On October 10 & 11, 2019 forty-seven people gathered at the Betty & Clint Josey Pavilion at Leo Ranch to explore Holistic Management techniques and practices to take their grazing management skills to the next level.
October 10th was a beautiful fall day in Texas. Participants included young and old graziers, ag teachers, a few students from North Central Texas College, and a couple folks interested in learning more about grazing and its impact on area watersheds. The workshop was facilitated by two highly experienced Certified Educators assisted by several local Certified Educators who enriched the conversation with their diversity of experience.
Ben Bartlett, a long-time practitioner of Holistic Management and Professional Certified Educator has been managing a pasture-based sheep and cattle operation in Michigan for 40 years. His use of the Holistic Management decision-making for over 20 years has empowered him to build soil health on his farm, share his sustainable farming methods with local school children and most importantly, is enabling him to pass on to his three children and nine grandchildren both a philosophy and land they can be proud of.
Kirk Gadzia consults worldwide and has over 20 years of experience teaching Holistic Management. Kirk is co-author of the National Academy of Sciences book: Rangeland Health. He holds a BS degree in Wildlife Biology and an MS in Range Science. Kirk works directly with producers to achieve profitability in their operations.
The first day of the workshop began with an introduction to Holistic Management from Ben Bartlett. He explained the need for clarifying your goals when looking at the big picture; first your holistic goal, and then your specific grazing management goals. He expressed the importance of being able to identify plant types and species and to understand how and when they grow. By having a better understanding of the life cycles of each different plant type, we can more effectively manage livestock to allow full plant recovery and regenerate the land. The group talked about the missing link of soil biology/soil health and the importance of evaluating why specific plants are growing in your pasture. Understanding the impact of sunshine, water, fertility and diversity, and that grazing management is about how you control the plant-animal interaction.
Kirk followed with information about good grazing principles indicated by the plant and animal partnership, with examples and more information on how plants grow in response to grazing animals. He focused on the need to control timing for sufficient plant recovery, the nutrition value of forage, managing for animal performance, and how to minimize overgrazing in your planning. He also reviewed how to calculate Animal Days per Acre, and the importance of developing the skill to estimate available forage and it’s use in planning both growing and dormant seasons. He shared photos depicting “mob” or high density grazing from his travels across the world, and encouraged folks to think in terms of intensive rest rather than intensive grazing (since adequate recovery requires a pasture is resting, with only short time of grazing).
Most of the afternoon was spent in the field. The group went to see an enclosed pasture that had been recently grazed and noticed amazing pasture diversity and that it was difficult to tell that any forage had been taken at all. While in the field Robby discussed their grazing practices, how the ranch developed by buying small parcels to add to ranch over time and how they have been using sheep and cows to create impact on the land. Lisa Bellows discussed plant species differences within the pasture exclosure and did a water infiltration test. She also identified plants in regenerated native pastures and demonstrated use of an electronic floating plate meter for forage assessment.
The group returned to the pavilion where Ben followed up the field conversation with more talk about soil health and diversity.
Then Deborah Clark, an HMI Certified Educator and area producer, wow-ed everyone with photos and videos showing the management and results of their “big herd” grazing techniques.
That evening storms blew in and the second day of the workshop was cold and rainy. With the wind howling and the participants hands’ filled with hot coffee or tea, the second morning began with discussion and thoughts from the previous day.
Kirk led a talk on the financial aspects of grazing like considerations of asset turnover, and the benefits of selling monthly or weekly versus once a year, how to calculate profit per acre or per animal, as well as return on assets managed (ROAM) as a way of tracking escalating overhead costs. There were also discussions about labor, infrastructure investments and tax consequences of permanent versus portable fencing.
Ben led the next portion on infrastructure including tips and tricks on effectively energizing and grounding fencing, challenges of electrifying fences in a dry area, and shared different water strategies. Questions from attendees led to a dialog on drought management strategies and brush/weed control, including using multi-species and fire.
In the afternoon the sun came back out and the participants visited nearby pastures that had previously been extensively farmed (tilled and sprayed), and that now have healthy stands of Eastern Gamma grass. Robby explained how they seeded the grass in strips and how the cattle have dispersed it. Kathy gathered a sample of gamma grass to test with a refractometer (brix meter) to show participants another way to measure forage quality.
The group then participated in a grazing exercise with Kirk on how to manage complexity. Some takeaways from the exercise: dormant season planning is about rationing grass; save the best paddocks for spring; as soon as growth slows down, slow down animal moves right away; the biggest danger is slow growth and fast moves; more recovery is usually better; and rain impacts growth/recovery as well as sunshine depending on where you are.
Kirk also shared his spreadsheets to handle grazing planning calculations and a destocking calculator for drought planning.
Thanks to Ben Bartlett, Kirk Gadzia, Deborah Clark, Lisa Bellows, and Robby Tuggle for their informative contributions to the workshop. And thank you to all the participants who brought their diverse experiences and perspective to the conversation.
Special thanks to Melissa and Tom Bookout for all their help with preparation and coordination, and the Dixon Water Foundation for funding and providing the beautiful pavilion (the first Living Building in Texas) and the ranch.
|Topic/Process:||% of participants increasing knowledge or changing behavior:|
|Do you intend to change management practices or apply ideas learned in this class?||94%|
|Do you intend to complete or modify a written grazing plan as a result of this course?||100%|
|Did you expand your network by meeting new people or learning about new resources||100%|
|How to assess quantity of forage in a pasture||77%|
|Grazing management complexity||68%|
|Overall satisfaction with event||100%|