Kentucky State Holistic Grazing Planning Course

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Joshua Dukart

Joshua Dukart

On October 16th, Kentucky State University (KYSU) Research and Demonstration Farm in Frankfort, Kentucky offered a Holistic Management® Grazing Planning course taught by Holistic Management Certified Educator Joshua Dukart, Ken Andries of KYSU contracted with HMI to deliver this programming as part of KYSU’s “Third Thursday Thing” series. This event drew 68 participants who learned about Holistic Planned Grazing. In addition KYSU shared some of the grazing trials they are experimenting with at the Demonstration Farm. Several participants mentioned they hope that a longer program is offered at a later date to allow more intensive training in this subject.

The day focused predominantly on grazing principles, although participants were given the HMI Grazing Planning Manual and both paper and electronic grazing planning forms to help them in their grazing planning. Joshua shared his experience with these grazing principles and there was opportunity for others in the group to share their experiences and knowledge to further the networking portion of this event.
Evaluations from the day showed the following knowledge and confidence change:

Question% of Participants
The value of grazing planning 100%
How to assess quantity of forage in a pasture85%
How to improve land health with livestock85%
How to determine the number of animals your pasture can support100%
How to determine the number of paddocks100%
How to determine grazing periods92%
Calculating the number of paddocks for your system 85%
Determining how long animals will stay in each paddock (residency rates/grazing periods)85%
Assessing recovery periods77%
Ability as a grazier69%

 

What the Participants Had to Say

Have been putting together plans for pasture renovation, attending workshops, meetings with County Extension etc. This course has been excellent to help put it all together. Thank you for a great course!

I have a better understanding of overgrazing and rest periods.

I know how to assess available forage now.

I now know how to plan my kidding season to correspond with optimal grazing times. (seasonal grazing)

Holistic Grazing Tour for Organic Denmark

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Dr. Susan Beal (closest to camera) was the tour guide for this 5-day tour of 11 holistically managed, organic dairies in the Northeast.

Dr. Susan Beal (closest to camera) was the tour guide for this 5-day tour of 11 holistically managed, organic dairies in the Northeast.

 

In collaboration with Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association (NODPA), HMI provided a tour of holistically-managed organic dairies in the Northeast for Organic Denmark, a non-profit association which has taken the lead within the European organic movement to bring together the entire organic sector in Denmark comprising of more than 145 companies.

The idea for this tour originated from HMI’s Getting Started Online Grazing Planning course. Two participants from that course, Carsten Markussen and Thorkild Nissen, who are members of Organic Denmark, requested a tour of holistically-managed, organic dairies in the northeast U.S. because the landscape was similar to Denmark.

HMI contacted Pam Moore, a Holistic Management practitioner and member of NODPA, to get her help in organizing the tour. Dr. Susan Beal was selected as tour guide for this 5-day tour. Dr. Beal is an Agricultural Science Advisor for PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture). She has studied veterinary acupuncture, animal chiropractic, and is well-versed in a variety of alternative health treatments and Holistic Management.

The tour was from September 8-12th and the 5 participants visited 11 different dairies in New York and Pennsylvania including Bendy Brook Farm, Springwood Farm, Hamilton Heights Dairy, Emerald Valley Dairy, Spring Creek Farm, Moore Farms, Brothers Ridge Farm, Bloodnick Family Farm, Engelbert Farms, Raindance Farm, and Dharma Lea Farm. All parties agreed the tour was a great success in exchanging ideas about holistic planned grazing, organic production, animal performance, and a host of other topics.

After the tour, Carsten wrote: “I want to express my deep joy and satisfaction about the trip that Ann, Pam, Susan, and Maggie [tour organizers and guides], and all the other farmers we met made for us. The enthusiasm and knowledge that came flooding towards us was amazing.” HMI would also like to thank Pam, Susan, Maggie, and the host farmers for their efforts in making this tour a success.

Oklahoma Holistic Planned Grazing Course Results

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pasture walksmHMI partnered with Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers Association to put on a 2-day Holistic Planned Grazing course near Hulbert, Oklahoma on August 22-23rd. The class included a pasture walk on Spring Forest Farm managed by Julie Gahn. The course was taught by HMI Certified Educator Peggy Sechrist. A diverse group of approximately 24 participants learned how and why to form a holistic goal, how ecosystem processes function and provide biological wealth, and specifically the tools of animal grazing and animal impact before diving into the grazing planning process.

The group was fortunate to have in attendance, Dr. Ann Wells, DVM and Dr. Ron Morrow, recently retired from NRCS as state grazing lands specialist. As working partners, Ann and Ron have been teaching a holistic approach to livestock grazing and management for many years. Their knowledge of the local forage species and growing conditions was invaluable to the group’s learning in an environment where the average annual rainfall is 48 inches.

