Warning, poop photos!

One of the many benefits of having the herd always on the move is manure distribution.  A cow herd in a tight group, on the move, will evenly distribute nutrients (poop) throughout a pasture.  In season long grazed pastures (cows left in a pasture for weeks at a time), nutrients will not be evenly distributed.  Manure will accumulate near water tanks and shade.  These ‘loafing areas’ will have high nutrient and pest loads that result in health and water quality problems.  In our “herd on the move” system, cow pies don’t pile up in a few locations.  We mimic natures pattern of herds grazing, trampling and pooping and then moving on.  Where in nature do you find animals standing around for days in their own poop and pee?

Nice manure distribution and trampling of stockpiled forage.

Nice manure distribution and trampling of stockpiled forage.  (~one pile about every 30 sq. ft.)

This early April photo shows excellent ground cover and manure distribution.  The herd has grazed and trampled the standing stockpiled grass, left their “calling card” and moved on.  Left over grass flat against the ground with a dose of manure and pee wakes up soil microbes.  Soil microbes and other critters will do their magic to create a new lush prairie.  What a wonderful cycle.  While the herd consumes their current harvest of grass, they set the stage for a future harvest!  How can man improve on this system?  Unfortunately man in many cases has complicated this process.

“The cattle business is a simple business; the hard part is keeping it simple.” Tom Lasater, Colorado rancher.

Not all paddocks will have the excellent manure distribution shown in the photo above, but many do.  I did a quick count of piles in the area shown above.  With some math we estimate about 1,450 piles per acre!  Prior to our herd arriving on the farm in 2011, the pastures were nutrient starved, remember we need the poop!

Warning, close up photos!

So why did I call these cow pies, calling cards?  Have you herd of dung beetles?  Unfortunately I do not have a photo of a true dung beetle, but below you can see what kind of activity these “calling cards” result in.

Fresh calling card, less than one-half hour old, has attracted lots of activity.

Fresh calling card, less than one-half hour old, has attracted lots of activity.  Note the numerous holes.  Beetle at yellow arrow.

Sphaeridium Beetle

Sphaeridium Beetle, not a true dung beetle, is starting the process of breaking up the pile (holes).

An old dried out cow pie doesn’t do much good.  Old cow pies will actually smoother out grass causing “dead” patches in a pasture.  By keeping the herd tight, many piles are physically broken up as the herd moves around.  Critters like this little beetle are an important step in decomposition.  This little beetle is a sub-aquatic critter that can fly along with the herd.  What an amazing cycle, critters that live predominately in a moist environment are able to travel far up the landscape to dry hill tops or wherever they find the cows “calling card”.

We are thankful for the patterns established in nature by our Creator.  We are happy to help orchestrate the natural process in our pasture.  Please give us a call if you would like to visit the pastures and see the herd in “mooootion”.

How is our beef different from 99% of other beef?  We keep the herd in MOTION.  This requires planning, implementing and tracking.  Grazing guru Joel Salatin says it this way, “I’m just the orchestra conductor, making sure everybody’s in the right place at the right time.”  His way of saying we are practicing “precision agriculture” 3 R’s; right place, right time and right amount.

The high-tech “precision ag” tools we use every day:

  1. Braided poly/stainless steel/tinned copper wire
  2. Electric pulse fencer
  3. Grazing Schedule – digital maps

The poly wire (1) and electric fencer (2), keeps the herd IN the right place.  Our grazing schedule is the tool that keeps everything in MOTION (right time).  Folks have developed many different techniques to create and keep up a grazing schedule.  We do it with digital maps, very simply, in what is called a geographic information system (GIS).

DS Family Farm Grazing Schedule in a Geographic Information System (GIS).

DS Family Farm Grazing Schedule in a Geographic Information System (GIS).

The most important part of our Grazing Schedule are the principles behind our moves.  We use the GIS to help us follow these principles:

  • Provide a fresh pasture break nearly every day of the year.
  • Prevent re-bite on any fresh grass regrowth.
  • Graze, followed by plant rest AND recovery.
  • Rotate date of use each year.
  • Current animal needs, including wildlife.

Here is a simple example how our Grazing Schedule works:

Deciding where to move next using digital maps.

