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Grass farmer speaks of building soils with cattle, waste
By JANE W. GRAHAM
(Feb. 24, 2015) A North Carolina graizer shared what he has learned about building soils with the animals he raises and the waste from them and the plants they eat and trample during the annual Virginia forage and Grassland Council Winter Conferences held in January across the state.
Johnny R.Rogers of Roxboro, N.C. told how he and his wife Sharon graze several species on all leased land and work to improve the soils that grow the plants which feed their animals.
These include their Red Angus and Sim-Angus seed stock, commercial cattle, hair sheep, pastured pork and poultry.
Rogers pointed to two events which have given him a reason to think about his business.
One was a Ranching for Profit School in 2005 and a North Carolina Forage and Grasslands Council in 2012 where he met Ray Achulelta, a soil scientist with NRCS.
After the RFP school Rogers said he realized most of the good or bad things that had occurred in their business hinged on their management. He noted weather and negative market conditions have an impact on farming but then went further.
“However, he said, “our success will be defined primarily within the boundaries of our fence and by the decisions we make. This realization gave me a brief sense of strength that was soon replaced by a tremendous amount of anxiety. There are no excuses and RCC will succeed (or not) based on the management of Johnny and Sharon Rogers.”
The second event was meeting Archuleta.
His keynote speech for the group which Rogers was serving as president opened a door for Rogers. It was at that meeting when he learned that in addition to soil testing to keep N, P, and pH balanced there is more to growing forages and having good, healthy soils.
“Ray showed me that soil was more than chemistry and he discussed the importance of soil biology on the success of agricultural systems” Rogers said. “He discussed the importance of soil biology on the success of agriculture systems.”
After hearing Archuleta, Rogers reported a moment when new ideas became clear.
“The light bulb moment for me was when I realized that healthier soil will grow better forages and better forages will grow better livestock. In addition, I realized the soil is the foundation of our society and I have ignored this vital resource for too long,” he stated. “From that moment I decided to consider the whole pasture ecosystem as I made decisions (soil, forage, animals, etc.) Rogers outlined steps he sees as necessary to have a healthy soil. These include keeping plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil, using plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil; managing soils by disturbing them less; and keeping the soil covered as much as possible.
He does this using Management Intensive Grazing principals such as grazing paddocks to the correct residual high and giving forage adequate rest periods.
Taking steps to insure plants have high levels of living roots helps increase the population of soil microbes.
He said the soils get nutrients from the manure, saliva and milk foam of cattle.
It also gets nutrients from something many consider a wasted resource, uneaten hay.
He said what the animals don’t use the soil can use.
Long rest periods between grazing periods allows the forage to recover, he stressed.
It lets their roots go deeper and enables them to find more water underground.
More information on this subject is from NCFGC or the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council or Virginia Cooperative Extension, a partner with VFGC in sponsoring the event.