We never use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, never treat our animals with antibiotics or growth hormones, never feed grain, and safeguard the Coeur D'Alene watershed with responsible management practices.
How we Manage differently
Everything we do is to mimic nature. Grasslands and ungulates (bison, wildebeest, cattle, elk, etc.) coevolved over eons and they need each other to thrive. Just as the great herds migrated, we graze intensively but for short periods of time and then allow a long recovery period. Animal impact, manure and the growth and retraction of roots in response to grazing maximizes species diversity and top soil construction.
In nature, herds of grazing animals are kept bunched up and moving by wolves and grizzly bears and when animals are bunched up vegetation is uniformly grazed and manure uniformly spread and the animals are kept moving away from the disease and flies that live in the impacted areas and the grasses in the impacted areas are allowed to fully recover. Instead of grizzly bears and wolves, we use electric fence to move the animals everyday.
You move your animals every day? That sounds like a lot of work! Not really, it only takes about 30 minutes every day and it eliminates many of the problems that conventional grazing practices have. Also, we love spending time with our cows, so it doesn't really feel like work, though there are days it would be more fun to sleep in :) The increased pasture productivity and health allows us to eliminate the need to fertilize, our pastures are more drought resistant, and the cows manage weeds for us by eating them, so we exchange time spent spraying toxic chemicals and driving a tractor for time walking around in a healthy environment with our cows. That seems like a good trade to us.
How our management practices functionally help the environment
The crux of our management system is the daily pasture move. Nothing is possible without that, though we could get similar results by moving every other day or twice a day, but once a day is working well for us. What would NOT work is what most graziers do: just turn their cows loose in a big field and let the cows decide what's the best way to manage the grass. We love our cows, but they need structure and rules to improve the environment.
Here are some common management tools that we AVOID:
Of course we fertilize... we just let our cows do it with manure, and create an environment that legumes thrive in, all of which supports healthy soil biology and when the fungus in the ground is happy, then you're really cruising.
Why not use synthetic fertilizers? lots of reasons: they leach into rivers, kill the soil biology that would accomplish the same results without them, they're toxic to us and the environment we are putting them in, and they're expensive
Why apply an herbicide? To kill a 'weed', but what if your cows eat the weeds?
By confining our cows to an area that will feed them for 24 hours they become a lot less selective about what they eat. Weeds aren't bad for them, and frequently they are very good for them, but it's not different than you or I at a buffet. We are going to eat what we like best first, then go for the other stuff. Well, if the buffet has only just enough food for everyone, you'll take what you get and be happy about it. That's the gist of why our cows eat weeds and other people's don't. It's not that our cows are smarter, we just manage them differently (it was hard not to write 'better' there ;).
You only need antibiotics if animals gets sick, so what gets an animal sick?
Stress, in the form of poor nourishment, emotional stress from crowding or other environmental factors. Sounds like a feedlot, doesn't it? Again, by mimicking nature, our animals are happier and healthier and we almost never have to use antibiotics. If an animal is in a life or death situation, we will administer antibiotics and then cull that animal from the herd.
Gross. I'm not even sure how to answer this one, I guess we just aren't in a big enough rush.
Wait, so you're saying if I have some pasture and start doing daily pasture moves I can solve all of my problems? Well, kind of, sort of.
You will notice an immediate improvement if you keep your stocking rate the same and start doing daily move, and over time (within a year or two) you will notice you can increase your stocking rate, but there is probably a 5 year gap until you notice dramatic (double the stocking rate is not uncommon) improvements.
Check out 'mob grazing' and 'bale grazing' as two powerful tools for renovating (and maintaining) pastures. Are you really still reading this? If so, we'd probably have fun hanging out. Feel free to contact us and we'd love to talk to you or join us at our ranch for a pasture walk.