our Holistic Goals is to have a planned grazing system in place that all but eliminates winter hay feeding.  Traditional MIG or rotational grazing systems are telling grazers that now is the time to start stockpiling for winter.  If you have done nothing all year up to this point for winter grazing, what you do now will make little difference in reducing your winter feed costs.  That is, planned grazing must go on all year long.  If you pull some of your paddocks out of your system this late in the season for stockpiling you will simply add more pressure on the rest of the farm's paddocks at a time when they all need even more rest instead of heavier grazing.

Also if you spent time this summer or fall brush hogging those paddocks for what ever reason you come up with, you spent money to reduce total forage production and minimize plant species.   I had a fellow out from the USDA today looking at our paddocks.  He identified a good stand of Eastern Gama grass out in one of our paddocks.  We have never planted any of these seeds, yet this grass and many other varieties and species did a good job of getting us through our dry weather this summer.  If you knock any of this growth down  mechanically, chances are you will prevent some forages from making seed head and will reduce next year's forage even more.  This being another reason why we can't wait until August or Sept. to start planning for winter grazing.  The planning for this winter started the Spring before last. 

I like to get help trying to identify  some of these new forage plants that seem to appear from nowhere.  We found some new Sedges, and some other plants that looked a little like Foxtail, except we already have Foxtail, maybe its just another variety that started on its own.  It's great to see these new plants every  year that no one seems to be able to identify. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

RAIN

We are finally getting some well needed rain.  By the end of this day we will probably wind up with over three inches.  This is a good time to test your farm's ability to catch moisture.  If your ponds are filling up quickly and the springs and creeks start running during or soon after a rain, much of your good rain water is leaving your farm.  Under Holistic Systems we take many steps to catch as much rain water as we can.  We like to see the ponds begin to fill two or three days after a good rain.  This is why we feel that many draughts are self inflicted.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Egg Poisoning

I wonder if anyone has considered that the main problem with this recent egg calamity could possibly be due to the fact that the hens are housed permanently inside a building where the air is unsafe for humans, as well as animals.  The birds are packed in like sardines.  They never see sunshine, rain, clouds, or eat bugs, worms and are never allowed to forage, all which is natural for a healthy bird.  And drugs are regularly mixed in with their feed to keep them alive in this hell hole.  And did I mention, this is all done for profits.  There is a better way for everyone.  A cheaper egg and a more healthy egg, and a system that could actually put people to work.  It's called a family farm.  But then, who would pay the lobbyists, and contribute to the campaign fund.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Feeding Hay

I saw a buddy of mine pulling several loads of hay down the road by the ranch this morning.  He stopped and he was very happy about this dry spell we are in.  He sells hay.  After dropping the third load of hay off at my next door neighbors house he asked when I would need hay.  I told him are you kidding.  Look around, there's grass, and a lot of weeds(forbs) for the cattle and sheep.  I told him I don't expect to feed any hay until late February.  Many Missourians would still have plenty of forbs for their livestock to eat, even if they had little to no grass, if they would not have been cutting hay and brush hogging earlier in the year.  Weeds are livestock feed also, and in many cases higher in nutrients than most modern grasses.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

still dry

Very dry conditions here.  But I took a drive 30 minutes South of the ranch today and it is really dry and burnt even worse than at home.  It looks like nothing to eat in the pastures.  But along the rode ditches there is grass and forbs two and three ft tall.  This is the only places where fertilizers, hay cutting, and continous grazing can not take place, go figure.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

No Rain

It's been many weeks since any measurable precept has fallen here at the ranch.  Some neighbors are feeding hay, many of their pastures look like the desert.  I turned my cows into another paddock this morning with grass over knee high.  Holistic Systems is the difference between lots of grass and no grass.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Senate Bil S510

I'm a simple cowboy trying to make a living with a few good cows and a herd of sheep. I gave up the traditional commodity, university trained system of big corporate agricultural practices years ago because the only ones making a living under that system are the ones selling you the inputs or teaching the lousy system of how to use those costly inputs.  Under the program of Holistic Systems my family not only makes their living from our ranch but we are improving soil, water, air and the ecosystem in general by our practices.  That is we are sustainable.   Now I read about this Senate Bill S510 which could threaten all we have worked for.  This bill not only makes it illegal to market, sell, and transport my own farm raised products, but I would no longer even be able to raise them for my family, neighbors or friends.  I like keeping things simple and prefer to stay away from the political arena of poison elites and stay on direct ranching practices, but this really ruffles my feathers.  Speaking to other ranchers and all my customers, it looks like we all may have to put our heads together and save what might be left of this once great country.  Please google this senate bill and make up your own mind.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

To many folks Holistic Systems may only be about forage management in the beginning.  This reminds me of single trait selection in the beef industry where weaning weights has been the main goal in this industry for the last 50 years or so.  We were so busy trying to increase weaning weights, because some people were very successful at convincing us incorrectly of its importance, that we forgot the very basics of livestock production altogether.  In a similar situation you can sit around the coffee shop with a bunch of modern dairymen and their main topic is milk production per cow.  Although the forage production is vitally important to the real livestock producer, producing the most forage on the farm without using the Holistic approach is very similar to the beef and dairymen mentioned above.

Under Holistic Systems, I am making the attempt to produce massive quantities of forage.  I also wish to have many varieties and species of forages that the livestock on my farm can utilize to a very high degree.  That is I want very little waste.  While doing this I must have my eye on the system I am using to get this quantity forage.  If I must destroy the drinking water or slowly poison my neighbors fields by leaching harmful pesticides to get more forage this simply is not acceptable under my system. 

Somehow many of us have been convinced that we must go out to the market and spend money in order to increase this forage production.  This is a poor reflection upon our society.  In most cases the limiting factor for producing yet more forage is water shortages.  Now we get plenty of rainfall.  We just do not have the system in place to capture the rain and put it to good use when needed.  We tend to mismanage our precipitation and then try to correct this mishap with technology.  To fix this problem we need not purchase any product or gadget.  Bare soil, any bare soil, and short grasses allows more rain water to run off than is collected.  This is such an easy fix.  But the fix I am talking about can not be bottled or distributed from the fertilize plant, equipment dealer or feed store.  When the water problem is corrected so many of the other issues simply are resolved as well. 

So under my Holistic System what we thought was a forage problem would have been better revealed as a water problem once we started using the Holism approach more effectively.