Texas Grazing Planning for Drought Mitigation Results

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Ryan Reitz, Grazing Manager at Kerr Wildlife Center

Ryan Reitz, Grazing Manager at Kerr Wildlife Center

 

 

On April 24-26th, participants of HMI’s Drought Mitigation Series in Texas met at Kerr Wildlife Management to spend 3 days learning about grazing planning to improve productivity of land even in drought. This portion of the series was taught by Holistic Management Certified Educator Peggy Sechrist and long-time Holistic Management practitioner and rancher, Walt Davis. Participants had a lot of time both in the classroom and out on the land to learn about key grazing strategies and implementation as well as work on their own holistic grazing plan.

Walt Davis shared his knowledge about ranching and participants learned that raising animals is not a system or a program. He said, “It’s applied logicand that plant diversity in our pastures is key. He talked about the stocking rate, which is the number of pounds of animals you stock per unit of grazing land for the grazing season. He also noted that if the stocking rate is wrong, nothing else works and it will significantly compromise an operation that is facing drought.

Walt also noted that the recovery period for pastures is equally important to stocking rates. If you keep cattle in a pasture too long, they may graze the grass too short, damaging the roots so the plant recovery will take longer. We actually grow more, by leaving more. He said if we get in the habit of two-day grazing periods, we will greatly reduce horn flies and the recovery of forage will be quicker. If cattle stay in a pasture and eat grass down to two to four inches, they may have parasite problems because parasites will crawl up high enough on the short grass for the cattle to ingest them. He shared that the longer animals grazed a pasture, the poorer the animal performance. High stock density grazing can increase land resilience with proper recovery.

Walt went on to discuss factors that increase profitability. He mentioned that we need to use Enterprise Analysis and pay close attention to risk to our potential profit. In his opinion if you are not making a 50% profit in an enterprise, don’t do it. Be sure that your enterprise fits your resource base. The best genetics are those that work under your management. These production strategies and management decisions are what make a difference for a ranch to survive challenging times, including drought.

Thanks to the Dixon Water Foundation and the Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation for their support of this program.

Here is what participants had to say:

I learned how to do the grazing plan & the plane of nutrition and how to keep good animal performance with grazing.

I learned how to balance expenditures, and the best cow types for grassfed beef.

I intend to begin measuring soil organic matter to show/monitor improvement of water holding capacity.

I intend to begin measuring soil organic matter, but usually though looking at litter, degree of decay and surface/subsurface life.

I know from past experiences which soil test it is too low – now I know how to improve.

I intend to break my large pasture into paddocks and manage each individually.

I intend to have a more thorough grazing plan ready so we can estimate and predict our pasture usage.

I learned that the quality of the grazing material needs to be utilized in optimum relation to the stock needs – protein, life/stage.

 

Outcome % of participants
Are you more confident in your ability to assess forage volume for grazing planning as a result of this course? 64%
Are you more confident in your ability to complete a grazing plan as a result of this course? 91%
Are you more confident in your ability to monitor ecosystem health on your farm as a result of this course? 100%
Do you intend to change any management practices/apply ideas you learned as a result of this event? 100%
Do you intend to create a grazing plan for your livestock as a result of this workshop? 100%
Do you intend to begin measuring soil organic matter as a result of this training? 100%
Increased knowledge of the difference between a growing season plan and a non-growing season plan 100%
Increased knowledge of the relationship of planned grazing to increased water storage in the soil 82%

 

 

 

 

 

Pronghorn and Desert Bighorn like Holistic Planned Grazing

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circle_ranch_elk_feature

 

 

If you are interested in seeing some Pronghorn and Desert Bighorn making use of the “amenities” on the Circle Ranch, click on this link to see wildlife camera video footage. Note the wildlife ramp at the stock tank so smaller animals have access to the critical water needed to survive in West Texas. But water is only one resource the Circle Ranch provides to increase wildlife numbers and improve wildlife habitat.

Circle Ranch’s recipe for abundant pronghorn and bighorn is:

  1. Encourage animal biodiversity
  2. Periodically, use cattle under planned grazing to improve plant conditions
  3. Maintain lots of free water
  4. Copy nature for wildlife “management” practices

The Circle Ranch has been doing a great job of improving rangeland soil and productivity. We encourage all Holistic Management practitioners to send us pictures and videos of the results you are achieving on your land through your practice of Holistic Management. Send an email to Sandy Langelier, Communications & Outreach Director with attachment or link.

Together we can show how Holistic Management makes a difference in the lives of the people, animals (livestock, wildlife, microorganisms, and more), plants, and soil. Help HMI celebrate the International Year of Soils by archiving as many Holistic Management success stories as we can!

