Tag: Soil Health

Grazing Right in Missouri

When Ron Locke gets into something, he is all in. After retiring from the Air Force 20 years ago, this southwest Missouri farmer got into raising registered Angus beef cattle. Today he practices artificial insemination, conducts DNA testing on all his calves and intensively grazes his herd of 60 registered Angus mama cows. And while genetics and forages are important, Locke believes it all starts with the soil.

My sole focus now is on the microbial health of the soil – not the cows, not the grass. I pay attention to those things, but my primary focus is the health of the soil,” says Locke, who tests the soil in all his paddocks.

He shares those samples with a professor of soil biology in North Carolina, who incorporates them into one of his programs.

“That has provided me a wealth of information on the microbial health of my soil,” notes Locke. “Most importantly, the very first samples we got gave me a baseline.”

In Locke’s pursuit of farming perfection, there was one thing missing – shade. Adding mobile shade protects livestock from heat stress and provides the ability to manage nutrients and build soil health.

A need for shade 

Fifteen of Locke’s 27 paddocks have no shade. Two of those without shade are warm season grasses, most productive from July through early September when temps in Missouri soar above 90 degrees.

“So here I have these wonderful warm season paddocks and no shade,” says Locke.” I couldn’t put my fall cows in those fields, because it was too hot and they didn’t have shade.”

Locke searched for portable shade for 15 years, but nothing was portable enough or large enough.

“I’ve got to have something that is going to shade 50 or 60 cows. I move cows every day, sometimes twice a day. I don’t have time to move the cows AND six or seven portable shades.”

Then he saw an ad for Shade Haven mobile shade systems. He immediately contacted the company and purchased a SH1200 mobile shade system, ideal for his herd size.

“Now I can put my cattle anywhere I want,” says Locke. “I can move my main fall herd to any paddock on my farm, because I can put that portable shade in it. It has completely changed my ability to graze my fields the way I want to graze them.”

Moving the Shade Haven is quick and stress-free. “It is unbelievably easy to use. It only takes me five minutes to move it.”

While it’s too early to know the impact the Shade Haven has had on the soil, Locke expects positive results.

In addition to the Angus cows, Locke runs a herd of registered bred heifers and another  herd of registered bulls. “So I have three herds and only one Shade Haven,” he adds. “There is no question in my mind there will be another Shade Haven in my future.”

Shade Haven: Your Instant Savanna

 

A grass-based farmer is an ecologist. He is concerned with the whole world he is creating, the interplay of plants and animals, microorganisms and weather. He strives for a system that is balanced on its own, without any need for purchased inputs, able to tolerate extremes of rain and drought.

The ultimate grass farm is the savanna. The savanna is grass and trees together, sustained by and helping to sustain herds of herbivores who in turn support a network of large predators. Grass feeds the large animals, who then fertilize and revive the plains that they traverse. The savanna is a highly productive grassland ecosystem that permits the coexistence of the largest number and variety of species. Yet, through human error or ecological catastrophe, savanna can become desert.

In her book “Cows Save the Planet,” author Judith Schwartz writes, “…attend to the needs of the soil, and the ecological cycles will begin to get back in sync.”

The book, which Schwartz deems a “call to action on behalf of the soil,” sheds hope on what seems to be a dire environmental predicament. That hope is in the form of managed grazing “as a tool for preventing or reversing the desertification process.”

Judith D. Schwartz

In the chapter “The Making And Unmaking Of Deserts – The Grazing Paradox” Schwartz reports that worldwide roughly 30 million acres of “productive land are lost to desertification” annually.

“Today 1.5 billion people depend for their food and livelihoods on land that is losing its capacity to sustain vegetation,” she writes. The cause is largely man-made and “driven by actions that disturb the lifecycles of many plants and animal species…poor irrigation design, poor livestock management and the use of technology ill-suited to the landscape.”

By cutting down trees, over-grazing, or improperly tilling the soil, humans can cause topsoil built over thousands of years to disappear in a generation.  A grass farmer keeps his land and animals thriving by keeping the land covered with mother earth’s loving blanket of living, heavy sod. His main tool in doing this is moving his cattle, moving throughout the seasons, like the prehistoric herds.

Desertification, climate change and biodiversity share similar outcomes and must all be part of the discussion when considering the fate of the soil and its ability to sustain life. Schwartz points out that desertification is not just a problem in Africa and the southern hemisphere. She notes that North America is the continent with the “highest portion of its dryland areas classified as severe or moderately desertified.”

Schwartz praises Allen Savory’s Holistic Management approach of using livestock to restore the land. She writes, “So if domestic herbivores can be managed such that their behavior mimics that of their wild counterparts, the grasslands – the African savanna or the U.S. prairies and plains, terrain that represents about 45 percent of all the land worldwide – will regain the state of wild land: healthy, diverse, and resilient.”

The mobile shade solution

Shade Haven mobile shade structures can help farmers mimic that behavior to create their own savanna, providing shade wherever the impact of cattle is most needed –keeping the cattle moving and improving soil health, while also improving profitability and animal comfort.

“You are kind of creating microclimates, which makes a lot of sense,” says Schwartz, who notes that her primary focus of research was soil. And while every system and ecological place is unique, farmers “figure out what works with what they have.”

“Nature has figured out what the soil needs and what the plants need. Let’s learn from that,” adds Schwartz. “Part of that system of moving nutrients around are the animals.”

While there are different ways to graze cattle, one fact remains consistent. “In the areas of the world where there are grasslands with deep rich soil, those soils have been created by animals,” notes Schwartz. “We can’t expect to have those rich soils without a system that includes grazing animals.”

Read it!
For more information on Judith Schwartz or to purchase “Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth” visit her website. Also check out Schwartz’s newest book “Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World,” which includes stories of innovators who thrive by working with the water cycle.

Contact us today to add mobile shade to your grazing system.