As a result of this training and participant interest, the Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers Association expressed an interest in sponsoring more Holistic Management training in the near future. This training was made possible by funding from the USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmer/Rancher Development Program and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Based on surveys participants were influenced the following ways by this event.

What the Participants Had to Say

“Learning the benefits of the soil food web and how to maximize the recovery period was very valuable.”

“I learned how to assess the health of a pasture and listen to my land.”

“The problems and challenges of every farm are distinct. Plans and observations are idiosyncratic. It’s important to be flexible but still make a plan.”

 

Question % Participants
Do you intend to develop or modify a grazing plan as a result of today’s event? 93%
Do you intend to change management practices as a result of this training 86%
Overall satisfaction with course (good or better) 93%

 

 Increased Knowledge Experienced  
The value of grazing planning 93%
How to assess recovery periods 100%
How to assess quantity of forage in a pasture 87%
How to improve land health with livestock 87%
How to determine the number of animals your pasture can support 93%
How to determine grazing periods 100%

 

 Increased Confidence Experienced  
Determining the number of animals your land can support for grazing 93%
Assessing recovery periods 87%
Determining how long animals will stay in each paddock (residency rates/grazing periods) 87%
Ability as a grazier 80%
Assessing quantity of forage in a pasture 80%
Calculating the number of paddocks for your system 80%
Ability to analyze ecosystem health 67%

 

 

 

Book Review of Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country

Ross-cows-2012-295x210
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More people are learning about the importance of effective agricultural practices to improve land health. But many of those people have yet to make the connection between the vital importance of improving the carbon cycle. There may still be people arguing about the levels of CO2 in the air and what we should do about it, but when you start talking about carbon in the soil, most people are in agreement that increasing soil carbon levels creates a host of benefits.

In Grass, Soil, and Hope, Courtney White looks at the major issues facing humanity, issues like global hunger, water scarcity, environmental stress, economic stability, and climate change in the context of soil health. As agricultural producers we know how important soil health is. This is still a new concept for many folks who see soil as dirt that just needs some chemicals and you are ready to grow plants. What Courtney does in his title, Grass, Soil, and Hope, is make the linkages very clear between the soil (as a living medium teeming with life) and the grass that can bring so many positive ecosystem services that can resolve the intractable issues we face.

You may recognize some of the stories in this book, but there are many you may not have heard before. If you are interested in case studies of producers who are excellent examples of people improving soil health through no-till farming, composting, and livestock practices that improve natural habitat and biodiversity, as well as other practices like induced meandering and creative marketing to take the food produced from these practices to market at a price that pays the producer well, then you will find this book a treasure trove of ideas.

If you are not a fan of climate change arguments, you may want to skip the prologue in which Courtney makes the case for why we should care about CO2 levels. The chapters that follow have information for everyone on either side of the climate change issue. If you care about improved soil function and agricultural practice, that is the heart of this book (and the hope it brings to a burgeoning world population that needs more healthy food).

Stories of holistically managed ranches like the Sidwell’s JX Ranch and the work done by Gregg Simonds and Rick Danvir on the Deseret Ranch gives clear evidence of how improved livestock grazing practices can make a difference. Likewise stories about cover crop, no-till farming, and pasture cropping, as demonstrated by Dorn Cox, Gail Fuller, and Colin Seis, are all examples of how farming and ranching improves soil health and builds resilient landscapes.

What land practices does Courtney hone in on?

1)      Planned grazing

2)      Active restoration of riparian and wetland areas

3)      Removal of woody vegetation

4)      Conservation of open spaces

5)      No-till farming

6)      Building long-term resilience

More data would definitely be helpful to quantify which practices bring which results to encourage more agricultural producers to change practices and reap the benefits. As Courtney points out, no one is “immune” to the carbon cycle. We’d might as well understand it and use it to our advantage.

To purchase this book, visit http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/grass_soil_hope:paperback

 

 

Book Review of Healthy Land, Happy Families and Profitable Businesses

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Cover with Sky added 1200x864Healthy Land, Happy Families, and Profitable Businesses: Essays to Improve Your Land, Your Life and Your Bottom Line
By David Pratt

The focus of Healthy Land, Happy Families, and Profitable Businesses can be distilled down to the one sentence that is on the back jacket cover: “It doesn’t matter if you hit the bull’s eye if you’re aiming at the wrong target!” That sentiment may sound familiar to holistic managers, which isn’t surprising given that Dave Pratt runs Ranching for Profit, the school started by Stan Parson, one-time business partner of Allan Savory, founder of Holistic Management. There are many principle and curriculum similarities between Ranching for Profit and Holistic Management which is why many holistic managers have also taken a Ranching for Profit course as well. So it was with great interest that I read Dave’s new book to see what he would focus on.

