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May 18, 2015
Good Rains this week
Nice steady rain the last week or so has put grass growth here on the farm in high gear. It is imperative that we move the livestock through our rotations pretty rapidly so that we can induce more growth. Our primary objective here on the farm is to build soil, by feeding the microbes beneath the livestock's feet so that we can increase the growth of more forage.
For the first couple of years we raised livestock we thought our job was to feed the cattle. I always thought that we should breed cattle to raise the biggest calves possible and pump everything into them to accomplish this. In doing so there wasn’t much question as to what purpose the soil played in this program other than to give the cattle something to walk on. For the last couple of years I have changed my perspective and it not only makes sense in every regard it also makes more money. Farmers have been educated to mine the soil at all costs, to take all you can from it with no regard to ever increasing its value in the sense of ability to sustain life or become regenerative. We now know here on the Shipley’s Farm that when we care for our soils and the life within that soil with a more caring perspective it will take care of us.
By grouping as many of the animals into one herd as possible we rotate to one of the 150 or so grazing paddocks on the farms each day. Each paddock may contain only 1 to 4 acres and will be grazed for maybe one or two days depending upon the situation. This concentration of animals allows us to deposit great amounts of animal manure and urine over each square metre of each paddock systematically. We are also able to provide what is called animal impact with the hoof action of the animal stopping some of the forages into the ground. This stomping of the forages and animal wastes begins a process that feeds the microbes in the soil efficiently and increases those microbe numbers. These microbes come in all kinds of sizes, shapes, and types like earthworms, dung beetles, nematodes, bacteria, fungi, and millions of others not even yet identified with names. But what we do know is that with increased numbers of these microbes comes a more healthy soil that allows better water infiltration following a rain so that the soil does not dry out easily once the rain stops. So we are constantly working against the forage damages from dry periods, but under this system we seldom have ill effects from these dry periods. This mass increase in microbes in the soil also improves the nutrient content in the soil of the mechanisms that promote more plant growth. Not only do the plants grow faster, taller, and more dense, their nutrient content for animal feed is greatly improved. The long and short of this Holistic Planned Grazing model is our unit number of total animals the farm can graze per acre is doubled or tripled in only a few short years of implementation.
So when the grass is growing fast after good rain showers like we have been having we like to move the livestock quickly from each pasture to let the animals stomp all that carbon, which most call grass, into the soil to feed more of those tiny bugs below the soil surface. The rest period, or the time before we enter into the next paddock can be shortened significantly because the grasses are growing so fast. Later in the summer with increased heat and less rainfall each paddock will need more rest, or more time for re-growth, because its growth will be slower so we will slow our pasture rotation down a bit. We are no longer concerned about silly things like weaning weights and big bulls and cows because we now know those are irrelevant. I'm most concerned about feeding my microbes in my soil so they can feed my plants that feed my livestock. It's kind of like having a great big organically mulched farm. So let the rains continue while they can so the bugs can multiply.