Happy Labor Day 2013!
Previously we noted that “cattle love their job”, grazing, and they are extremely good at it. Cows will consistently select the highest quality food available (grasses and forbs) when given a patch to graze. You and I may see a nice pasture but a cow smells quality down to the individual plant!
You are familiar with how a dog will use their nose to check things out. A friend’s car pulls into your driveway; your dog immediately circles the vehicle sniffing away. The dog is reading a book about where this vehicle has been based on the odors. When it comes to a cow selecting a nutritious bite from an acre of pasture, she reads the grass in front of her by smell. Numerous times we have seen cattle walking along, head up, at a nice pace and then slam on the breaks to graze a specific plant. Cows also use sight in grazing, but it is almost comical to hear cattle blow air through their nose (reading) finding that next best bite of grass.
Our challenge is to coordinate cattle moves that give the cow an opportunity to select a meal that benefits her today and in the future. Today’s meal is pretty straight forward; it is planning into the future that becomes the challenge. When will it rain again? How long before a freeze stops forage growth? Have previously grazed plants recovered?
The cattle enjoy a labor of love. While at times for us, managing the many variables of an ever-changing environment can become stressful. This brings us to question “is this really what God wants us doing?” For now we continue forward, in the pursuit of providing healthy food for others through the work we are going about.
Look at hay as insurance and exercise.
Have you heard the phrase; “Make hay while the sun shines”? Late July into mid-August 2013 was unusually cool, cloudy and sometimes damp! Conditions not welcome for hay making. The “make hay…” saying now holds real truth for our family as the conditions have changed!
We have made small square baled hay since the early 1990s. It is an activity I enjoyed as a youth on my grandparents farm. For many years, hay making served as stress relief from my day job and the opportunity to make additional income. Like many things, now that we have cattle, my view on making hay has changed.
Stored feed (hay) is a large cost in cattle production. Reports indicate cattle producers from Canada to the Gulf Coast feed hay for about 120 days every year (think about that). We now have a cow herd in this country that is largely dependent on someone bringing them a meal for much of the year. We currently feed some hay on our farm as we work to improve our forage base.
Our goal is to view hay in our operation as “insurance”. Hay in the shed provides insurance against short-term climatic events that prevent cattle from being able to graze. The rest of the year, we expect our cattle to forage for their own meal. It is our job to coordinate the herd movements in harmony with grass growth so the cow can do what God designed her to do. By the way, cattle love their job!
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.
You can read more about the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society at http://www.NebSusAg.org/.
We moved to our current location with access to pasture in 1997. We thought about getting some cows but the idea of raising commodity beef just didn’t seem appealing. Attending the 2002 Nebraska Grazing Conference, I had the chance to hear some outside of the box presentations concerning cattle production. Here were some ideas that did sound appealing, raising livestock in a manner that was beneficial to the land, animals, community and pocket book.
As we investigated cattle production my health took a turn for the worse with acid reflux bouts. Digestive health complications are a huge problem in this country. Researching cattle production and health issues at the same time resulted in some interesting paths crossing. If the plants and meat you consume were raised on healthy soil, you too will be healthy.
A number of things fell into place for us to make a start:
- available underutilized land
- desire to raise cattle
- a new understanding of managing cattle in a sustainable manner
- calling to produce healthy food for ourselves and community
We are on a journey to improve soil and forages that will result in producing healthy animals adapted to this place and our management. Just like a fine wine is specific to a certain vineyard, we are creating gourmet grass-fed beef unique to our farm.
Please share your experiences on starting a new adventure.
Here we will share our experience on a small “grass based farm”. Maybe you are interested in some of the same things we are?
Soil, grass, animals, sunlight and management equals regenerative health.
- Enjoyment and health benefits of grass based animal products
- Local foods
- Environmental harmony of grass and animal production
- Tall grass prairies, soil, water and wildlife
- Animal welfare and care of working livestock
Located 15 miles Northwest of Lincoln, Nebraska, we look forward to any feed back that is shared; your experiences, questions or comments.
What topics related to our site interest you? Feel free to leave a comment.