On May 10th, 2013 over 50 people attended HMI’s Open Gate Paicines Ranch Day in Central California. Throughout the course of the day, participants saw how ranch host Sallie Calhoun is managing towards various resource goals. One big goal for the Paicines Ranch is to use simple holistic grazing management techniques to improve the coverage of perennial grasses on the landscape. Ecologists believe that perennial grasses were once abundant in the Central California landscape; the arrival of cattle and invasive annual grasses radically changed the grassland ecology. Today, native perennial grasses are rare in Central California.
Although rare, these grasses can be found, and Sallie Calhoun, in collaboration with HMI, has developed a rigorous protocol for monitoring the frequency and coverage of perennial grasses on her ranch. She discussed this monitoring protocol during the field day, and explained how it is conducted and why the data is important. Keeping management simple and focused on straightforward things that any farmer or rancher would be willing to try is a key principle that dictates Sallie’s decision-making for a particular practice. Sallie is using planned grazing on the Paicines ranch to allow sufficient recovery time for the perennial grasses, which should help to increase coverage and frequency.
Another key area of discussion is the use of a high-density herd as a landscape management tool. Sallie’s ranch manager, Chris Ketcham, explained in detail the challenges of building fence and water distribution to manage a herd of between 1,000 and 2,000 head of yearling stockers every year during the winter growing months. While the fencing was done fairly quickly, the water distribution system presented a number of unique challenges, namely the challenge of moving enough water over 7,500 acres so that 1,500 cattle can get a drink of water 2 to 3 times a day. A lot of water must be moved across the landscape to do this; through a process of trial and error, Sallie and Chris arrived at the right mix of piping, tanks, pumps, and troughs, and their herd is never too far from a watering point during the day.
Joe Morris, a local California rancher, also participated in the field day. Joe shared with the audience his experiences as a rancher practicing Holistic Management, and he explained the importance of understanding mineral cycles and the flow of carbon through a semi-arid grassland ecosystem. Joe was also on-hand to answer questions and provide his own unique insights into the nature of grassland management in California. Also on hand was HMI’s Director of Programs, Frank Aragona.
After lunch, the group settled in for a group exercise where each participant identified a critical problem they faced on the farm or ranch. Other group members offered solutions to the stated problem, and each participant was asked to provide a bullet point list of actions with deadlines attached. Participants enjoyed the accountability and networking opportunity that this exercise provided, and they appreciated the opportunity to get insights from their peers.
HMI would like to offer special thanks to our host for the day, Sallie Calhoun, owner of Paicines Ranch. In addition, this day was made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of San Benito County, and generous support from our sponsors, TomKat Educational Foundation, Leftcoast Grassfed Beef, Pomponio Ranch, Pete Pulis and Brigatino Irrigation for their help making this event possible. Collaborators for this event were Chris Ketcham of Paicines Ranch, Joe Morris of Morris Beef, Richard King, Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, NRCS, University of California Extension, Central Coast Rangelands Coalition, Alameda RC&D, San Benito Working Landscapes Group, and the Contra Costa Water District. Finally, thanks to our volunteers for their help during the event.
Evaluations of the program show that 100% of the participants were satisfied with the program. 74% of participants experienced some knowledge change. Participants manage over 28,328 acres which will now be managed differently as a result of this program.
|Knowledge, Attitude, and Intended Behavior Changes Due to Program||% of Participants|
|Would recommend this program to others||96%|
|Intend to develop land plan||57%|
|Intend to change management practices||56%|
|Increased confidence in ability to develop land plan||40%|
|Increased confidence in ability to monitor and/or analyze ecosystem health||30%|
Participant Response to Program
|“Great to see actual practices implemented & to hear about progress and how it’s actually working.”|
|“Great networking opportunity–informative, inspirational”|
|“Valuable to see & hear HMI in action”|
|“Excellent. Really liked the diversity of participants”|
|“Very informative & educational. Also provided an opportunity to converse with others in the biz”|