This book is actually a compilation of Dave’s ProfitTips which is a newsletter he sends out to Ranching for Profit alumni. These 2-4 page essays are great because they articulate the key principle or concept succinctly. This book is chockfull of great information for the beginning or experienced rancher.

As noted in the title, the book touches on land, families, and finances. The first section on “Healthy Land” is all about grazing planning, animal performance, considerations of production systems (such as ranching with nature, and why you need to really keep healthy land in the forefront of your operation.

The next section is about “Happy Families.” In this section he focuses a lot on how the business can influence family life and how to work effectively with employees. Some of the later essays are particularly helpful regarding succession planning and helping the older generation really understand what they must do to begin transferring a healthy business.

The last section, “Profitable Businesses,” focuses on the critical issues of how to generate profit from a ranching business. Dave explores a variety of issues including diversification and opportunities, and a lot about how to maximize the resources you already have so you can get more profit per unit on the current resource base rather than expanding that resource base and losing margin. There’s even a great glossary at the end of the book that helps define any terms that aren’t familiar to the reader.

If you already know these principles, this is a great review. If you are trying to get these key concepts across to an intern or employee, this is a quick and easy way to start the conversation so you can delve deeper into how to more effectively graze your animals, define job responsibilities and outcomes, plan for profit, or any number of key management conversations that need to happen on pretty much any ranch. If you are looking for a book that will help you work on your business, commit to knowing your production finances, work on your relationships, and structure your operation effectively, Healthy Land, Happy Families, and Profitable Businesses will get you started on the basics and inspired to create healthy land, happy families, and profitable businesses.

To order this book, go to: www.ranchingforprofit.com

KTS Farm and NODPA Field Days

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KTS Farm Day participants exploring forage management options

 

 Open Gate Farm Day Report

When the heavy fog burned off by 9 am on September 26th at KTS Farm in Mansfield, PA a crowd of almost 40 participants had the opportunity to hear about how Kress Simpson and Mike Geiser now divide management and assets on KTS Farm, an organic dairy. After an introduction about how Holistic Management has influenced Kress’ decision on KTS the group headed out to the field to see the result of the grazing planning and implementation. Jim Weaver from Tioga County Planning and Troy Bishopp from Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District helped with the forage assessment activity which prompted a great conversation about forage quality and management.

Jim Weaver, Kress Simpson, and Dave Johnson sharing forage management goals and principles.

The group then moved to the New Zealand swing style parlor to learn how that has made a major difference in labor needs and quality of life on the farm.  In the afternoon, the conversations continued at the Mansfield Hose Company Hall as Kress shared how he developed the management transfer of his farm to Mike Geiser as well as some of the asset transfer while also supporting his son, Alec, in beginning his own dairy. This presentation was followed by a grain crop enterprise analysis presentation by Dave Johnson of NODPA. The last part of the afternoon was a whole farm goalsetting presentation with exercises by Ann Adams, HMI’s Director of Community Services.

KTS milking parlor

Evaluations of the event showed that 75% of participants intend to complete a whole farm goal and 80% intend to change management practices. 85% of participants expanded their network and 90% would recommend program to others. In total 3,820 acres will be influenced by this program.

 

Topic Covered Percent Change in Knowledge/Confidence
How to use Holistic Management to   help with succession planning

55%

How to use goal setting and testing   questions to determine priorities

34%

Ability to create a grazing plan

55%

Ability to determine plant recovery

50%

Ability to determine forage inventory

50%

Ability to increase forage productivity

50%

Ability to create a whole farm goal

65%

Ability to test decisions

50%

Intend to create or modify grazing plan

45%

 

Troy Bishopp discussing management of Queen Anne’s lace

Thanks to Kress and Tammy Simpson and Mike Geiser of KTS Farm for hosting the farm day and to our grantors CHS Foundation and Simply Organic Fund for their generous support and to NODPA for this opportunity for collaboration. Thanks also to Doug Wright of Dairymaster Parlors for supplying the morning refreshments for the day.

Testimonials

“Well done in a short amount of time.”

“Rewarding. Time well spent.”

 

Open Gate: Creekside Meadows Farm Day

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Some of the participants of the Creekside Meadow Farm Open Gate

 

 

It was a cold, overcast September day in Deruyter, New York at Creekside Meadow Farm, but that didn’t keep over 50 people from attending HMI’s Open Gate On-Farm Day.

