Thursday, May 19, 2011

Winter Feed Management in May

As many followers of this blog already know we graze all winter long here at the Rockin H Ranch.  We do not follow the protocol for traditional rotational grazing and stockpiling forages.  Our system of grazing is based on the Holistic approach of planned grazing.  We have found out that if we wish to graze all winter with no hay feeding what we do right now with our forages, early May, will have tremendous effects on how much grazing we can do next winter. 

It is real easy to slough off any serious planned grazing this time of year because for most of us it appears we have much more forage than we can utilize.  And for some it is approaching that time of year where mechanically harvesting of hay begins.  On our ranch we have found that the quickest road to shortages of winter grazing can be accomplished the quickest by processing hay on your own farm.  Yes, cutting of hay in a paddock will eventually reduce total annual production of forage from that paddock.  Allowing that forage to come to full seed head, before grazing and trampling in the residue, will build organic matter in a way that no other system can.  This will slowly increase total production of forages, and increase diversity in the paddock of higher quality forages that never get a chance to establish if the paddock would have been cut for hay. 
Dense, multi specie forages create healthy balance for soil and animals

A productive planned grazing program is not as simple as always letting all your paddocks grow to maturity.  But we all know we must minimize winter hay feeding to be profitable on the ranch.  What many have not learned that it is during this fast growth period in the springtime that we must act upon to take advantage of what this system has to offer in this area.  Once the summer is over and fall is here it is literally impossible to grow enough forage before growing seasons ends, in a closed system, to eliminate winter hay feeding .  But with a sound planned grazing program not only can most all winter hay feeding be eliminated, but total livestock numbers will eventually have to be increased if you choose to use this extra forage production.  It is possible to grow an amount of forages in a planned grazing program that approaches silage production in tonnage per acre.  And this is without ever firing up a tractor or buying anything.  When perennial forages approach the production level of annuals, the entire reason for the huge expense for working ground, planting seed, harvesting, and then mechanically feeding animals from this high input system no longer has advantages of any kind.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


As we manage our farm and ranch under this Holistic Systems approach my thoughts are primarily on the micro-organisms in the soil.  These are the mostly un-identified micro creatures living in the soil, breaking down soil organic matter, decomposing, helping minerals and other nutrients become more available to the plants and ultimately to the animals above ground.  These micro bugs are mostly only visible under high powered microscopic conditions.  But I am quite sure they are there.  Some in the form of bacteria others will be fungi and others by unknown names to this simple farmer who utilizes them daily for increased forage production and increases in good animal health.  Even to the scientific community little research has been accomplished to the point that most of these little bugs have not yet been identified and catalogued.  I find this quite unbelievable considering their importance to the fecundity and therefore life of this farm.  A new term to this farmer, 'microbiome', was discovered this week by accident.  Not used under farming lingo but let me tell you the story and how I see its connection to life on the farm

It seems this poor lady had serious gut problems which had threatened her life for sometime.  Out of almost desperation, after failures with antibiotics and many other treatments, her doctor injected her with healthy  bacteria from her husband's fecal material.  In hours her health began turning the corner and health was restored.  The good bacteria took on the task of helping this lady from her gut forward where modern prescriptions had failed.  This area of bacteria life has been labeled the Microbiome.  I see a direct correlation from this microbiome in the gut or human body and the Microbiome in our soils on the farm and ranch.

This Microbiome in my soils continues to fascinate me to no end.  Here at the Rockin H Ranch we are not able to increase livestock numbers fast enough to stay up with the increase in forage production.  We have increased our sheep numbers over ten fold in less than three years with even more increases in sheep forage in that amount of time.  We have come to the conclusion that one help in this area has been to eliminate the practices that were reducing the population in this so called Microbiome within our soil level.  Our past usage of chemical fertilizers and chemical fly and pest livestock applications were annihilating this population which in turn was limiting our forage production.  I find it appalling the very application of soil amendments that are touted for increased forage production actually worked in just the opposite manner.  Not only is total forage production two, three or four times more than ever in my almost 40 years of farming, but the variety of species of forages has increased many fold.  This all being done without so much as a penny being spent for seed or soil amendments.  

More education is needed worldwide to move agriculture more into this simple but sophisticated level of forage production.  Our current stone age level of growing food is destructive not only for farm families struggling economically, but for the continuation of a growing worldwide population demanding more food from a static number of arable acres.  Many health, ecological, and economic disasters have come about from our industrial model of rip and destroy politically supported agriculture models.  And farmers like us are not the only ones to take notice.   So the next time someone says 'what you can not see can not hurt you', just remind yourself that what we can not see in our soils and in our guts may also help us.