A Youthful Voice...The Advocate Youth Page Schyler Angell

Associate Editor,
Advocate Youth Page

This morning, I woke up and looked out my window to see five inches of snow. As a high schooler I can’t help but love the sight of snow because for me it often means a snow day.

Recently, Kelly, my dad’s girlfriend, transitioned our house decor from a Christmas theme to snow man theme. We made sure to give her a hard time about the abundance of snowmen next to the TV, on the dinner table and in the window sill. What really did my dad in was a cute little sign saying “We love snow!” In a jokingly manner, my dad said, “Kelly, we have cattle, we don’t love snow.” This gave me a laugh because I realized then that I was somewhere in the middle of “We love snow!” and “We have cattle.” (also known as, “We do not like snow.”)

As a large part of the midwest has received winter weather, I know cattle farmers are likely already feeding hay and maybe even thinking about seeing green grass pop up in the spring.

Ironically, I took advantage of my snow day and attended the 3rd Annual NEMO Soil Health Workshop in Monroe City to learn about soil health, and how to get the most out of that green grass. While at the all day clinic, I heard from several speakers, including Dr. Steven Green, Adam Chappell and Doug Peterson. All of the speakers are very knowledgeable and on the forefront when it comes to soil health, something that I have just started learning about.

For years I have been attending cattlemen’s meetings, but I haven't heard any discussion about life under the soil. However, I have recently started hearing buzzwords like soil aggregates, infiltration rate and organic glues. Row crop farmers and cattlemen have taken interest in practices that have proven to develop a healthier soil and more productive crop or grassland.

Adam Chappell, a fourth generation Arkansas farmer and cover crop farmer since 2010, posed the question, “What do you want the soil to do for you?” The audience replied saying “not wash away, retain water, stay cool and make money”. Adam then shared some of the ways he changed his operation to improve soil health as a row crop farmer: not tilling unless needed, keeping a living plant/root in the soil year round, allowing diversity and incorporating livestock.

Adam made these changes in hopes of having less weed pressure and a healthier soil. Where he farms in Arkansas, cattle are not common, so when he wanted to add cattle on his farm to utilize cover crops, he traveled three hours to get to the nearest livestock auction! He purchased 40 “ugly”, cheap and skinny cows to graze his cover crop and fertilize the soil. Within a year the herd developed and put on weight. When Adam decided to sell the cows he had successfully utilized the cover crop, fertilized the soil and made a profit on his herd.

“The most dangerous phrase we can say.” he noted, “is that ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”

For Adam, the completely new practices did come with challenges, but through them his farm soil began to do everything he wanted it to do for him.

Next, Doug Peterson shared three management tools in his presentation titled, “Management Tools for Healthy Soil, Healthy Animals and Healthy Profits”.

Firstly, he shared how to use stock density correctly. Stock density is the number of animals per acre. Although Doug believes the best soils are made with livestock, it does take management and planning to properly graze grass and control stock density. Each scenario is specific to the farm, but rest periods, seasons of usage such as calving season and the different classes of livestock are all factors that should be taken into consideration when managing pasture land.

Secondly, he shared the importance of understanding livestock nutrition. Protein and energy should always be considered, and feeding cattle should be managed for the animals with the highest nutritional needs.

Thirdly, reducing hay dependence and being intentional while hay feeding is beneficial. Doug said that 60% of operation cost is feed, and reducing hay usage through intensive rotational grazing helps to eliminate some of that expense. Unrolling hay or doing rotational bale feeding prevents having cattle stand in mud and disperses manure throughout the pasture to fertilize the soil.

Whether you have been rotational grazing for years or you are just taking interest in soil health, there is so much to learn. If you would like more information on how you can improve your farm’s soil health by reading one or all of the following books:

Holistic Management by Allan Savory
The Hidden Half of Nature by David Montgomery
Teaming up with Microbes by Lowenfels and Lewis
Soil Biology Primer by Elaine Ingham
Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown
Growing a Revolution by David Montgomey

Attending a clinic is a great way to network, ask questions and hear from an excellent panel of speakers.
MFA is sponsoring a Grazing-Forage day in Kirksville, MO on February 27. Who knows, if I have a snow day I may be attending!