Saturday, November 26, 2011

Biological Farming

The average American corn farmer spends three bushel of soil to produce one bushel of corn.  About 80% of the nitrates, that are applied in the form of anhydrous amonia and/or other chemical fertilizers, are generally soluble and erode into the water system including eventually the dead zone now residing in the Gulf of Mexico on the far end of the Mississippi river.  Most cattle feeders spend more on transporting feed and purchased inputs than many times the value of the animals in several years out of many.  The typical livestock farm in any state you care to travel through will have primarily if not only one species of animal on that farm. Most of our grazing livestock in the US have lost their innate ability to survive in a grazing environment.  This agricultural system professed as being highly productive is in reality a poor example of food production.  What was once the wealthiest nation in the world now spends more on health care than it does on food as a percentage of household income.  We have more prison inmates than we do farmers.  One might be questioning what these seemingly unrelated issues all have in common.  By my observation I conclude these are all one in the same problem caused by the same source.

If you ask yourself to take out a piece of paper and write down the number of farmers you know who make their living completely from their farm your list would be short.  I venture to say most of us do not know of a single person or family in this category unless we include retirees who contribute part of their pension towards support of their farms.  And if we do not include those households who have outside income as from the wife's job in town, our attendance of the population of full time farmers might be zero.  Again, I see this all being caused from the same source.

We have become a specialized, industrial, chemical, technologically driven many persons removed professional agricultural knock off.  And remember a knock-off is a copy cat of the actual thing and never can live up to the original standards.  And it is usually driven by greed and with a bag of a-moral tactical methods.  Since we as humans are biological to the bone, bar none, our survival will always depend upon our abilities to produce and maintain biological standards that up hold these requirements our human bodies demand.  A knock-off will simply not due.  Our agricultural experts, with the help of congressional and industrial greed, have made every attempt known to man thus far to by step this primary requirement for the sustenance of life, the propagation of biological life.

Since we are on top of this grand pyramid of biological life, we must be dedicated to the base of this pyramid and its propagation, less we continue with our current down fall.  This base has been right under our feet all the time.  And its access is free for the taking.  I am talking about the biological life in the soil that all life above the soil depends upon for its sustenance entirely.  Man is at the top of this biological pyramid and the mostly micro sized life below the surface of the soil is at the bottom.  If we will re-learn to utilize soil biology as the basis for all farming enterprises, all health, including economic health of our nation, will surely improve. 

A Real farm has many species of animals grazing and browsing an almost unlimited number of species of plants, forbs, leaves, trees, grubs, insects, grains wild and domesticated, etc.  Most farmers put all the emphasis on the single species of animal they have on their so called farm and tend to see them as only eaters.  These farm animals are actually feeders of the biological life beneath the soil.  The farm animal itself is almost inconsequential.  When in fact, most of the farmer's time should be spent on propagating the life beneath the soil.  If we become successful with increasing sub soil life in our management of the farm, the by product produced from this micro biology will in turn provide us with all the sustenance our farm animals can need.  And instead of the farmer choosing what animals his farm should employ, the farm itself will choose which animals to propagate and what that animal should look like.  

Our country needs at this time about 6 million more of these kind of farmers.  This kind of farmer will have to learn these methods which are no longer considered viable agricultural activities.  The farmer that is now working a job off the farm in order to meet his obligations must learn these concepts if he desires to reach sustainability.  These concepts will at first seem contradictive to everything he has learned about his farming or his animals.  And in all practicalities the animals or the type of farming he currently practices will have to be extremely modified and his reluctance to make these improvements must be over come.   

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fall Growth

It's November 12th and the fescue is bright green and growing very well.  The growth rate this week, following a good rain we had earlier, is probably close to one half inch per day, or about fifty pounds of forage per acre per day.  On one thousand acres of grass that could be as much as about fifty thousand pounds per day.  A cow herd of five hundred head consuming thirty pounds of forage per head would be taking out fifteen thousand pounds per day.  So in realty, for the week, we are still producing more forage than what we are taking.

Several things must have come together to put this growth scenario in place.  One really big factor is the location of our ranch.  Here in fescue country, which is cool season grass country, the thirty degree nights and sixty five degree days is almost perfect conditions for growth of our type grasses.  Even after a very dry summer, almost no rain in July and August like normal, our grass continues to grow.  I can expect some growth maybe on up until mid December on a good year. 

Now the other important condition that also must exist is the grazing plan must have been put into place to take advantage of what rain we did get this summer.  We also must learn how to manage our grazing so that we go into these cool growing days with plenty of root system and leaf to take advantage of the photosynthesis and wicking ability of the plant.  About seventy percent of our annual growth comes in the spring time.  This is the one time of year that we are given the opportunity to advance as much growth as possible all across our ranch to increase that root mass and improve our ability to collect as much of those early heavy rains as we can.  We know we will need that precip later in the year.  One tool we do not want to use is mechanically harvesting of our forages.

It is natural to have the idea to process and store a great deal of this spring growth in baled hay or baleage.  This will only reduce the total forage production for the year.  What happens so often is we will mistakenly go into the paddocks and mow down the forage for hay so low that when it gets dry in the summer, like it always does, the root system is so diminished that the plant simply sets there and suffers until later in the year when rains do come and the weather improves.  The plant is starved for water and other nutrients.  If we will manage the plants in a total grazing plan we can eventually double the forage production or more.  Spending a lot of money putting the plant into a bale of hay will not give us more feed than if we left it standing.

Another key component to pull this together is multi species plant growth.  A mono culture planting can only take benefit from one very narrow window of temperature, precip, and growing conditions.  Our cool season grasses take off like a race horse in early spring.  When it gets hot and dry during the summer our warm season grasses like lespadeza, red clover, forbes, and many other plants take off.  In one years growing season we have catalogued over one hundred different edible plants for our animals on the ranch. 
I think fescue country really is a great place for grazing the right kind of animals.  But no matter where your ranch is, putting together a planned grazing program is a major step towards reaching a level of sustainability.