As a land steward and herdsman, Will is always making compromises with the long term picture in mind.
We just leased a new piece of land this year - we call it Mill Pond South-West. This is the first time in a long time that this property has been grazed by cattle. Until 2017, it was farmed in the peanut-cotton-soybean/corn rotation for many years.
The organic matter in the soil is low- it is essentially a dead mineral medium. Our first step in using the animals to bring the biological health back to the soil is by getting the soil microbes invigorated through putting a large herd of cows on the land. We have about 2,000 head on the property right now and we are feeding them a very nutrient dense haylage (read more about our haylage here).
We are feeding them and they are feeding the land. Our herd stays well fed on the silage and in turn feeds the land by defecating, urinating and walking on the soil. This will increase the organic matter and encourage microbe colonization in the soil.
The second step we realize is that the land needs some plant cover on it. We know this and we have done this as soon as possible. We also know that perennial grass seed probably won’t do well on this land because of the persisting herbicide residual from previous years of industrial row-crop farming. So we choose to broadcast annual millet seed onto the land. We picked annual seed because annuals have more vigor than perennials. We eventually want to put perennials on this land. Next year when we’ve had a year of herbicide residue breakdown and a year of building up the microbes and organic matter in the soil- we will broadcast the perennial seeds. We let our cattle walk over the broadcasted seed and they will push it into the earth with their animal impact: soil-to-seed contact is important for the seeds to germinate.
We know and understand that walking on the bare earth is not where the cattle in this particular herd want to be- but we are requiring those cattle to use their impact to bring this land back to health- the cattle are feeding the land right now but that land will feed the cattle from now on into perpetuum. Again,the land and the herd are meant to last forever.
When you are a land steward and herdsman, it is always about compromise - sometimes you make decisions that are in the best interest of the animals, sometimes you make decisions that are in the best interest of the land. That’s not new- it’s been like that since nature was managing - since man inserted himself in the natural system.