 

 

Trica, Matt, and Cameron Park

After introductions at the farm store by HMI’s Director of Community Services, Ann Adams, New York Beginning Farmer and Holistic Management  Certified Educator, Erica Frenay talked about how Holistic Management had helped her family grow their farm. Tricia Park then told the story of Creekside Meadow Farm’s growth and how Holistic Management had helped the Park family when she was trained in HMI’s Beginning Women Farmer Training Program which was funded by the USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Beginning Women Farmer Erica Frenay

After those case studies most of the crowd headed out on hay wagons to do a reading the land exercise with Holistic Management Certified Educator Phil Metzger and grazing specialist Troy Bishopp of Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District. Ann Adams led a value-based goal-setting exercise for other participants. In the afternoon she led an enterprise analysis exercise while some participants went back out into the field to do a forage assessment and crop problem-solving exercise. Everyone reconvened at the store for a Q&A about marketing and then broke into small groups to do some peer problem-solving for each participant.

 

 

Chickens are a part of the multi-species grazing at Creekside Meadow Farm

Evaluations from the event showed that 100% of the participants who completed the evaluation expanded their network and 95% of them will change management practices as a result of the program. Also, 95% of the participants would recommend this program to others. 66% of the participants intend to modify or develop a grazing plan and 57% will modify or develop a whole farm goal. These participants manage 1,279 acres of land that will be influenced by this program.

Topic Covered Percent Change in Knowledge
The value of grazing planning

21%

How to assess forage

38%

How to complete an enterprise analysis

35%

How to integrate livestock and cropping

29%

How to improve grazing practices

31%

 

Thanks to our host farmers Tricia, Matt, and Cameron Park, and to our co-organizer NY NOFA, and to our grantor CHS Foundation, and all our supporters: NY GLCI, Madison Soil and Water Conservation District, DeRuyter Farm and Garden Co-operative, Fertrell, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Madison County, Central New York RC&D, Kelley Meats, Wholeshare.com, and Devine Gardens Vermicompost, for making this event possible.

Testimonials

“Excellent hosts and a detailed tour of their farm and marketing.”

“Very informative and well thought out program.”

Texas class of Beginning Women Farmers Retreats

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A social and educational retreat at her lovely desert oasis was offered by Alice Ball Strunk to her classmates in the 2012-2013 class of HMI’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers: Women in Texas (aka Beginning Women Farmers or just BWF).  Alice planned for great food, free time on the river, spring or land, and teaching tours of the ranch with legends Joe David Ross, Steve Nelle and John Karger.

Hudspeth River Ranch is not really new to Alice, she grew up going to the ranch as often as she could get away from her busy life in San Antonio. Her mother, Claudia Ball, well known in ranching circles as a dynamic force and early adopter of Holistic Management, inherited the ranch from her buddy and grandfather Claude Hudspeth. With Claudia’s passing in 2011, Alice now holds the reins with her husband, Billy Bob Strunk.

It was Alice’s idea to invite the younger generation in hopes some of the land loving and ranching lessons learned would inspire them to greater stewardship wherever they landed. About 50 people attended the 4-day event with about half being in the class and the other half being husbands, children and other friends.

Susana Canseco and Memo. You are never too young for learning

Thursday was relaxed and simple with time on the river and a drive around the ranch. It was topped off with a fabulous goat dinner.

Friday featured neighbor and advisor, Joe David Ross DVM, his sister, our mentor, and soil scientist Betsy Ross and the rest of the group discussing fencing, cattle and sheep conformation, how to slow and catch water on the slopes with small rock dams, useful and dangerous plants, and other tips on a variety of topics. We were impressed with Billy Bob’s grassfed hamburgers.

Joe David Ross addresses the group from among the many wildlife mounts from Claudia Ball’s many years at Hudspeth River Ranch. He created posters of land management techniques from photos on his own place and others he has visited.

Pam Mitchell, Jaye Henneke and Lauri Celella check out the map of the ranch

The breeding program at Hudspeth River Ranch is heading for larger percentage hair sheep as they cross their old Rambouillet blood with Dorper and St. Croix. Joe David said to look for wide, square space between the front legs so you know that ewe can carry large healthy twins and triplets. Fencing along the sides of these steep hills was another topic of discussion.

This group of select sheep came to the river to lamb.

Relaxing in the shady flood plain

Driving to the top of some of the rocky hills, the group learned techniques for slowing the rainwater and retaining the soil such as low rock dams across the slope.

Twinleaf Senna is pretty, but poison that affects the muscles of livestock, including the heart. Cows and goats particularly have a hard time with it. A good mineral program for the animals makes it less of a problem.

There is a surprising amount of food for livestock and wildlife in this desert upland.

Joe David used the pet dairy cow who was feeding the doggied baby lambs to teach us what to look for in a beef animal.

Now the challenge is to judge this group of wary heifers and choose the 2 you would cull from your beef herd. There were some tips on low stress stockmanship and on horse handling from Joe David, the veterinarian,

Saturday we enjoyed a day with Steve Nelle, conservationist consultant, riparian specialist and primo reader of the land. We visited a couple of riparian areas where the spring-fed creeks joins the river. Steve taught us how a river works and the plants that help it flood in a constructive way rather than the destruction of losing soils and eroding banks.  We also went to an upland area where we learned how to begin learning to read the land – learn about the plants that grow there – and learned a technique for estimating forage.