Understanding the Carbon Cycle and Soil Health

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Carbon Cycle Institute Graphic

Carbon Cycle Institute Graphic

 

 

While 2015 might be the International Year of the Soil, at HMI, every year is about soil health. We are always excited to see new ways that people are explaining this important concept to the public. Recently we found a brochure on the Carbon Cycle Institute’s website that has a great graphic and explanation of Carbon Farming. In the brochure, they talk about the importance of grasslands for carbon sequestration and the role that effective planned grazing has, among other practices, to improve soil health and the sequestering of carbon. At HMI, we have seen the results of many Holistic Management practitioners improving soil health and changing organic matter from 2% to 6% levels in a only a couple of years. These are the heroes of sustainable agriculture in my mind.

With the recent press release from the USDA noting how they will help promote soil health, interest in improving soil health is greater than ever. To view and download the brochure, click here.

Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands of Mexico Video

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Recently the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory created an 8-minute video about the great work being done by Holistic Management ranchers in the Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands. Ranchers such as Jesus Alemeida and Alejandro Carrillo are using Holistic Management to help improve the grassland health which in turn improves bird habitat. The video is in Spanish with English subtitles and the ranchers do a great job explaining why they changed management practices and the results they have gotten because of those changes.

 

Restoring Texas Grasslands with Planned Grazing and Keyline Plowing

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There’s a great video just released by Holistic Management practitioners Chris and Laura Gill of the Circle Ranch in Texas. Learn how they’ve been restoring their desert grasslands using Holistic Planned Grazing and Keyline plowing. The video of fenceline contrasts and before and after pictures are pretty remarkable. Congratulations to Chris and Laura for demonstrating what good ranch management can achieve and for taking the time to share their videos with the Holistic Management community.

 

National Young Farmers Coalition Water Conservation Tour

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Dan James explaining James Ranch vegetable CSA enterprise.

Dan James explaining James Ranch vegetable CSA enterprise.

 

 

The National Young Farmers Coalition and the Family Farm Alliance organized a Water Conservation Farm Tour up in the Durango, Colorado area on Oct 27-29th. We spent the first day at the James Ranch, a great example of a holistically managed operation.

 

 

cynthia2

 

Dave and Kay James and their adult children with their families are all working on this 400-acre ranch outside of Durango.

Enterprises include a raw milk dairy with herdshares and cheese, pastured pigs, laying hens, vegetable CSA, beef herd, native tree nursery, and an on-farm grill/farm market.

 

James Ranch dairy cattle are Jersey/Normande crosses

James Ranch dairy cattle are Jersey/Normande crosses

Dan James showed us his Jersey/Normande cross dairy cattle and explained how he grazed them. He also showed us his New Zealand style dairy parlor.

 

Dan James explains about the New Zealand style dairy they installed.

Dan James explains about the New Zealand style dairy they installed.

After the tour we heard from Paul Kaiser of Singing Frog Farms in Sonoma, California about his no-till operation with 125 CSA member program being fed year round from 2.5 acres. Excellent soil fertility practices!

The next day there was a tour of the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch where the tour participants learned about how the 3500 acres of cropland was irrigated with an efficient irrigation system to reduce water use.

 

 

Pat Kaiser of Singing Frog Farm outside the James Ranch Market

Pat Kaiser of Singing Frog Farm outside the James Ranch Market

In the afternoon we had 4 concurrent collaborative workshops that participants selected from to help create a roadmap for western agriculture at the crossroads of productivity and conservation. Topics included: soil health and diversified vegetable production (led by Mike Jensen), grazing croplands (led by George Whitten), irrigation efficiency and land stewardship (led by Pat O’Toole), and farm and ranch planning for drought resilience (led by Ann Adams).

 

George Whitten and Pat O'Toole discussing sustainable ranching at the video premier.

George Whitten and Pat O’Toole discussing sustainable ranching at the video premier.

 

That evening we viewed the National Young Farmers Coalition’s premier of: “RESILIENT: Soil, Water and the New Stewards of the American West.” Over 60 people attended the premier and stayed to ask questions of the panel who included Mike Nolan, Travis Custer, Brendon Rockey, George Whitten, and Ann Adams.

 

Harrison Topp of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Harrison Topp of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

The final day of the conference included presentations from Eric Kuhn on the Colorado River Basin, Michael Melendrez on the science of soil health, Harrison Topp on incentives for microhydro, and case studies of conservation in action by Pat O’Toole and Brendon Rockey.

Thanks to Kate Greenberg and Daniel Fullmer of the National Young Farmers Coalition for organizing this educational and inspiring event and the Walton Family Foundation for their support of the program.

 

Kentucky State Holistic Grazing Planning Course

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Joshua Dukart at KYSU

Joshua Dukart at KYSU

 

 

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.

Weaned goat kids on grazing demonstration plot.

Weaned goat kids on grazing demonstration plot.

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

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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