We all enjoy the beauty of trees in fall colors.  What does this season change mean for the land and animals?  What is nature doing?  How would large herbivores such as buffalo respond to the annual leaf drop?  These are the questions to think about when working with nature.

Elderberry leaves seem to be one of our cattle favorites to BROWSE.

Elderberry leaves (bright greenish yellow) seem to be one of our cattle favorites to BROWSE.

Grazer or Browser?

Cattle are primarily grazers, preferring grass over broad leaves.  Sheep will generally eat about half grass and half leaves.  Goats are primarily browsers, meaning they prefer leaves (broadleaf weeds and trees) over grass.  All three are ruminants, they have a special stomach called a rumen.  The rumen is full of bacteria that digests the incoming vegetation.  As vegetation is broken down by bacteria, nutrition is released and made available to the animal.

The broad wide mouth of a cow is obviously designed to grab swaths of forage, such as grasses swaying in the prairie and probably one main reason cattle prefer to graze.  Since the main incoming vegetation is grass, the bacteria that best thrive on grass will be dominant in a cow rumen.  It is best to feed the dominant bacteria population in their rumen what they want, and not sending down something the bacteria is not used to, resulting in an upset tummy.

Grazing the annual leaf drop in a section of forest/stream that was last grazed the summer of 2016.

Grazing the annual leaf drop in a section of forest/stream that was last grazed the summer of 2016.

Grazing Leaves?

If a leaf drops on the ground before it is eaten, is that considered Grazing or Browsing?

Cattle aren’t much for climbing trees!  Goats are known to climb somewhat (warning don’t park your car where a goat can climb it).  The cattle herd will browse the lower branches of trees creating a “browse line”.  This time of year the leaves come to the cows!

So why eat leaves if you are a grazer?

  • Tannins
    • These somewhat toxic compounds, mainly found in tree leaves, can actually help animals balance digestive problems.
  • Nutrients
    • Leaves contain different nutrients than grasses.
  • Other
    • Reasons the cattle only know.

You will find warnings to not let cattle have access to this tree leaf or that weed leaf.  These warnings imply cattle are dumb?  Luckily we have smart cattle.  As long as the herd has adequate foraging opportunities, we do not worry about poisonous plants.

  • Our Momma cows teach their calves.
  • If someone gets an upset stomach from something, lesson learned!

We do avoid poison hemlock patches during the winter when hemlock leaves are green and everything else is pretty much brown.

Annual leaf drop in forested stream area. The herd is excluded from this section of stream that was grazed earlier this summer.

Annual leaf drop in forested stream area. The herd is fenced out from this section of stream grazed earlier this summer.

Annual Leaf Drop

With just a little planning we can MOVE the herd for the opportunity to take advantage of the leaf drop.  We let them choose how many and what leaves to graze.  Other things to consider during this graze:

  • Stream channel stability
  • Water quality
  • Wildlife needs

When leaves fall in the stream and dissolve, carbon dioxide is released.  Carbon dioxide plus water creates carbonic acid.  This weak acid breaks down rocks/minerals.  The changed mineral content of the water cycles new minerals through plants and animals.  The break down of rocks is also part of soil formation.

It is easy to see and understand the process described in the photo of the stream and leaves shown above.  But this is the exact same process the cattle herd encourages in our prairie!  When cattle stomp and manure a pasture, the dead grasses release carbon dioxide and moisture in the soil or from rain creates carbonic acid in the prairie soil creating more soil!  What a wonderful design.  Remember the bacteria described in the rumen of the cow?  The exact same process is also going on under our feet in the soil!  SOIL is one huge RUMEN full of all kinds of microbes.  Do you think it is an accident that these processes have a similar design repeated throughout nature?

Grazing and managing cattle in natures image results in:

  • SOIL CATTLE!

    • Nourished by the soil

    • Creating new healthy soil

    • Feeding healthy people

  • Not OIL Cattle!

    • Dependent on fossil fuels (OIL) for:

      • Fertilizer and pesticides

      • Machine planting, harvesting and hauling

Please contact us if you would like to visit the herd of SOIL CATTLE always on the Mooooove.

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.

We hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and you are ready to take on a new year!  As the new year begins, many of us will take a moment to reflect on our health.  Some of us may even be considering going on a DIET.  As Dr. Joseph Mercola, noted alternative health doctor says, 

     “We are all on a diet.  

Be on a healthy one.”

So what is a “healthy diet”?  The tag line of our website reads “Where soil, grass, animals and sunlight equals health”.  Sound like a weird equation?  Below I summarize and then list some quotes from the 2010 presentation “Healthy Soil, Healthy Farms, Healthy Food, Healthy People” by retired University of Missouri Agriculture Economics Professor John Ikerd.

Doug’s summary of “Healthy Soil, Healthy Farms, Healthy Food, Healthy People”:

Our current food system is broken as reflected by the current health of our family, friends and society as a whole.  The growing health problems such as cancer, obesity and food allergies are all symptoms of our current food system.  Nutrient levels in common garden crops has dropped significantly over the past 50 years.  Today’s industrial agriculture profits are driven by quantity rather than by quality.  Any kind of CHANGE for an individual is almost impossible unless we are convinced by circumstances that the change would be in our best interest.  To change there must be an alternative to what we are currently doing and a belief that the transition will be worth the effort to make the change.  The good news, there is hope; sick people are finding farmers with a passion for quality over quantity.  Surprisingly these “new American Farmers” in many cases grow better food at a lower cost because of their love for what they are doing.  These farmers focus their efforts on rebuilding health from the soil, to the plants, to the animals, to the entire farm, to the food they produce which is reflected in the health of their customers.  These “new” farmers fall under a number of labels, but a broad definition they seem to fall under is “sustainable farmers”.  Basically these new farmers are “creating farming systems that can meet the needs of the present without diminishing opportunities for the future.”

Some noted quotes:

  • “quick, convenient, cheap food has made Americans the most overfed and undernourished people in the world”
  • “today’s children are the first generation whose members are expected to live shorter lives than their parents”
  • “Health care in America already consumes more than 17-percent of our GDP, nearly three times as much as the 7-percent claimed by agriculture/food”
  • “their medical problem may well be a consequence of their eating food with chemical additives or agrochemical residues, or eating manufactured ‘food-like substances'”
  • “Animals and men are biochemical photographs of the soil”
  • “A truly healthy soil will produce healthy plants, healthy animals, and healthy people.”
  • “work in harmony with nature to produce healthy animals and healthy crops by maintaining healthy soils.”
  • “The links among healthy soils, healthy foods, and healthy people certainly makes sense; in this, there is hope.”

 Conclusion:

When a local doctor told me that a daily pill was basically the only option to treat my digestive health issues, I decided to research opportunities for change.  I went in pursuit of alternatives to our current health system of taking a pill.  At the time I wasn’t even considering a change to my diet but in the end, a change in diet was what I needed.  My health improved, no pills required!  As you reflect on your health and the health of your family at the beginning of the new year, we invite you to search out these “new American Farmers” where you live.  The love they have for what they are doing will be evident in the food they are producing.  As explained in the article, your health is a reflection of the food you are consuming.
Happy New Year from D S Family Farm!