Deciding where to move next using digital maps.

  • View on left, today end of March 2017, the herd is near the large solid orange triangle.  The yellow lines outline the paddocks we have grazed this winter (no grass to graze in these small blocks).  The larger open areas with question [?] marks are where we could go next.
  • In the view on the right, I turned on black lines and “dates” that show our grazing during this time period from a year ago.  Last year at the orange triangle (where the herd is now) we grazed in June meeting our principle of not grazing at basically the same time of year.  I have placed a yellow [X] over areas that have a [?] mark in the left photo.  We want to avoid these areas based on the timing we grazed during the previous year and some other factors.
    • So the remaining open areas in the right view are options for where we will graze next.

If you look again at the right view map, note that our “moves” or “paddocks” are rarely the same (yellow lines versus black lines).  Most cattle grazing across the country is on permanent pasture areas getting grazed the same year after year.  At DS Family Farm our cow herd grazes different patterns across the landscape every year, creating chaos and diversity.  We feel this is better for the grass, animals, wildlife and overall ecosystem of our pasture.

We schedule cows to move! This is why we call our beef “Pasture Grazed” and not just “GRASSFED”.

Grazing paddocks 2014 - 2017, chaotic and on the move.

Some grazing paddocks, 2014 – 2017, chaotic and on the move.

 

Visit our farm if you are curious about how we care for the herd and pastures.  Public roads boarder two sides of the farm, so drive by inspections are possible any day of the year.  Please call ahead to make sure we are around if you would like to see the herd first hand.

Annual Farm Audit

If you are not able to visit the herd or wouldn’t know what to look for, we are glad to have an annual inspection to verify our beef herd as:

  • Animal Welfare Approved
  • Certified Grassfed
Who is inspecting who?

Who is inspecting who?
Kim Alexander recently visited the herd as part of our annual Animal Welfare/Certified Grassfed audit.

Auditor Kim Alexander visited the farm this year.  This was our second audit and a new auditor comes each year.  Kim walked the pasture and inspected the herd.  The audit is completed every 11 months.  This allows inspectors to view the operation during different portions of the year (growing season versus non-growing season).  Following the field review, we spent some time going over plans and records for our beef operation.

Auditors Know Their Stuff

Kim just doesn’t check boxes as an auditor, he practices what he reviews on his own farm.  What a great opportunity to have an experienced grazer like Kim come and look over our operation.  We shared some ideas and gained some insights to what we are doing and how we could improve.

Change Is Good

We have a few years of grazing under our belt now but every year is different.  What worked last year may not work this year.  When working with mother nature we need to be ready to adapt.  The factory where we produce beef for your table is not a climate controlled building with a consistent stream of incoming parts.

Change Is Required

That is what Kim was checking on.  Are we ready to provide for our herd when the unexpected happens?

  • Records document what happened.
  • Records help us compare from year to year.
  • Plans make us consider our pasture and our herd.
  • Plans make us prepare for emergency situations.

If you are curious about the different plans and records we keep, just drop us an email.  We would be happy to share with you what we are doing.

We advertise our beef herd as “Animal Welfare Approved” and “Certified Grassfed by AWG“, but what do these labels mean?  I don’t know about you, but when it comes to checking out claims, I turn to Consumer Reports.  In August 2015, Consumer Reports published a “Beef Report“:

Cover of August 2015 Beef Report. Current Consumer Report information is available at: http://greenerchoices.org/

Cover of August 2015 Beef Report. Updates available at: http://greenerchoices.org/

Let’s take a look at some of the report findings:

Consumer Reports – Sustainable Beef-Production Practices:

  • Cows are ruminants—their natural behavior consists of grazing. Allowing beef cattle to graze on well-managed pastures from birth to slaughter (often referred to as 100 percent grass-fed) is at the core of sustainable beef production. What’s good for animal welfare is also good for the environment and for consumers.
  • … pastures can only feed herds of a certain size, and in a properly managed pasture, the stressful and crowded disease-promoting conditions of the feedlot are eliminated. Healthier, less stressed animals need fewer antibiotics and other drugs to stay healthy.
  • Soils of grazing land can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Managing cattle carefully to ensure that pastures are grazed moderately means restoring soil quality and cutting greenhouse gases by keeping carbon in the soil as organic matter rather than releasing it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
  • More water is conserved in grass-based systems compared with conventional ones.
  • Grass-fed beef isn’t just better for animals, public health, and the planet; it may be healthier for individual consumers as well.

