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On-farm grass solutions embrace the sun and energy efficiencies

A few small changes can really add up 
to greater efficiency over time

Many of Manitoba’s agricultural producers are embracing common-sense, energy-efficient, low carbon footprint mechanisms on everything from watering and fencing systems to forage crops.

Some, like the Circle H Farms, openly rely on sunshine and the power that the sun provides on numerous fronts, including allowing cattle access to grazing.

“Our solar-powered Batt-Latches allow us to high-density graze, moving cattle into paddocks multiple times a day,” says Kristelle Harper of Circle H Farms on the outskirts of Brandon, Man. “We set the date and time for the gate to open, the Batt-Latches then use solar power for energy and automatically open the gate. This really saves us on fuel, time and labour to go out to the field and open the gates.”

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Others, like the crew at Manitoba Beef and Forages Initiatives’ three research sites in the Brandon area, are also looking at minimizing costs and maximizing value via the feeding systems they are studying and implementing.

“At MBFI, we are looking at two areas that minimize costs and maximize value when it comes to energy efficiency,” says Glenn Friesen, of Manitoba Agriculture, one of four MBFI core partners in the MBFI along with Manitoba Beef Producers, Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

“We are using forage crops known to have more energy per pound grazed, thereby improving feed to gain conversions. Also, multiple annual crop blends — often called polycrops — can enhance soil microbiology and in turn improve nutrient cycling and the productivity of subsequent crops. In the end, both options may reduce the amount of energy needed to raise our cattle.”

According to their twitter account, Circle H Farms is a family-run regenerative farming system focusing on soil, grassland and animal health. Circle H Farms is often utilized as a stop for tours by producers, agricultural interests and conservation groups and when not hosting events, members of the Harper family — usually Kristelle or her father Brian — can often be found at the front of the community hall or meeting room sharing their insights to grazing club and soil health workshop attendees. Kristelle says her family utilizes the sun 12 months a year.

“Our winter watering system is also solar powered,” she explains. “We have been using this for many years and it works really well. And, we use a solar-powered fencer for one of our rented pastures that only has barbed wire and no power. We set up the solar panel and connect it to a fencer. This allows us to use a single-strand temporary wire to divide the pasture into smaller paddocks.”

Brian Harper takes their solar-based approach one step further. Actually, he takes it a flight of steps further.

“For the majority of the year our entire operation is what I like to call solar powered,” he says. “Very little diesel or inputs go into our operation. We choose to mimic Mother Nature as much as possible.”

Harper says the entire Circle H Farms beef herd is managed on forage only for the entire year. He accepts that some folks in the cattle biz might raise their eyebrows at his unwavering commitment to the forage-only process. However, he makes a strong and rational case for how they farm at Circle H Farms.

“Consider each plant being its very own solar panel,” says Harper. “When grown diversely and managed to remain vegetative for as many days as possible the plants create a solar-collecting blanket across the ground surface, supercharging soil life. We strive to have green leaves photosynthesizing for as many days as we can. I like to refer to the herd bulls we sell as being solar-powered genetics. The solar systems give us simplicity of management.”

This article was originally published in the June 22, 2017 issue of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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