Geophagia Calves

Calves in sandpit enjoying a natural earth lick.

There is actually a term for eating the earth, geophagia (geo = earth; phagia = eating).  So what are the health benefits?

  • Minerals
  • Clay absorbs toxins

This article from Answers covers more topics than geophagia, scroll down to the section “Eating Dirt” for a little further reading.

Our pastures contain remnants of past glacier activity in this part of Nebraska.  As the glaciers receded, sand, gravel and boulders were deposited across our farm.  The exposed “sand pit” the calves are visiting in the photo above has very fine sand with clay.  We have a few of these open sand areas across the farm where the vegetation is sparse.  When the cattle move into these areas they take advantage of the naturally available minerals and clay.

Licking clay off calf

Momma cow cleaning “dirt” off her calf.

As you can imagine, we and the cows, prefer vegetative cover and not bare soil patches in our pastures.  Since the majority of our pastures are covered with grass, we can count on the local badger population to create small exposed earth patches all across the farm.  When our herd encounters these badger earth piles, they will paw, scratch and lick the earth.  During fly season the cattle will use their hooves to throw the “dirt” onto their bellies and backs as fly repellant.

In addition we offer clay as part of our mineral program to allow animals to self medicate when bare earth is not available.  A quick search of the internet will give you ideas on how to add clay to your medicine cabinet also.

Please leave a comment if you have experience with the health benefits of clay as part of your diet.

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.

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/.

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.
start_a
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?
grass fed cow and calf

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.