Article: Managing Grass, Small Grains, and Cattle
Authors: Kramer, J. Printz, J. Richardson, J. Goven, G.
Published: Rangelands 14(4), August 1992
This article is a case study of the Goven Ranch, an 1800 acre cattle and small grain operation located in McLean county, North Dakota. Much of the information presented in the article is qualitative in nature, and quite a bit is dedicated to describing the human element of ranching. There is also some very useful quantitative data, much of which was generated through collaborative research with the NRCS and North Dakota State University.
From 1967 to 1986, Gene Goven practiced different grazing management systems. In 1986, he made the shift to Holistic Resource Management and Holistic Planned Grazing. One of the first observed changes in land health occurred in cool season plants; the use of grazing planning allowed the grazing of cool season plants early in the season and extended recovery periods, which improved the vigor and growth of these plants. Additionally, a “leap frog” approach to paddock movements eliminated the need for fly control, as the distance between “cow pies” self-limited fly populations.
The economic and animal performance data included in this paper are very encouraging, and shows the power of HRM to improve ranch profitability:
His 205 adjusted day weaning weights have increased from 480 pounds prior to 1982 to 545 in 1989. At an assumed, constant price of $.65 Gene has more than tripled his income from his herd over the last eight years. He has increased his cow calf pairs to as high as 94, along with 15 yearlings.
Soil data was also collected to compare HRM paddocks with season long continuously grazed paddocks and a nearby area under total rest. The results are summarized as follows:
Levels of percent organic matter were higher on the Goven (HRM) pastures than all others examined except for the wet season long pasture [possibly due to a difference in soil type]…Data gathered by using the air entry permeameter showed that the thin upland site in the HRM pastures was able to take six times as much water per hour as was the wet meadow site…The excessive build up of mulch [ie over-rested biomass] on the non-use [total rest] area actually had a water shedding effect, as the area has not been utilized for 50 years…The authors did note that during the soil sampling phase of the project, the soils in the HRM paddocks were much easier to dig with a spade than other tracts which were sampled…The soil differences between HRM, season long, and non-use paddocks and pastures appear to be more of a physical nature rather than a chemical.
Although the paper is somewhat short on details, it shows a unique and refreshing perspective in that researchers and extension agents are reaching out to innovative practitioners, collecting and comparing data in a real world operational environment. More research of this nature is much needed, as it stands in sharp contrast to the traditional approach of highly controlled experimental designs which too often fail to reflect the operational realities of land management.