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Gabe Brown on Building Resiliency through Soil Health

Farmer, Author Gabe Brown Discusses Soil Health & Diversity

Gabe Brown is one of the great bridge builders in farming. No matter which corner of agriculture you come from, or even if you don’t work in agriculture, Brown’s talks about how regenerative farming can restore our ravaged soils to vitality make sense. Moreover, he presents it with a plainspoken, pragmatic aplomb that captivates and never alienates, instead drawing listeners into the pleasure and excitement he gets from trying out new ideas. He explains techniques with a clarity that eludes many professional educators, and when the moment requires he can drive straight to the core of an issue with one stroke.

At an Acres U.S.A. conference some years ago, an audience member said it all sounded great, but asked why he should put in the extra work. Brown simply asked him if he cared about his grandchildren. People who come away from a Gabe Brown talk unsatisfied are rare as hen’s teeth.

Now, after many years of explaining his soil-building wizardry in person, Brown somehow found time to write a book, Dirt to Soil that tells his story and explains what he does and why it works. The book includes farming practices, a philosophy of nature and the story of how Brown and his family survived several years of natural disasters in the mid-1990s, an ordeal that proved pivotal. We last interviewed Brown in our October 2013 issue. We reached out to him for another talk five years later at his farm in North Dakota.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

Gabe Brown: From Dirt to Soil

ACRES U.S.A. How did people such as Ray Archuleta, Dr. Kris Nichols, Dr. Christine Jones and others impact your effort to reinvent your whole way of working?

GABE BROWN. In my book, Dirt to Soil, I tried to tell the story in chronological order as to the people I met along the way and how they influenced me. I learned bits and pieces from many individuals, organizations and Nature herself, and it was up to me to take that information and apply it on my ranch. I wanted to show other producers that you’re not alone. You can glean information from many places, and it’s up to you to take that information and apply it as best you can in the stewardship of your own operation. Continue Reading →

Tractor Time Episode 21: Daniela Ibarra-Howell, CEO of the Savory Institute

 

Good day and welcome to Tractor Time podcast. I’m your host, Ryan Slabaugh, the GM of Acres U.S.A., and we are excited to bring you another fun hour of conversation about ecology, agriculture, smart farming, human health – and more.

Daniela Ibarra-Howell

Daniela Ibarra-Howell

I want to thank our listeners. We recently went over the 20,000th download as a podcast, which is exciting for us. The world of eco-growers is always larger than we anticipate, and to us, that means things are changing for the positive. We hear so much about degenerative agriculture and its toxic toll on our world, but there is a silver lining – you. The listeners who are fighting tradition and convention with smart growing tactics, by understanding the soil, are the solution, and slowly but surely, we are making progress. It’s important we all agree on that one. It’s not that we don’t have challenges, and that they are not large and complicated, but we do not that the base-level agreement we want to get to is that the Earth, and its complicated and resilient life forms, will tell us what we need to know to grow our food. But it does require us to listen.

Continue Reading →

Sunn Hemp: Soil-Building Superhero with Forage Potential

Sunn hemp, a tropical plant primarily grown as a cover crop or green manure, has increased dramatically in popularity over the last decade. Originally from India, it’s easy to understand what makes it so popular among vegetable and row crop farmers in the United States.

Grazing must be timed appropriately or sunn hemp will grow beyond the reach of foraging livestock.

Sunn hemp possesses many soil-building traits, including high rates of biomass production — over 20 percent greater than crimson clover and hairy vetch in research trials. It is not only resistant to plant root nematodes but actively suppresses them. In as little as 60 to 90 days it can produce 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre and can suppress weeds up to 90 percent.

Sunn Hemp is adapted to a wide variety of soil and environmental conditions, thriving through hot, dry summers and continuing to grow until the first frost. But sunn hemp isn’t just a soil builder — it also offers benefits as a forage producer. Recent on-farm grazing trials have yielded an abundance of information on using this crop for grazing. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature

By Charles Walters

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature, written by Acres U.S.A. founder Charles Walters. Copyright 2006, softcover, 320 pages. Regular price: $25.00. SALE PRICE: $17.50.

Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature by Charles Walters

What Is a Protective Food?

It is well known that grazing animals can live on grass alone, and pretty poor grass at that. It has been assumed that herbivorous animals could live on any of the common leafy green crops, but this is not the case. A guinea pig is herbivorous, and yet it will die in 8 to 12 weeks on a diet of head lettuce, cabbage or carrots, and will grow at only half its normal rate on a sole diet of spinach. But a guinea pig thrives on a solid diet of grass. A super race of guinea pigs was developed in five generations on a sole diet of 20 percent protein dehydrated grass.

Continue Reading →

Shift the Workload: Focus on Livestock Culling, Genetics

Raising livestock on any size operation is hard work. There’s no way around it. However, you can minimize your personal time and labor investment by shifting your farm’s workload from yourself to your animals. They have their entire lives to spend doing a few simple jobs: eat, grow and reproduce. You, on the other hand, have numerous important things to do. This mind-set for management of any species will lead to a low-input ranch that can be run on just a couple hours per day.

A Red Angus crossed with Belted Galloway, 4-month-old bull calf.

My shift-the-workload philosophy is a product of my diverse experiences in agriculture. I have a bachelor’s degree in animal science and agribusiness from West Virginia University. I have worked on ranches in Montana and Texas, and for renowned grazier Greg Judy in Missouri. As an intern at his ranch I learned how to harness the power of nature with mob grazing.

I now own Rhinestone Cattle Co., a grass-fed beef and consulting operation in western New York. I have taken much inspiration from the work of Tom Lassiter, Gearld Fry and Ian Mitchell-Innes. Continue Reading →

Good Grazing Management: Build a Drought Reserve

One of the best ways to prepare for drought is by building and maintaining a drought reserve. A drought reserve is forage (grass, forbs, brush or whatever your livestock will eat) that is not consumed by the animals during the growing sea­son. This forage is then available if rain doesn’t come or can be grazed during the dormant season.

An Angus calf grazing.

The traditional and most logical way to build a drought reserve is to set aside some land and not graze it. If you need to, you can turn your livestock into these areas and they can survive on the forage you have stockpiled there. Think of this as a savings account. But instead of saving money, you are saving forage.

In a traditional drought reserve your savings account is separate from your checking account. Think of your check­ing account as grass that you are grazing, possibly multiple times a year. The bal­ance in your checking account changes all the time; sometimes you have a sur­plus of grass and at other times you might be low.

The traditional drought reserve might seem like a good idea, but Ian Mitchell-Innes of South Africa uses a different technique to build a drought reserve that is far superior to the traditional way of stockpiling grass. Mitchell-Innes learned this from holis­tic management planned grazing, and I learned this technique during my in­ternship on his ranch. The most exciting feature of building a drought reserve in this manner is the fact that your entire farm/ranch is the drought reserve. Continue Reading →