Management Consultant, Peter Drucker said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” During this past pandemic pasture season, I’ve had some time to ponder the farm’s reflection upon the guy in front of the proverbial mirror. Amongst a sea of seed-heads, in a Zen-like moment, on June 28th, 2020, I asked myself: “What is the true meaning of this thing we call grazing?”
On this day, I was seemingly flailing (pissed) over not “getting the grazing right” according to the playbooks of proper grazing management information, my own rollercoaster of a grazing plan and this damn weather. After moving the finishing beef animals into their pre-determined strip of 5 foot prairie, I just plopped down in the rank, carbon bio-mass, like a good healthy shit stuck in self-pity. “What am I doing here?” I was chastised by my inner demons with “I’m not relevant anymore,” “I can’t be teaching people this,” and “how could this possibly be regenerative?!”
What is the true measure of grazing again? I broke down unceremoniously to cows munching and flies sipping on my tears.
You see my wife Corrine, and official “Nonna,” brought my 6th generation for an ATV ride in the pasture and let them out to be “kids”. As I watched, their context of grazing was picking plants to feed the stuffed bovines, chasing after butterflies, hiding in the tall grass and splashing in the water tub. On their way back to the house with armfuls of pasture “weed” flowers, I heard, “Have a Happy Caterpillar Day, Pop Pop.” Well, like the Grinch, my heart grew 3 sizes that day.
If I would’ve gotten my head out of my “right”-eous ass, I would have seen the symbiosis and layers between the caterpillar and the cow. In my “failed” over-rested paddock, I could clearly see the cows shucking the grass seeds to the ground, picking from a salad bar of plants and forbs while grassland birds swooped in for lunch. I could see the bees pollinating, caterpillars eating milkweed, dung beetles swimming in pumpkin pies, spiders weaving webs and earthworms leaving behind a plethora of castings.
The soil was soft and the understory lush with diversity as it waited for the tiniest dewdrop or shower. The sward had rodent tunnels, fawn beds and hidden predators waiting on the fringe for careless prey. This particular paddock is also surrounded by a tapestry of trees, bluebird houses and planted shelterbelts that create a kind of micro-climate for all seasons.
What was I thinking? This was an absolutely beautiful example of the true meaning of grazing. The activity of providing feed and this landscape for my custom grazing customer. Creating life is worth, on paper, only 50 bucks a day but the true accounting of grazing and it’s ecosystem service benefits are almost immeasurable.
The “grazing” also had a profound meaning during this pandemic as a picturesque wedding venue for my daughter, Katie. The farm wedding had been 130 years in the making since our family started here in 1890. Under our iconic, “Thinking Tree,” above our riparian buffer, and next to adjacent green pastures with Red Angus “ushers”, we celebrated the union of beautiful love between our Katie B and Katie A. My father speech etched the significance this way:
“The ultimate goal of our farm is to build a loving, resilient diversity where all the parts: The soil biology, the pastures, the livestock, the flowers, the insects, the trees, the water, the wildlife, and the people come together as one, while dancing arm and arm with Mother Nature. Our passion is to create a place for the next generations to thrive. This land represents the premise of Professor Dumbledore, who said “You are protected, in short, by your ability to love”.
The quarantine protocols have given rise to virtual learning and limited engagements for all of us who relish field work, but the time has been beneficial to explore the finer points of all things grazing. I hope to shake the seedheads of on-farm trials from 2020 and get folks to question the true meaning of grazing. I’m at a point in my life where the art and decision-making of using this practice to holistically improve life on the planet is my true measure, even if I can’t do it “right.”
Enjoy this visit to the Bishopp Family Farm as they celebrate love of farm and family.