Water is the most precious or resources. Learning riparian function makes it all the more amazing.

Steve Nelle points out Eastern Gamagrass, one of the best riparian grasses due to the sturdy network of its roots. The young trees and big bunch grasses in the floodplain slow the water during a flood and cause it to drop its load of sediment.

The group enjoys the cool location while Steve explains.

The plants in and around this spring keep the water clean and the banks healthy.

Alice and Billy Bob took us to another area on the river. This time the flood slowing mechanism was sycamore and bushy bluestem. Steve identified many plants that work together to protect the banks.

Alice and Steve take a close look at a sedge under the sycamores.

Now in the upland, the group looks at the diversity of plants and learns to estimate forage.

9.6 square foot plot is the key.
A radius of 21 inches will scribe a circle with a diameter of 42 inchs or an area of 9.6 square feet.
Clip and weigh grass in grams and multiply times 10 to get pounds per acre.
If you choose to clip only half a circle, multiply grams times 20.
If choose to use a square made of pvc pipe or other material, use a square of 37.2 inches per side (inside dimension) to get the 9.6 square feet
If you choose to use a round “hooloa hoop” type of ring, then use 132 inches (11 feet) of flexible pipe to form a ring of 42 inch diameter.
Remember to convert green grass weight to air dry grass weight. There are numerous conversion charts available. The one we use is found in Exhibit 4-2 on page 4ex-2 of the attached Range and Pasture Handbook. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CC4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nrcs.usda.gov%2Fwps%2Fportal%2Fnrcs%2Fdetailfull%2Fnational%2Flanduse%2Frangepasture%2F%3Fcid%3Dstelprdb1043084&ei=0DKdUdW8CMSvyQHH4oDICw&usg=AFQjCNEXyn9qCnX4-Gw8-99jJPW0sigi-A&sig2=hHWbXbNrQ1Hs782ztltNcA
It would give totally the wrong answer if you used green weight instead of air dry conversion (like I did at HRR)
If enough clipping and weighing is done on different parts of the ranch and if it is representative and not biased, then a manager can get a good feel for what his or her ranch will produce. Obviously it varies from year to year but the more clipping is done the better the decisions can be made. Generally we do not count annuals since they are unreliable.
Also important to note the season of clipping and whether it is early in the growing season or late. If you only clip once a year, best time is late Oct.
If you clip in an area that has been grazed, you will get a different answer so best to try to clip in places that have not been grazed to get a more true picture of production.
The stocking rate calculation is based on the standard 25% harvest efficiency and an AU consumption of about 10,000 pounds per year (air dry basis).
40,000 pounds divided by pounds per acre will give you the stocking rate in acres per AU. This is standard range management thinking and may not jive with HMI or Savory thinking.
So for example if a ranch in western EP produces an average of 800 pounds per acre, the appropriate stocking rate would be 40,000 divided by 800 or 50 acres per AU. This happens to be just about what West Ranch was using before the wildfire.
This clipping exercise is complicated when you add in browse and browsing animals. Much different procedure for that.

 

After lunch John Karger taught us much about birds of prey and how to mitigate losses we blame on these birds. John is Executive Director of Last Chance Forever, a bird of prey conservancy in San Antonio. His wife and beautiful assistant Dr. Melissa Hill helped him fly for our enjoyment a bay winged hawk, peregrine falcon and a hybred falcon. They even let us experience the birds flying onto our wrist.

John, Leo and Melissa explain the differences in various birds of prey.

The bay wink hawk flew back and forth to the delight of the observers.

Beautiful creature

John encouraged participants to experience the thrill of flying the birds. Lauri Celella gives it a try.

Progress was made on next year’s BWF class as well, through a meeting of the trainer trainees with their instructor, coordinator and mentor (aka the 3 Peggys) and recruiting Claire’s friend Anne to apply for the 2013-2014 class. It was good to be gathering again, renewing the bond as we learned and played together.

Pam Mitchell and Katherine Ottmers wrap up the day in the “jacuzzi”

Texas class of Beginning Women Farmers Retreats

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A social and educational retreat at her lovely desert oasis was offered by Alice Ball Strunk to her classmates in the 2012-2013 class of HMI’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers: Women in Texas (aka Beginning Women Farmers or just BWF).  Alice planned for great food, free time on the river, spring or land, and teaching tours of the ranch with legends Joe David Ross, Steve Nelle and John Karger.

Hudspeth River Ranch is not really new to Alice, she grew up going to the ranch as often as she could get away from her busy life in San Antonio. Her mother, Claudia Ball, well known in ranching circles as a dynamic force and early adopter of Holistic Management, inherited the ranch from her buddy and grandfather Claude Hudspeth. With Claudia’s passing in 2011, Alice now holds the reins with her husband, Billy Bob Strunk.

