With the recent warm weather, forages are green when they are normally brown this time of year.  Especially down in the swamp pasture.  This wetland area is quite unique, tucked between the more common rolling hills of Lancaster County.  While trudging through the muck with portable fence I was struck by a change in vegetation and open water.  Why the change?  Please refer back to the July 2015 post “Animal Impact – Reed Canary Grass Example“.  Take a moment to look at photos from 2014 & 2015 and compare what you notice in the 2016 photos below.

The first photo shows open water with small floating algae along with a number of different broadleaf plants and some cattails.  Diversity abounds in this area but what happened to the Broad Leaf Arrowhead that was thick in the 2015 photo, the first year after animal impact?

Plant diversity is evident in this swampy area due to past animal impact.

Open water and plant diversity is evident in this swampy area due to past animal impact.

In the photo below we note that the reeds canary grass still maintains a stronghold on most of the swamp area.  Reeds canary is a very productive forage, good for erosion control and our herd doesn’t mind it at all.  Again, my eyes are drawn to the diversity at the bottom of the photo, only made possible by animal impact.

diversity by animal impact

A dull monoculture of reeds canary stand in the top area of the photo.  Open water, broad leaves and bulrush provide diversity in an area of past heavy animal impact, lower part of photo.

I recall hunting this area about 20 years ago with a wildlife biologist.  I asked, what could we do to increase diversity in this swamp area for wildlife?  How could we beat back the monoculture of invasive reeds canary?  He thought for a moment and came up with the idea of “try a burn”.  We did burn this area several times before bringing the herd to the farm.  Let’s just say burning had NO impact compared to what the herd was able to do in just a few weeks.  In addition the “herd effect” has now proven to have a lasting impact!

So is this good, bad or does it even matter?

  • From a strictly “production” stand point, the reeds canary may give more total pounds of forage for the herd.
  • From an ecosystem stand point, we prefer the DIVERSITY:
    • Some species may excel during different times of the year.
      • Monoculture grass results in boom or bust.
    • Different plant species, different nutrient values.
      • Cows can choose between plants.
      • Don’t you like a salad bar of choices rather than just lettuce?
    • Wildlife thrive on edges of habitat.
      • The herd has created an edge in a solid stand of grass!

So the next time someone tells you cattle are evil to the environment consider Alan Savory’s point that a resource cannot cause environmental degradation.  Rather it is the human management of that resource that causes the impact on the environment, good, bad or does it even matter?

Give us a call if you would like to stop by and see first hand the herd in MOOOO-TION.

Recently we shared the photo below of a white poly wire portable fence disappearing into a paddock full of 6 foot tall stockpile.  If you were wondering how in the world we get that done, we give some more info here.

Portable poly wire fence strung through stockpiled pasture.

Portable poly wire fence strung through stockpiled pasture.

It is actually fairly simple, we drive our ATV through the grass to push it down and the poly wire unrolls behind the ATV in the wheel track.  The tough part is walking back through the grass to put in our posts.  Watch this process in action, video below:

So how do the cows know the fence is there or even find it?  With 5,000+ volts surging through this wire, our herd takes good care in knowing where this wire is at all times.  This little white wire is not a physical barrier but a mental barrier.  This simple technology (portable poly wire) allows us to:

  • Easily move cattle
  • Maintain frequent moves to fresh forage, cattle are calm
  • Manage forages to very precise areas
  • Time of graze is highly regulated for proper forage recovery

We moved 20 head of cattle into this patch.  The patch was only about 30 feet wide from fence to fence.

Cows grazing, the fence is along the right side of the photo, just behind the yearling looking at the camera.

Cows grazing, the white poly wire fence is along the right side of the photo, just behind the yearling looking at the camera.  Believe us, the cows know exactly where the white wire is at all times.

The results of this paddock move is shown below.  The goal was to stomp most of this grass to the ground as it was next to one of our permanent fence lines.  The permanent fence is along the left side of the photo below.

The paddock after grazing, we just rolled up the white poly wire.

The paddock after grazing, we just rolled up the white poly wire.

As you can see, the portable poly wire fence did it’s job in keeping the herd exactly where we wanted.  The standing stockpile that remains in this paddock will be grazed later this winter.  The herd was on this patch for just under two days and we were glad we had the forage we did as two inches of rain came before and during this move.

Feel free to stop by any time to see the herd in MOO-tion!

Grassfed beef requires grass, we are grass farmers first.  For grass to grow we need water and we will take it in any form; rain, dew, ice and snow.  This time of year we start to think about a few things:

  • What is our current soil moisture levels?
  • Are we ready for snow?

In a previous post from 2014 we wrote about how important soil moisture is at this time of the year.  Soil moisture now, has a big impact on the grass (and beef) we grow next year.  We are going into the 2017 “water year” in good shape.

Are we ready for snow?  This summer we have been “stockpiling” grass in our pastures for the approaching non-growing season.  Do you see a problem in the photo below?

stockpiled pasture grass

Stockpiled grass in our pasture. Think of this as hay we left in the field for our cows to harvest this fall, winter and next spring.

