Tall Grass, Open Skies
Let’s get this straight before we get too far, this week’s column is not about anything but what I’ve done to improve the way we raise cattle. It is not about factory farms, family farms, global warming or any of today’s flashpoints in agriculture. I just want to finish telling the story I began this spring.
This summer, we buried new water lines for the cattle, replaced the fence we use to separate pastures and protected the lanes our cattle use to go from one pasture to another. We also have provided them an all-season waterer in the pasture so that they can easily graze well into late fall or even a portion of winter after the first killing frost.
Water takes a second place to food on many farms. It’s interesting that people will make sure their cattle have quality food then let the same herd stand and urinate in the very water they are drinking. Cattle who don’t have readily-available water don’t eat as well and are not as productive. Country music singer Marty Robbins explained how important this element was to our survival when he sang about “cool, clear water” and cattle instinctively know this fact.
By controlling how long our cattle graze each portion of pasture with interior fence, we can control the quality of the grass. We don’t allow them to clear-cut the grass but rather leave enough to absorb the sunlight to re-grow quickly. We get way more high-quality grass and therefore can add more chairs around the dinner table.
Cattle will always choose the easy path, I have observed them walk in tire tracks during deep snow and so know this to be a fact. This why we improved our cattle lanes. I have noticed that they not only travel from each pasture better but that they also like to relax on the lane and sun themselves. If I can remove trouble from their path, my cattle are more productive and happier.
Okay, so that’s the how and why but there has to be more to allow for the time and work to make these improvements. Will farming in this way make me rich? Maybe not rich, however it does make me more productive and remove the overhead of the equipment I would use to harvest if I didn’t have cattle to harvest for me. I think the inspiration comes more from my ideals than from a balance sheet.
My inspiration to farm like I do is that I want to do what seems right to me. I want to be a good steward of the land. I believe that by keeping the cattle out of the river then I improve the water not only for them but also for folks downstream. By keeping cattle on grass, I get to watch the miracle of a plant using sunlight to re-create itself over and over again. The growth of grass results in deeper roots that will die back during grazing which creates natural fertilizer and aerates the land. The farm equipment you own really owns you so I choose freedom over convenience. I would rather use my labor and the labor my cattle perform when they graze than harvesting with equipment. I get to see the miracle of cattle using their fourth stomach to convert grass into meat and energy. I also get participate in their lives instead of playing mechanic all day. The cattle eat the food they were meant to eat and live the best possible life until their inevitable end. I walk in the sunshine in tall grass and the cattle think I am good, even though I am a carnivore.
That’s my story of how we’ve improved our cattle operation. I gave you the facts, ideals and emotion behind what we have accomplished. However the story still seems incomplete to me. As I learn to manage the cattle and grass better, I believe the rest of the story will reveal itself. Until then, I will stay on my feet instead my seat and move our cattle through tall grass under open skies.