It was Alice’s idea to invite the younger generation in hopes some of the land loving and ranching lessons learned would inspire them to greater stewardship wherever they landed. About 50 people attended the 4-day event with about half being in the class and the other half being husbands, children and other friends.

Susana Canseco and Memo. You are never too young for learning

Thursday was relaxed and simple with time on the river and a drive around the ranch. It was topped off with a fabulous goat dinner.

Friday featured neighbor and advisor, Joe David Ross DVM, his sister, our mentor, and soil scientist Betsy Ross and the rest of the group discussing fencing, cattle and sheep conformation, how to slow and catch water on the slopes with small rock dams, useful and dangerous plants, and other tips on a variety of topics. We were impressed with Billy Bob’s grassfed hamburgers.

Joe David Ross addresses the group from among the many wildlife mounts from Claudia Ball’s many years at Hudspeth River Ranch. He created posters of land management techniques from photos on his own place and others he has visited.

Pam Mitchell, Jaye Henneke and Lauri Celella check out the map of the ranch

The breeding program at Hudspeth River Ranch is heading for larger percentage hair sheep as they cross their old Rambouillet blood with Dorper and St. Croix. Joe David said to look for wide, square space between the front legs so you know that ewe can carry large healthy twins and triplets. Fencing along the sides of these steep hills was another topic of discussion.

This group of select sheep came to the river to lamb.

Relaxing in the shady flood plain

Driving to the top of some of the rocky hills, the group learned techniques for slowing the rainwater and retaining the soil such as low rock dams across the slope.

Twinleaf Senna is pretty, but poison that affects the muscles of livestock, including the heart. Cows and goats particularly have a hard time with it. A good mineral program for the animals makes it less of a problem.

There is a surprising amount of food for livestock and wildlife in this desert upland.

Joe David used the pet dairy cow who was feeding the doggied baby lambs to teach us what to look for in a beef animal.

Now the challenge is to judge this group of wary heifers and choose the 2 you would cull from your beef herd. There were some tips on low stress stockmanship and on horse handling from Joe David, the veterinarian,

Saturday we enjoyed a day with Steve Nelle, conservationist consultant, riparian specialist and primo reader of the land. We visited a couple of riparian areas where the spring-fed creeks joins the river. Steve taught us how a river works and the plants that help it flood in a constructive way rather than the destruction of losing soils and eroding banks.  We also went to an upland area where we learned how to begin learning to read the land – learn about the plants that grow there – and learned a technique for estimating forage.

Water is the most precious or resources. Learning riparian function makes it all the more amazing.

Steve Nelle points out Eastern Gamagrass, one of the best riparian grasses due to the sturdy network of its roots. The young trees and big bunch grasses in the floodplain slow the water during a flood and cause it to drop its load of sediment.

The group enjoys the cool location while Steve explains.

The plants in and around this spring keep the water clean and the banks healthy.

Alice and Billy Bob took us to another area on the river. This time the flood slowing mechanism was sycamore and bushy bluestem. Steve identified many plants that work together to protect the banks.

Alice and Steve take a close look at a sedge under the sycamores.

Now in the upland, the group looks at the diversity of plants and learns to estimate forage.

9.6 square foot plot is the key.
A radius of 21 inches will scribe a circle with a diameter of 42 inchs or an area of 9.6 square feet.
Clip and weigh grass in grams and multiply times 10 to get pounds per acre.
If you choose to clip only half a circle, multiply grams times 20.
If choose to use a square made of pvc pipe or other material, use a square of 37.2 inches per side (inside dimension) to get the 9.6 square feet
If you choose to use a round “hooloa hoop” type of ring, then use 132 inches (11 feet) of flexible pipe to form a ring of 42 inch diameter.
Remember to convert green grass weight to air dry grass weight. There are numerous conversion charts available. The one we use is found in Exhibit 4-2 on page 4ex-2 of the attached Range and Pasture Handbook. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CC4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nrcs.usda.gov%2Fwps%2Fportal%2Fnrcs%2Fdetailfull%2Fnational%2Flanduse%2Frangepasture%2F%3Fcid%3Dstelprdb1043084&ei=0DKdUdW8CMSvyQHH4oDICw&usg=AFQjCNEXyn9qCnX4-Gw8-99jJPW0sigi-A&sig2=hHWbXbNrQ1Hs782ztltNcA
It would give totally the wrong answer if you used green weight instead of air dry conversion (like I did at HRR)
If enough clipping and weighing is done on different parts of the ranch and if it is representative and not biased, then a manager can get a good feel for what his or her ranch will produce. Obviously it varies from year to year but the more clipping is done the better the decisions can be made. Generally we do not count annuals since they are unreliable.
Also important to note the season of clipping and whether it is early in the growing season or late. If you only clip once a year, best time is late Oct.
If you clip in an area that has been grazed, you will get a different answer so best to try to clip in places that have not been grazed to get a more true picture of production.
The stocking rate calculation is based on the standard 25% harvest efficiency and an AU consumption of about 10,000 pounds per year (air dry basis).
40,000 pounds divided by pounds per acre will give you the stocking rate in acres per AU. This is standard range management thinking and may not jive with HMI or Savory thinking.
So for example if a ranch in western EP produces an average of 800 pounds per acre, the appropriate stocking rate would be 40,000 divided by 800 or 50 acres per AU. This happens to be just about what West Ranch was using before the wildfire.
This clipping exercise is complicated when you add in browse and browsing animals. Much different procedure for that.

