Sunday, December 4, 2011

Grazing, Science or Art

Many livestock producers in the US have no idea what this title is referring to or even care.  The attitude is, primarily, "open the gates and let them eat, that's all there is to it".  This has led to an industry that is more hobby than business, and an end product that little or no thought is given to its safety and nutrient content, or quality of eating experience. 

Grazing is a whole lot more than just the quote in the previous paragraph.  Now at a time when I have been observing the grazer at work for over forty years on these Missouri rock prairies, I continue to be amazed at how much more there is to be learned.  Greg Judy says there are over 1 billion life forms in a table spoon of good soil.  And most of those life forms have yet to be catalogued.  It is these lives in real soil that make livestock grazing a science.   It is combining the necessary parts in a systematic approach that create the art in grazing. 

We must learn better ways to propagate and build larger populations of these micro organisms living in the soil.  It is certainly a biological world understood best by the scientific mind of these miniature life forms.  There is an artistic flow that encourages and improves on the symbiotic relationship between grazer, man and the soil structure in which all this life is dependant upon.  Any product or practice that depletes the effectiveness or efficiencies of the animal, man or this ecological matrix is considered by the grazer as not allowable.  The ends do not justify the means.  This is a phrase utilized by those who have either an alterior motive or have not yet reached a level of understanding of the enormous consequences of neglecting his responsibilities.

A rancher by the name of Tom Lasater said, "...this business is very simple, the hard part is keeping it simple...".  This simplicity is part of the down fall and has opened some doors to opportunists each building on his predecessor's successes.  What I mean is grazing is so simple that our logical minds have been developed to not accept that simplicity has a chance of being the best bet.  After twenty five years of operating more or less under contemporary practices in the cattle business, I had decided Mr. Lasater may actually have something of value.  We went simple, and discarded most all modern technology, chemical innovations, Grant University methodology, the current failed genetic merry go round, and began to undue just about every rung on the ladder I had spent time and money on since I started this business now almost forty years ago.

Some of the new but yet very old practices we began putting in place were things like moving the herd into a pasture that has only enough forage for about one day.  Creating enough of these pastures so that the soil and forages could rest without disturbance for at least 90 days before grazing them again  (planned grazing, mob grazing). This practice alone eliminated all requirements for the expensive use of chemical parasite control.  The animals that had lossed their abilities to fend off even a low level of parasites were eliminated from the herd.  This was a step forward on the genetic pool at a cost of zero.

Another step was to eliminate the use of all salt chemical fertilizers.  Along with the elimination of residue from the once used chemical parasite control on the animals, the microbiological life in the soil began to flourish.  These two simple steps were a gigantic move forward towards increasing total annual forage production.  The complete elimination of mechanically harvesting forages on the ranch put the ranch over the top on production and was at that time beginning to produce more forage than the then current herd could utilize in a growing season.  Changing the shape of standing forages into a bale of hay does not increase the quantity of forage produced on the farm.  It actually reduces total forages available to the livestock by a significant amount.  And the costs of all these inputs were completely removed after we understood simplicity better.

The genetics of the cow herd began a slow change for the good by replacing the once used inefficient grain induced bull power with bulls who have a propensity to produce on forage alone. Replacing older cows with younger heifers out of these bulls that have grazing abilities eventually has created a fat calf that can grow completely out to finishing stage right here on the ranch on nothing but grass and a little salt.  This began to put beef on customer's plates that increased in nutrient content and removed all chances for pathogen contamination now running rampant in contemporary grain fed operations.  It also gave the customer for most what was the first experience of tasting real beef flavor instead of ground up Bt corn. 

With all this extra forage, and to increase bio diversity and utilize it's efficiencies, additional species of grazers and browsers have been added.  It has been proven many times over that a rancher can run two sheep for every cow he grazes with no loss in forage utilization.  And we have found that these sheep will earn more profits than what the cow herd does.  By adding even more species of animals efficiency continues to climb.  This ART of combining animal species has been all but lost in modern agriculture.  The profit potential and ecological advantages gained by these techniques are the cornerstone for a sustainable farm or ranch. Without these very simple practices, livestock production becomes a poor substitute for a petting zoo and yet something completely short of a productive, sustainable farm.     

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments, questions and discussion!