I continually try to instil good morals and values into my children hoping that they will be ready for the life challenges that lay ahead. I believe this is my purpose here on earth. I want them to be able to play well with others. I want them to be polite and courteous. We practise allowing others to go first and I promote random acts of kindness without expecting anything in return. Being able to communicate effectively is very important in all aspects of our lives. There is one area, however, where I make an exception. I want them to be greedy!
There are four grazing principles that I talk about in my schools and seminars that I can’t get enough of. These principles include: water management, sunlight harvesting, nutrient recycling and biological life. When it comes to these principles, I want to have more. I am greedy.
Let’s talk about soil moisture. Our actual rainfall is what nature provides for us. However, it is our effective rainfall that we have left for growth. Why is there a difference? We can lose moisture from run-off, evaporation and infiltration. We need to reduce the run-off by increasing the litter we leave behind. Rain pounding down on bare exposed soil will cause it to “cap” or seal off. A capped soil will not allow the rain to penetrate through the surface, thus allowing extra run-off. If, on the other hand, we have a good pasture and/or a nice cover of litter, the raindrops will come down, hit plant material and seep through into the soil. No capping. If we leave more litter, we can hold more rainfall.
Evaporation is when the soil moisture dries out and moves from the soil back into the air. This is increased by wind and heat. To stop this, we need to cover the ground with excess litter to prevent sun and wind exposure. The more water you can hold on to, the more growth potential you have.
We also want to hold on to the moisture by not letting it all seep down into the ground. Don’t get me wrong, losing water to the water table is a good thing as that means we have a healthy water cycle, but we need to hold as much as we can for plant growth at the same time. Especially if you have a sandy soil, you need to increase its water-holding capacity (WHC). The more organic matter (OM) you can keep on and in your soil, the better your WHC will be. We need to build our soils.
I am also greedy when it comes to harvesting sunlight. We only have a four-month growing season where I live. Four months to get through 12 months of grazing. I know I cannot control the length of my growing season, but I can get as much out of that season as possible. I want to have an early spring start. As soon as spring is ready to allow my plants to grow, I want my pastures jumping out of the ground. I want the soil moisture there, I want the soil temperature warm enough, I want the nutrients available, and I want the root systems healthy and ready to grow. In the May 15 fenceline photo above, I have a good two weeks’ more growth on my side of the fence. It is healthy, strong and growing well. The other side has hardly even changed. The neighbour is down to 3-1/2 months of a growing season. I still have four.
How about late-season growth? When September is rolling around and the nights are getting colder, and the days are getting shorter, I want my plants healthy, and still actively collecting sunlight. I don’t want my root systems weak because of overgrazing. I don’t want my plants mature or chewed off to nothing. I only collect sunlight with green, actively growing plants. If I do, I will get another extra week or two of growth over the neighbour’s pasture as his will be shutting down early from the overgrazing. I still get four months of growth. Now the neighbour is down to three months.
What happens if we get a month during July without any rain? It could happen. My pasture has lots of residue and a good buildup of thatch that will help hold on to the rainfall we did get. The pasture on my side of the fence will continue to grow during the dry spell because of the extra water-holding capacity I built up. After two weeks without rain, the neighbour’s pasture will most likely shut down because it is out of moisture for growth. Oops! Now he is down to 2-1/2 months of growth. I am greedy I guess. I still want four months.
I also want plenty of nutrients available for growth. Did you know that the air we breathe is 78 per cent nitrogen? Why would you ever buy any? It comes from the air. We need legumes and soil organisms to get it and we need the cattle to recycle it. I believe there is more economic loss in agriculture today from the fear of bloat, than we would ever get from bloat. We are so scared of losing a few cows to bloat, that we will spend 20 years paying for nitrogen that we could have been getting for free. Manage for bloat, and I guess if you have some losses, well at least those “bloat-sensitive” genetics are no longer in your herd!
The legumes collect the nitro- gen but the cow is how we recycle it. Eighty per cent of the nutrients that go in a cow, comes out the back end. We need two things to complete the recycling. We need the manure in the right place and we need a strong population of soil organisms to recycle it. By the right place I mean not in the bush or in the watering area. We want the nutrients that came from the soil to go back into the soil. The higher we can get our stock density with good grazing management, the better manure distribution we will have. I want to recycle as many nutrients as I can.
We also have to make sure that the production practices we use on the farm do not reduce the soil organism populations. The dung beetles, bacteria, earthworms, nematodes, yeasts and fungi, are all a part of nature’s system. All my soil organisms work for me and they work for room and board. I need to give them food, water and shelter and allow them to be prolific. The more biological life I have on my ranch, the more sustainable my operation is. They help me fix nitrogen, they decompose the manure and litter, they help maintain plant health and they perform millions of other interactions within the soil. They work for me. I just have to give them what they need. I can never have too many dung beetles. I want more.
I hope that my greed for good pasture management is passed down to my kids and they are able to cope with all of the extra profit we receive. I want more water, more sunlight, more nutrient recycling and more biological life. The best part of it all, they are all free! These are lessons I am willing to work at, to help make this agricultural business sustainable for generations to come. I hope you can all forgive me for my greed! Best wishes!
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