Grass looks good in the photo.  Pasture soils are covered to protect the stored moisture and ready to capture more moisture through the coming months.  The problem?  The photo shows one of our few permanent fence lines (red arrow) that is all grown up in grass.  We construct daily paddocks using electrical poly wire and we count on these few permanent fence lines to supply the power.  The stockpiled grass will accumulate snow and bury this fence line making it unusable.

Cows to the rescue.

cattle grazing fence lines

Cattle preparing our pasture fence lines in anticipation of snow issues this winter.

The photo above shows how we are currently going around all of our permanent fence lines concentrating the herd to stomp down and eat the grass along our fence lines.  The cattle love their work of preparing the fence lines that protect them year round.

preparing fences for winter

The right side of this fence line has been prepared by the herd and they can’t wait to work on the left side of the fence.

Once the cows complete the job, if we do get that big snow storm, our fences will not be buried.  The fence lines will continue to  function, keeping cattle where we plan to move them.

What about the cows and the stockpiled grass if we get lots of snow?  We do have some hay in the barn as “insurance” and to supplement as needed.  In addition, take a look at our previousl post about cattle grazing snow.  Our cows live in our pastures 24/7/365, snow is something they have no problem dealing with.

Feel free to contact us if you would like to see our cattle in motion.  Cattle properly grazing grass is the best way to grow more grass!

Year round grazing on pasture presents some interesting situations for us grass farmers.  In this past post from July 2015 we demonstrated the results of planned animal impact on a wetland site heavily used through the non-growing season.  Below we show what we had to deal with this past spring when Mother Nature gave us a wet spell.  Here we show the results we see in our pasture now.

Background information for sites shown below:

  1. We know April – early May can be wet, we planned to be here!
  2. This site had about a year of rest since the last graze.
  3. This site needed some animal impact!

The red arrows identify the same objects in the photos from different dates.

Animal impact following spring rain event 2016.

  • After moving them into this patch we obviously had a significant rain event.
  • Before moving into the next patch, we achieved significant animal impact.
  • Cattle are happily grazing on fresh/clean pasture.

What this site looks like now.  You can barely see the nearest rock!

Follow up site visit for animal impact 2016 fall.

  • Our future plan for this site is to avoid the next wet season.
  • Will graze this fall or winter and feed some hay on the site most likely.
  • We will utilize the cattle to lay the large grass stems on the ground.

Below are two more photos of a site nearby.  More severe impact as a result of the prolonged wet period we experienced this spring.

Animal impact following spring rain event 2016.

  • Almost looks like a tilled field!
    • “Cow Tilled”
    • Site absorbed a significant amount of kinetic energy.
      • Hooves and Raindrop energy impact.
  • Remember, this site had heavy sod from brome and native grasses.

Energy into the site released a significant amount of energy through grass growth over the past four and a half months!

Follow up site visit for animal impact 2016 fall.

  • The reason for the selfie?
    • I am six feet tall, some big bluestem seed heads are over my head!
  • This tall rank (lignified) grass will not make good cow food.
    • We will use cows to pick out what they want and;
    • Stomp the grass stems to the ground
      • This is how we add CARBON to the soil.
      • Grass stems stomped on the soil feeds our soil livestock (microbes).
      • We should grow even more grass here next year.

What a wonderful cycle.  Are you worried about too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?  This is how we use cattle to cycle carbon from the atmosphere into grass.  Some carbon is quickly returned to the air, but a significant amount of carbon is transferred into the soil.  Once in the soil we have a great chance of getting the carbon into a stable form (humus).  The more carbon we can extract from the air and put into our soil the more grass we can grow to extract even more carbon!

The best part about this cycle is that cows produce calves while they are doing this work.  Every once and awhile we take a grown calf (steer or heifer) to the butcher.  This gives you the opportunity to participate in the healing of our environment.  Just eat some grassfed beef and support our work and other grass farmers like us.

Have you heard the term “Keystone Species“?  For example, think of the impact the American Bison had on our environment.  Prior to settlement of the central tall grass prairies, most everything relied on the movement of the vast buffalo herds.  Buffalo were a key species.

buffalo

American Bison commonly referred to as buffalo, a keystone species.

The buffalo herds have been gone for more than a hundred years, but the impact they left behind drives Nebraska’s agricultural economy to this day.  We have literally been mining the soil/carbon/organic matter these animals created through their movement years ago.

Here at DS Family Farm we simply try to mimic the pattern nature has shown us through the bison herd movements (and other large herbivore herds around the world).  The only difference is we use cattle, planning and technology.  By following natures example we are rebuilding soil, regenerating prairies and restoring natural cycles within our pastures.

In a series of future posts, we will describe how we try to mimic nature with our Keystone Cows.

keystone species

Without the “keystone” the other stones become misplaced, out of whack or break down.

(Bison photo courtesy of USDA NRCS Photo Gallery)