With fall approaching, will share some recent photos from our farm.

Through the summer we noticed a few Monarch butterflies.  Our pasture contain a nice stand of milkweed which Monarchs need to complete their life cycle.  Just this past week the number of monarchs have increased.  They are preparing for migration?

purplecone flower monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly on purplecone flowers (Echinacea purpurea). Actually a photo from early August.

prairie restoration new england aster

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), this is in an area seeded to a prairie restoration.

dotted gayfeather

Gayfeather, maybe dotted (Liatris punctata)?

Sagewort (Artemisia frigida) white plant and Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota).  Brown burs are on the wild licorice.

Sagewort (Artemisia frigida) white plant and Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota). Brown burs are on the wild licorice.

roundhade lespedeza

Roundhead lespedeza (Lespedeza capitata). Not much color but our cows will nip the flowers off.

Goldenrod

Since we are in Nebraska, here is our State Flower – Goldenrod (Solidago).

stiff goldenrod

Another goldenrod, stiff or rigid (Oligoneuron rigidum). These flowers were covered with mating lightning bugs.

easternti ger swalowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, a dark female. We did see some males earlier in the summer.

We hope you enjoyed these photos displaying different colors from our pasture.

Feel free to stop by if you would like to stroll the grasslands.

Monitoring of our grazing animals and the impacts on the grasslands we manage is something we do daily.  What does the pasture look like ahead of our herd?  What does the pasture look like where we just moved from?  How do the cattle look (body condition) compared to a week ago?  Based on these observations we can make decisions during the current season and anticipate decisions for the upcoming grazing season.

What about the long-term monitoring?  We started some basic monitoring activities prior to the cattle arriving in 2011.  This includes soil, water and forage sampling.  In 2009 we established a photo monitoring site along with collecting detailed forage data at the site.  We return to this site each year near the same date and collect photos and forage data.  Please share any thoughts you may have after reviewing the photos through the years below.

2014 monitor update, looking back through 2009:

 

Photo Point Monitor 2014

August 4, 2014. The site was grazed twice since the previous photo; mid-November 2013 and early July 2014. The brown forage is mature yellow sweet clover.

July 2013.  The site has been grazed five times since the cattle arived in July 2011.  Usually not for more than a day or two during each grazing event.

July 2013. The site has been grazed five times since the cattle arrived in July 2011. Usually not for more than a day or two during each grazing event.

Where is 2012?  Not sure what happened in 2012.  A major drought developed after mid-June that year.  I probably decided it was to much of a downer to take photos.  Of course now I wish we had a photo.

Photo Point Monitor 2011

August 8, 2011. Cattle arrived on farm July 2011, but this site has not been grazed yet. It has been 30+ years since cattle have grazed this site.

 

Photo Point Monitor 2010

2010 – July 23. This site previously had thorny locust tree invasion. From 2000-2009 trees were removed with hand cutting, spot spraying, multiple burns and some bulldozer work.

 

Photo Point Monitor 2009

2009 July 30. Camera is pointed toward house on far hill in background. House serves as a permanent feature for future photos.

Just happened to take this photo in the spring 2009 prior to establishing the photo point near here.  This was following a spring burn.  The white spots on the hillside are glacial till boulders, most are just at soil surface level.

Just happened to take this photo in the spring 2009 prior to establishing the photo point near here. This was following a spring burn. The white spots on the hillside are glacial till boulders, most are just at soil surface level.

This 2011 photo was taken shortly after our herd of 10 heifers and a bull showed up on our farm.  Three years seems like a long time but in the process of turning a startup beef herd into a product you can ship to consumers, well we still have a year to go!

starting a beef herd

July 12, 2011 shortly after we started pasture grazing our herd of beef.

Prior to the herd arrival there was about six years of on and off work to prepare the farm.  Pulling old fence, cutting unwanted trees and building new fence.  Reading, attending grazing conferences, research, meeting folks and networking with people willing to give us help and advice along the way.

That is correct, four years to manufacture our first product, we hope.  Fortunately, this has been somewhat of a labor of love for us.  One good friend told us early on that to take on something like this almost requires a “calling”.  Is this our “calling”?  We are not exactly sure but God has not closed the door on this adventure yet.  Three years (1095 days) may seem like a long time when building a widget, but when working with nature this has only been 3 growing “seasons”.

Setting your clock to work on natures time is totally different from the American 8 hour day.  Feel free to contact us if you would like to visit a working grass farm and enjoy some time away from the day and take in our current season.  Three years and counting…

Now that summer has arrived and in celebration of pollinator month, we would like to share with you photos of spring flowers 2014.  This is a sample of some flowers we came across in our pastures this spring.  Feel free to drop us a note if you would like to stop by for a walk through the pastures in search of native flowers, grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees.  We manage cattle grazing to allow for as much diversity as possible.  Some of the flowers you see below were trampled, stomped and grazed by our herd over the past few weeks.  Some flowers have been safe behind our portable fences and allowed to produce more flowers for the future.  Cows prefer a diverse diet just like we do, they eat more than just grass, that is why we call them “pasture grazed” and not just “grass-fed”.

