Plant & Grow Rich: Chapter 3

Animal Impact

Did you miss Chapter 2? Click below to catch up:

Want to start from the beginning? Click below for Chapter 1:

At the end of Chapter 2, we discovered the true potential of your native soil.  Successful dry-land farming does not depend on how much rainfall you get. It's how much rain your soil can soak up, hold, and store. 

The mysteries of free-scale farming continue. Read on to discover the power of mob grazing and more...

Animal Impact

Animals are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem. Historically, bison, elk and other wild ruminants played the important role of recycling biomass. 

Where are the animals today? 

Why have we removed animals from the ecosystem? 

Healthy soils are not going to happen without animals.

Calving in Deep Forage at Browns Ranch

At a conference in 2007, Gabe learned that Neil Dennis in Manitoba was putting 1,000,000 pounds of live weight cattle per acre for controlled short periods on perennial pasture. 

In a visit to Canada he discovered that Neil was building soil faster. Gabe saw this as the missing link in building soil faster on his own crop land. 

"We needed to get more animal impact on to the land. This was the missing link in building healthy soil on my cropland." - Gabe Brown

Gabe originally had 3 types of land on his ranch: 

   1. Native perennial pasture 

   2. Crop land 

   3. Grass pasture land that had been tilled at one time and was now planted back to perennials. 

He now has over 100 permanent pastures and infinite number of smaller paddocks. 

In 1991 when Gabe got started, the land supported 65 cow/calf pairs and 35 yearlings. 

He is now running 350 cow/calf pairs, 400 to 800 yearlings and grass-finished cattle, plus some other livestock. 

He grazes livestock on all the land including the crop land. 

So how do you get started?

Get started with fall-seeded biennials. One example is an October field of harvested corn. Over the corn residue Gabe planted a fall crop of hairy vetch, winter triticale, forage winter wheat, sweet clover and radish. After the cover crop grew up big-time in the spring. Gabe was ready for the next step:

Mob Grazing High Carbon Biennials

Gabe uses high stock-densities in very small paddocks - set up with a portable electric fence and self-opening gates with electric timers. 

How good is this? You get it set up first thing before sunrise then head back to the house for more breakfast.

It doesn't take much for you to see results. You can do high stock density grazing with just one animal if you have a small area.

In the morning he simply rolls up the previous day's paddock and sets up the new paddock in about an hour. With bat latches, solar powered gate openers, bungee cords and a timer, the livestock will move themselves. All Gabe has to do is punch in the the time for the gate to open. When the timer goes and the gate pops open, the livestock move themselves. Gabe doesn't have to hang around.

"Mob grazing is a tool to address your resource concern. In this case of fall-seeded biennials, our resource concern was getting more armor on the soil surface so we let the cover grow to a maximum carbon state (maximum foliage) before mob grazing. If our resource concern was maximum gain on the livestock we would have grazed it when the growth was more immature." - Gabe Brown
"We are left with a solid mat of carbon on the soil surface, the armor that protects the soil."
"We only want the livestock to eat about 1/3 of the above-ground biomass. When bison moved across Great Plains they did not eat everything , they were moving on and trampling way more than they were eating."       - Gabe Brown

In this case, the grass was trampled before the seed-heads formed, so it died on the ground and was seeded over with another cover crop in July. (Otherwise, if there had been enough time in the growing season, Gabe would have planted a cash crop.) 

The cover crop Gabe used is a very diverse mix of 20 different species. They are primarily warm-season species, with some cool-season mixed in, due to the possibility of early cold fronts.

Gabe's 20 Mix Cover Crop

Poly-culture cover-crop designed specifically for one of Gabe's fields:

Sunflower, Sorghum/Sedangrass, German Millet, Soybean, Cowpea, Kale, Radish, Turnip, Sunn Hemp, Safflower, Buckwheat, Fava Bean, Persian Clover, Berseem Clover, Hairy Vetch, Hybrid Pearl Millet, Crimson Clover, White Millet, Oats, Flax.

Please note that this is not a "one size fits all" mix. Design your own mix for what your soil needs.

"This cover crop diversity accelerates biological time. A mono-culture of each variety of the 20 mix would take 20 years instead of one year. All 20 were seeded at one depth and they all came up fine. "

Solar energy collection is optimized with diverse cover crops. Every plant has a different leaf size and shape. Maximum solar utilization results in maximum carbon sequestered to feed the soil biology as well as more efficient water utilization.

"I can then can turn steers onto the warm season cover crop for grass finishing. Steers will graze the warm season mix at a much lower stock density for maximum gain. I want the animals to gain 2/12 pounds per day." 
"Or I can let the crop go to sequester carbon and build biomass which extends the growing season. Healthy biology in the soil stays warmer and can extend the growing season 2 months most years."                            - Gabe Brown

Cover Crops to Dollars

"We now calve in late May and June on grass instead of February and March. We now leave calves on cows all winter and they do just fine. We can balance their rations with different species of cover crops. Hairy vetch in December is still 18% crude protein."                     - Gabe Brown

Their nutritional needs are fully met by cover crops. There is no putting up hay to feed all winter. Gabe says they do just fine out there at 40 below while he is wearing out the recliner in the house. What are your days like if you are feeding cows all winter?

"Sign the back of the check instead of front of the check."

Yep. Imagine how much you can save in labor, fuel and machinery by eliminating winter feeding. It might be enough to get that banker's boot off your neck.

Gabe wintered over 350 cow/calf pairs and started the tractor only once.

"Animals have 4 legs for a reason. We don't have to provide them with a bed and breakfast."
Gabe points out that your livestock prefer to find their own food and forage. Your animals are happiest doing what they do best.
"When we start confining animals we start causing more problems."
"Of course you must have the type of cattle that can stand those conditions. We let nature make the selection. When winter grazing we still maintain cover residue to accelerate soil formation by using principles of nature."   - Gabe Brown
NEXT:    Plant & Grow Rich: Chapter 4

The nitty-gritty secrets to revolutionize your soil fertility. Gabe Brown's "Principles of Nature" revealed...

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