On Pasture readers have told me they want to know more about improving their soils. And so, I shared a 5-week series on the principles of soil health. What I’ve learned from doing this for you is, though we’re working within a very complex system, what we need to remember is actually pretty simple:
1. Minimize disturbance.
2. Keep the soil covered.
3. Keep live roots in the soil.
4. Encourage diversity.
5. Integrate livestock.
For graziers that means managing grazing to prevent compaction, to avoid overgrazing that might create bare spots and reduce live root mass, and to graze in ways that encourage plant diversity.
And how do we accomplish that?
Start with a plan.
Use your plan to determine the number of animals you can raise while still complying with the four things required for healthy soils. Work through the planning process to figure out where you can graze animals, for how long, and at what time of year. Build a plan that works for you and your family’s lifestyle. And make it flexible because things change – from the weather, to the market, to your personal needs.
You don’t need to be the person who moves their animals more times a day than anyone else in the neighborhood. Don’t be distracted by the “pounds per acre” and “I’ve doubled the number of animals I run” conversations. Remember your grazing plan and focus on what you need to do to have healthy soils, plants, and animals, and just as importantly, a healthy bank account.
Don’t be distracted by shiny objects.
We’ve all seen the silver bullets that are periodically promoted as secrets to soil health. We’ve written about some of these at On Pasture – the yeoman’s plow, compost tea, and spraying raw milk on pasture. Yes, these things seem “sexier” than the every day life of a grazier – putting up fence, moving animals, and paying attention to the forage. But the silver you spend on a so-called silver bullet reduces your profit and takes time away from what you could otherwise be doing that will have a much greater impact.
Grow your capacity to observe.
Send off soil samples for analysis to see how you’re doing. Collect the names of the plants, birds, insects and animals that live on your landscape. Take pictures to help you remember what you see and how things are going from year to year. Being a good observer gives you the information you need to adjust your grazing management as the world around you changes.
There is almost always more than one right answer. You’re just looking for the one that is right for you and your soils, plants, animals and family. To get there, it helps to consider the principles behind a practice and how you might adjust it to work in your environment and management system.
Of course, each of these five things requires all kinds of additional information and support and that’s what we try to provide you with every week at On Pasture. I hope you’ve found what we publish useful. As always, if you have ideas for an article or something we can add to On Pasture, or if you have suggestions for something I can do better, do let me know.
This is the last issue for 2019. We’ll be on break the week of December 23rd and 30th, and back on January 7. But I won’t leave you without something to read. Check in for collections of articles you may have missed and a really interesting video about Hugh Hammond Bennett, the father of soil health in the United States. I think you’ll really enjoy it!
Until then, Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year!