Tap a photo for larger view:

Prairie Violet (Viola pedatifida)

April 22, first flower noted of the year, some kind of Violet. Prairie Violet (Viola pedatifida) but since leaves are not dissected, this might be Downy blue violet (Viola sororia, perennial) or wild pansy (viola bicolor, annual).

Plainleaf Pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii)

May 3, Plainleaf Pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii). Kind of drab white but at this time of year we are anxious for any kind of flowers.

Narrowleaf Puccoon (Lithospermum incisum)

May 6 – Narrowleaf Puccoon (Lithospermum incisum). Edge of the flower is “crinkled” rather than smooth.

Ground Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus)

May 9, Ground Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus). Do an internet image search of this plant to check out the interesting “plum” seed pod that is formed.

White-eyed grass or Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre)

May 10, White-eyed grass or Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre). Not a grass, an iris.

Plains Wild Indigo (Baptisia bracteata)

May 11, Plains Wild Indigo (Baptisia bracteata). Our cows will not graze this plant any time of year. Note in the photo, on ground below the foliage you can see the dead leaves from the previous year growth. I am sure the pollinators appreciate this plant at this time of the year.

Narrowleaf Puccon cattle grazing in background

May 11, another angle of Narrowleaf Puccoon showing the “trumpet” like flowers. This plant is safe from grazing, there is a portable fence between the flower and the cattle in background.

Prairie Ragwort (Packera plattensis)

May 11, Prairie Ragwort (Packera plattensis).

Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea)

May 28, Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea). Not a flower but a native cool season grass found in our prairie. When the seed heads become mature and dry you can watch the awns expand and twist the seed head (self planting) by placing the seed heads on a wet paper towel.

Sulfur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta)

June 9, Sulfur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta). A non-native plant but does not seem to cause a problem in our prairie at this time.

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

June 9, Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Is this a weed? If pollinators utilize it we don’t mind. Diversity is important to us.

Pale Dogwood (Cornus amomum)

June 9, Pale Dogwood (Cornus amomum), a shrub. Our cattle will browse the leaves from this shrub most of the year. We do shred some of the larger patches but leave plenty of growth for our cattle to graze and rub on. Quail and other wildlife readily utilize this plant also.

Yellow Sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis)

June 9, Yellow Sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis). This is an early growing biennial plant our cattle enjoy. It was used as a manure crop when this area was first cropped in the early 1900s. When we see this plant we think “free nitrogen”, it is a prolific legume.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

June 9, Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). Another introduced legume but this one is an annual. Legumes are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil while operating at field temperature. This occurs through a symbiotic process with soil bacteria.

Prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha)

June 9, Prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha). Again, not a flower but a showy grass. After flowering the seed head becomes compact and will stand upright well into winter.

 

Daisy or Rough Fleabane (Erigeron annuus)

June 9, Daisy or Rough Fleabane (Erigeron annuus). Though small, this flower will always catch your eye.

Plains Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum)

June 15, Plains Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum). These flowers receive night-flying moth pollinators.

Wooly Verbena (Verbena stricta)

June 19, Wooly Verbena (Verbena stricta). We, along with the pollinators, will enjoy this purple flower from June to September.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

June 25, Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Our cattle love this plant almost as much as the Monarch butterfly. Our cows will readily eat the leaves from this plant any time of the year. We leave plants ungrazed for seed production and butterfly use.

Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)

June 27, Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota). This is almost a woody plant, note the spiney seed pods on the right side of photo. Our cows love this plant and this plant loves our cattle.

Blackeyed-Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

June 27, Blackeyed-Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Here is another eye catching flower in our prairie.

Thanks to my co-workers at NRCS, Ritch and Shaun for their help with plant identification.  Hope you have enjoyed these photos.  If you think we have misidentified a plant or have any other comments, please share your thoughts.

Our farm is located in the tall grass prairie region of eastern Nebraska.  A rare remnant of this tall grass prairie exists within our pastures yet today. Most people are familiar that historically a key component of the grassland ecosystem involved large roaming herds of grazing bison.  When we arrived in 1997, the prairie was in a degraded state, in a large part due to lack of grazing.  A system built and maintained by the interaction of growing plants and foraging animals will decline when animals are removed.

Early efforts to restore the native prairie on our farm involved chain saws, herbicides and fire.  The initial results were dramatic, invasive species declined and native species rebounded, but soon the grasslands returned to a stagnant state.  Fire, mechanical and chemical inputs created an attractive short-term response but did not restore the key need of animal impact on growing plants.

July 2011 our first cattle arrived, 10 heifers (females) and a bull (male).  You could say we became a “farm” at this point because we began producing livestock.  From another point of view, the cattle restarted the biological processes that will bring balance back to the overall ecosystem.

We believe what we began on this small piece of land is for the betterment of the soil, water, plants, animals, our community and the world.  In early 2013 we were surprised and honored to be recognized by the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society with the 2012 NSAS Beginning Farmer Award.Beginning Farmer Award 2012

You can read more about the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society at http://www.NebSusAg.org/.