 

After lunch John Karger taught us much about birds of prey and how to mitigate losses we blame on these birds. John is Executive Director of Last Chance Forever, a bird of prey conservancy in San Antonio. His wife and beautiful assistant Dr. Melissa Hill helped him fly for our enjoyment a bay winged hawk, peregrine falcon and a hybred falcon. They even let us experience the birds flying onto our wrist.

John, Leo and Melissa explain the differences in various birds of prey.

The bay wink hawk flew back and forth to the delight of the observers.

Beautiful creature

John encouraged participants to experience the thrill of flying the birds. Lauri Celella gives it a try.

Progress was made on next year’s BWF class as well, through a meeting of the trainer trainees with their instructor, coordinator and mentor (aka the 3 Peggys) and recruiting Claire’s friend Anne to apply for the 2013-2014 class. It was good to be gathering again, renewing the bond as we learned and played together.

Pam Mitchell and Katherine Ottmers wrap up the day in the “jacuzzi”

Greg Judy and Green Pastures Farm–Increasing Profitability through Improving Soil Biology

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Greg Judy leading a grazing workshop

 

Few folks involved in holistic planned grazing or grass-finished beef would argue with the statement that Greg Judy is a leader in the field of sustainable ranching. His grazing practices have resulted in improved soils on his home farm as well as the land he leases. He’s built his business to the point where he could quit his town job (one of the happiest days of his life), and even provide 2 paid internships a year at his farm. His business model is so successful that he has developed a consulting business helping others achieve the same level of success, and through his on-farm education (including a yearly grazing school) he has reached approximately 5,000 inspired producers.

What more could he want?

Even healthier soil!

This is what Greg Judy’s pastures looked like in July 2012 in the middle of the drought when he destocked to help keep soil health and maximize profit.

Surviving a Drought

Greg and Jan Judy have a home farm of 250 acres near Rucker, Missouri. With an additional 750 acres of leased farms, Greg is managing a total of 1000 acres of land (600 of which is pasture) near Rucker, Missouri. They raise South Poll cattle, along with sheep, horses, goats, pigs, and chickens. The cattle are 100% grass-finished on the perennial grasses and forbs grown on the farm. Greg is known for his high-density, mob-grazing techniques that have moved organic matter from as low as .5% on some of these played out soils to 5%. But, the drought of 2012 put those practices to the test.

“Our Holistic Management training helped us survive that drought in good shape,” notes Greg. “We had some rain the first week of May, but then it didn’t rain until the end of August. All my neighbors were feeding hay from July through September, but we took the necessary steps so we wouldn’t have to do that. Staring on June 1st, we were monitoring daily to see if we had any regrowth after grazing. But it was clear there was 0% regrowth. So by July 1st we put our revised holistic grazing plan into action. We combined both our grass-finishing herd with our cow/calf herd so we had one herd to manage and increase our recovery times. We also culled our cull cows and sent some grassfed steers a little early. We also got a really good price for our heifers. We knew we could keep our next year’s heifers when we had more forage. Those 2 actions (combining herds and destocking) allowed us to continue at the same stock density but increase our summer recovery periods from our normal 80 days to 170 days, and we preserved our cow herd.”

 

These actions resulted in Greg still having a profitable grazing year despite one of the worst droughts in that area, and still have stockpiled grass to graze through the winter and begin 2013 as a profitable grazing year. “The animal performance was incredible,” says Greg. “We can have washy grasses with a 38-42 inch rainfall. But, because we had less rain (13 inches), we ended up having really nutrient-dense grasses. So this winter we were able to have fat cows even with the calf still on her. The cows didn’t need as much feed because the forage was so nutrient dense. That helped us stockpile even more grass. They were only taking the top 1/3 of the plant.” So when Hurricane Isaac dropped 6 inches of rain in 10 days at the end of August, Greg’s pastures responded with a quick green up that helped him increase his stockpile.  “We were able to get through the winter on that grass despite some big snows and cold weather,” says Greg.