If you have followed our past blog posts, the above findings are familiar information.  It is nice to have the credibility of Consumer Reports back up what we know as common sense observations in the natural world.

OK, but what about labels?

The 2015 Beef Report had plenty to say about labels.  From “Highly Meaningful” labels to labels that have no meaning at all.  Please refer to the full report for all the label categories.  A quick look at the first two labels under the “Highly Meaningful Labels” as “Verified” we find:

  1. Animal Welfare Approved
  2. Certified Grassfed by AWG

In a January 26, 2017 update at http://greenerchoices.org/, Certified Grassfed by AWG, is one of the four “labels to look for” when “choosing grass fed”.

Curious to read more?

Our farm is third party reviewed for Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Grassfed by AWG.  For more information on these specific labels we direct you to these resources:

  • A Greener World (AWG) — “North America’s most trusted and transparent farm certifier.”
  • Animal Welfare Approved (Program of AWG), remains the only label in the marketplace to ensure the following:
    • Meaningful, verified, outdoor pasture and range based systems–not just a door at the end of a building or an outdoor concrete run
      • No cages, crates or feedlots–ever
      • Verified environmentally sustainable farming and ranching
      • Responsible stewardship of public resources like air, water, soil and antibiotics
      • Independent farms/farmers meeting the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S. and Canada
      • Prohibit the use of hormones (like rBST), animal byproducts or routine antibiotics
      • Industry-leading high welfare handling and management from birth through slaughter
      • Independent standards for the inspection of slaughter plants
        • (January 2017 AWA Press Release)
  • Certified Grassfed by AWG
    • Guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet, raised outdoors on pasture or range, and managed according to the highest welfare and environmental standards on an independent family farm.

This is all good and well, but remember:

We invite you to come see the farm and our animals for yourself.  Join other past visitors of our farm.  We urge you to know your farmer and your food.  We prefer to be certified by YOU, our customer.

Back in the day I remember hearing “take a look at yourself in the mirror”.  Today one could probably just say, “take a look at yourself in your selfie”.  Whatever your choice (mirror or selfie), why don’t you take a look at yourself?  What do you see?  Hello – your microbiome!

Healthy microbiome = Health.

Human or animal, all rely on the micro organisms we carry around for our survival. Healthy microbiome = Health.

We are looking at a huge walking micro organism ecosystem.  The same goes for the dog next door or the cow in our pasture.  How you look and feel has a great deal to do with the state of your “microbiome”.

Our goal should be to keep the good “bugs” we carry around happy.  With a healthy supply of good microbes surrounding us, it is hard for bad bugs to make us sick.  The foods we consume will have a huge impact on the bugs living inside of our stomachs.  With most of our immune system linked directly to our gut, our mental and physical health is directly linked to the company we encourage to live within us.

A recent webinar put on by the folks at the Society for Risk Analysis pointed out that our unique microbiome will decide how our body reacts to:

  • drugs
  • food additives
  • minerals (such as heavy metals)

That is why there are so many “side effects” listed in drug commercials, our microbiomes react differently.  The Food and Drug Administrations prior testing on drugs and food additives for “safety” have not accounted for the biology living within us.

So what’s safe to eat?

Refer back to our “Traditional Food” post.  Keep it simple and eat foods that our Grandparents would actually recognize as food.  When you learn more you will probably want to encourage those good bugs in your microbiome.

Microbiome Care

With most of our mental and physical health directly linked to the microbes in our gut, take care of them with traditional foods.

Eating locally raised foods is a great place to start, including grassfed beef.  Eating right can be an important part of your overall life/health plan.  For a holistic approach to life consider the 7 spokes in Zig Ziglars Wheel of Life:

  • Mental
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Family
  • Financial
  • Personal
  • Career

Here’s to a happy healthy YOU (microbiome).