Producing high-quality grass-fed beef and pasture-raised lamb, pork, and chicken requires a delicate balance of art and science. As regenerative ranchers, we are constantly striving to improve the health of our pastures. Essentially, we are grass farmers who manage our livestock to maintain the health of our grass and soil. By prioritizing grass and soil care, our animals thrive naturally, leading to healthier livestock and meat that is more nutritious, flavorful, and tender.
Unfortunately, when we acquired the property, the sandy soil was not very fertile, posing challenges for us. Despite this, we have been working diligently since 2016 to improve the quality and fertility of our pastures. Each spring, I assess what has worked in previous years and plan for the upcoming year. Despite a very wet spring this year, I took advantage of some lovely days this past weekend to plant seeds.
Last year, I had great success with Brown Top Millet in the chicken pasture, so this year I decided to plant 400 lbs. of both Brown Top and Pearl Millet across 15 acres. There are several spots where the pigs (both wild and domestic) turned up the soil, so I made sure to lay down a good bunch in these areas. Otherwise, I’m counting on a heavy rainfall to drive the seed down through the existing sod. The cows will help out when they walk on it, driving it down into the dirt.
I’m always searching for ways to improve the pasture, so I thought I’d try my luck at a few legumes. Legumes like clovers and beans can pull nitrogen from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil, which makes it available to other plants when they decay. They are also high in protein, which animals need. I was excited to see lots of clover this spring, and for the first time ever we had Hairy Vetch spontaneously show up. This encouraged me to try planting some summer legumes, so along with the Millet, I broadcast some Sunn Hemp. Sunn Hemp is a warm season legume that originated in India. All of the literature tells me it’s manna from heaven – providing high yields and very high protein forage (more than alfalfa). I’ve been duped by these projections before, so I’m going to remain skeptical until I see how it performs – fingers crossed.
I also planted a little bit of cow pea and a forage soybean. Both of these need to be planted deep so I mounted the discs on the tractor and got to work. Since we had this wide swath where the 100 tons of chicken manure
had been sitting I went ahead and spread the beans over that area and disced them in. I also planted some where I had rolled out hay for the cows and they left a lot of residual hay on the ground. I like to disc this in so the worms and bacteria can feed on it. I’ve not planted cow peas or soybean before, so this too is a test run to see how it does.
You may recall that I planted some Daikon radish this winter in some heavy clay areas. The idea was that the deep root of the radish would penetrate into the clay, and once decomposed, would add organic matter and a channel for water to infiltrate. Well, I had mixed results with this experiment. Where the soil was pretty rich, the radish did very well, but on the heavy clay, they really struggled to make much progress. You can see from the pictures the difference in the health of the two examples. The experiment wasn’t a total bust, however. It’s good to know that I can broadcast the radish seed over select parts of the pasture and get a good forage for winter grazing. I’ll just have to continue to work on building fertility for the nutrient deficient and heavy clay areas before I can expect good performance.
Overall, I'm excited to see how these experiments turn out and will continue to search for ways to improve the pasture's fertility and yield.
Pflugerville Pfarmers Market Schedule:
- Regular Season: May 2 - October 31
- Pfestive Markets: November 7 & 21, December 5, 12 & 19