The Next Frontier

But this spring, after monitoring his pastures, Greg was looking for other ideas to improve soil fertility. “I’m happy about all the improvements I’ve made with the cows and the grazing,” says Greg. “But, I’m still seeing more bare ground and weeds then I’m happy with. So I went to a workshop at the Rodale Institue by Elaine Ingham to learn about the soil food web and compost tea, and I’m so excited about the possibility of taking this land to the next level! The idea is to use compost tea to introduce aerobic bacteria to the anaerobic soil we still have. While we’ve done a lot for the soil, it’s still struggling so we see plants like ragweed.

“I figure it’s a pretty low cost experiment for a huge potential return. We’ll invest in a microscope and a brewer and a sprayer for the ATV. One pound of properly made compost can make 300 gallons of compost tea. You only need 30 gallons/acre of the tea if the soil is completely broken. We’ll use the material from the farm (the hay, leaves, wood chips, and manure) because it already has the bacteria adapted for this area. We may also try some compost from a Soil Food Web compost producer nearby.

“The key is you have to have your soil tested to see what is missing and then have the compost tested to make sure that it has the missing ingredients. Once we get the soil biology right, I think we might see the growth double, and the grass will be even more nutrient dense so breeding percentages go up as well as weight gains. We’ll also have more diversity of plants as the soil becomes more aerobic. There were pictures in Dr. Ingham’s presentation of prairie grasses with 18-foot roots! They had a picture of a 3-month old annual rye grass that had been grazed to 1-inch tall three times during the course of its life. The roots were over 4 feet tall!

“What that proved to me was that roots don’t die back when a plant is grazed if the soil is healthy. The plant just exudes food for the soil life through the roots. It still maintains its root structure and can still access water and minerals below ground to grow more forage above ground! This opens up a whole new way of looking at grazing, particularly in drought-prone areas. The compost tea can improve any soil, anywhere, so the possibilities are amazing! Since land is the biggest expense in ranching, if you can grow double your forage with compost tea, you’ve just bought yourself a whole new ranch for very little money.

“So we’re going to take our soil samples of some of our worst areas and get the compost ratios right to correct the soil biology. We can use that same compost for the better areas as well. You get the soil biology right, then you don’t have to add inputs. You don’t even have to add the compost tea again if you keep grazing right. You can’t beat that for a low-input solution!

“I learned some things at that workshop that stopped me in my tracks—like that the soil microbes are happiest under about 12 inches of snow. You need free-flowing water in the soil, so a nice moist soil with a blanket of snow for insulation makes those microbes happy.”

Greg is already sharing this information with his interns and planning the various test areas they will begin trialing the compost tea treatment. “I used to just want to focus on the cattle and grass,” says Greg. “But, I’ve seen an explosion of people recently who are 50 or older, who want to get into farming and do something real. They may have gotten burnt in the stock market and want to invest in land and animals and learn how to grow food for their family and their neighbors. They need help setting up their farm and understanding cattle genetics that work for grass-finished animals, and how to graze those animals. I like helping those folks make that transition successfully. It’s rewarding work.”

Greg also likes helping train the interns and helps them get jobs once they have completed their internship. “I’ve got a list of folks who are happy to hire any intern we’ve trained,” says Greg. His intern program focuses on helping the interns learn the basics of grazing, farm design, and animal management, then he encourages them to work for someone else for 5 years to really begin to hone their craft before stepping out and getting a farm of their own. “It takes 10 years to get really good at this business,” says Greg.

Greg is happy selling his cattle in wholesale semi-loads to businesses like Thousand Hills Cattle Company because he’s learned how to grow beef with low-inputs so he is able to be profitable even at wholesale prices. “Ian Mitchell-Innes told me I needed to focus on only a few things,” says Greg. “If I can raise cattle at a low enough cost, I can let someone else do the marketing and still make a good profit.”

So with a business profitable even in drought, Greg Judy is still looking for the next way to improve the soil health and business sustainability. “We’re also going to learn about Permaculture from Mark Shepherd. We want to grow more perennial crops like pawpaws, persimmons, and acorns that the cattle and hogs can forage on and improve our ability to capture more solar energy. Ever since we started focusing on the soil health, we realized there was more we could do, and we needed more tools. I figure I’ve got 20 years of real energy left in me. I want to really make this place take off!”

Stay tuned for results from Greg’s experiment in a future issue of IN PRACTICE. To learn more about Greg Judy and his 2013 Grazing School in Missouri with Ian Mitchell-Innes on May 9-11th, go to: http://www.greenpasturesfarm.net/index.php.  Greg will be sharing this information about the soil food web as part of that grazing school. For links about Dr. Elaine Ingham and the Soil Food Web go to: http://www.soilfoodweb.com/