Regan and Moffit Breeders Take a Holistic Approach | Livestock
It takes a different mindset to transition to an operation that focuses on regenerative farming practices and soil health principles in raising grass, crops and livestock.
But according to Burleigh County Soil Conservation District (BCSCD) supervisors and breeders Cody Kologi of Moffit, ND, and David Bauer of Regan, ND, the time and effort spent doing it pays off.
At Menoken Farm’s second annual “Crops, Blankets and Cows” in 2021, supervisors spoke about returning their soil, grass and pastures to the way nature intended. is where regenerative agriculture begins on the farm/ranch.
David Bauer, who farms/ranches with his father, Glenn, and brother, Steve, said managing his ranch became “the whole system” after attending a holistic management school taught by Josh Dukart.
“All we’re doing is trying to get back to thinking about the whole system instead of just one crop that we’re doing that year,” Bauer said. “We are thinking about how this will affect the ranch next year or the year after.”
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Bauer believes that healthy soil, grass and livestock starts with keeping the ground covered and keeping a living root in the ground at all times.
“No matter how tall a plant is, it’s at least as high below the ground, so every time a plant is harvested on top, it also loses what’s below (the root),” said he declared. The nutrients are brought by the roots and the microbes need the sugars from the roots.
If a cow takes a bite of a grass, Bauer says it will take those supplies, eliminate what it needs, and then scavenge the plant over it.
As the cows continue to eat more than half of the plant, the root below becomes smaller and smaller.
“If you have a small root, you won’t get the nutrients the plant needs in that second year, or even later in the first year,” he said.
That’s why Bauer moves his cows every 3 to 7 days. They take half and leave half, leaving a living root in the ground. Grass grows back with rest.
“It’s like a diverse pasture. They’re there at a high density for a short period of time, and then it’s the rest and the recovery that you have to pay the most attention to,” Bauer said.
While grazing, Bauer wants his cows to eat all the plants in the pasture, not just the “chocolates” – their favorite grass. To do this, he moves an electric fence.
“We use aircraft cables. I can run longer distances with airplane cable and the conductivity is a little better than if I used poly wire,” he said.
Sometimes Bauer will roll out the plane cable to fit around a large pasture and use the poly wire to divide the pastures into cells for grazing.
There are benefits he has seen through his diverse grazing program and adherence to soil health principles.
The pasture spreads manure and urine throughout the pasture, fertilizing the grasses as the cows move. With heavy grazing and other soil health principles, organic matter has increased in his soil on pasture.
As soil organic matter increases, the available water capacity also increases, he pointed out.
“Every 1% increase in organic matter results in up to 25,000 gallons of available soil water per acre,” Bauer said. “If it’s overgrazed or over-ploughed, it loses its organic matter, and every time you plow, you lose carbon in the soil.”
Bauer pointed out that cover crops can help this situation by keeping the ground covered. His cows not only graze the grass, but also cover the crops in late fall and after harvest.
“You have a living root in the ground and depending on the type of plant you have, it could help bring phosphorus to the surface so it’s available for your annual crops or it could save nitrogen. If it’s a deep-rooted plant, it can help increase water infiltration,” he said.
Right after the Bauers are harvested, they will sow a cover crop, usually a cooler season crop because it will stay greener longer in the fall.
“A lot of times we plant a rye or rye vetch that will grow the next spring and hold the water and start bringing in the nutrients,” he said. “Then we will sow in there and dry out the rye.”
This maintains a living root in the soil and feeds the microbiology to help spring crops get started.
The Bauers believe in crop diversity to help the soil.
“We will be planting in rotation with wheat, barley, oats, corn, soybeans or peas,” he said.
While they use herbicides when needed, they try to move away from fungicides.
“What we’re trying to do is just make our soil healthy enough that we don’t have to use fungicide at all,” he said.
For Bauer, it’s about keeping the system healthy.
“If we can keep carbon in the soil and grazing on native grasslands, that’s the purest way to get carbon into the soil. The second best is no-till, because we continually build that soil if we graze it properly and keep it in native grassland,” he explained.
Last year there was a major drought in the state, but Bauer had enough grass that he didn’t need to graze all the way.
Bauer hopes his early weed does well this year. It already looks like that.
“Last year because there was no water (with the drought) there was very little recovery. But hopefully the grass comes back this year and it grows back because there’s still a living root there. I’m looking at it now, and it’s turning green and looking good,” Bauer said.
Cody Kologi, a bottom and storage operator, said it’s mostly an all-grass ranch, which is managed holistically. He practices intensive grazing on his pastures with his cattle.
“We manage our pastures intensively, and what I mean by that is that we’re high-density, low-frequency,” Kologi said. “We hit the grass hard and don’t come back for 60, 80 or even 365 days.”
While a grass rest period of 70 to 80 days is “optimal,” the less moisture the ranch receives, the longer the rest period should be.
Perennial grasses store a lot of energy in their roots.
“Because of that, there are longer roots. You can endure less rain. You actually increase your organic matter and your soils have a higher water holding capacity,” he said.
The Kologis saw “incredible changes” happening in their perennial pastures, and they saw the changes happening as early as the second year.
“We are seeing incredible changes in the diversity of our grass – the vigor of our grass,” he said.
Through grazing, resting and recovering from grazing, they found that their grasses and soils improved. New and diverse grass species from the prairie seed bank of “hundreds of years ago” are constantly popping up in their pastures.
“The harder you graze, the faster the results, and just by letting the grass sit, we’ve started to notice the appearance of warm season grasses like Big Bluestems and Prairie Sand Reed. It just exploded in our pastures.
Before Kologi embraced regenerative agriculture and soil health practices, he thought grass was just grass.
“You’re basically giving the weed time to express itself. With this high-intensity grazing, you are mimicking nature,” he said. “If there’s a lot of trampling (due to cattle hoof action) and urination and impact, he says, ‘Hey, let’s grow up. It’s a good thing for us.
Kologi also grows cover crops and forage crops to feed her livestock during the winter.
He does not use pour-on, which kills flies on his cattle, because it will kill the dung beetles, which are healthy for the soil. Instead, he always keeps the cattle moving ahead of the flies.
“We constantly move our cattle daily to fresh grass pastures, so we’re always ahead of the flies,” he said.
It takes Kologi a few hours to set up moving the cattle to a new pasture.
“It might take a few hours a day to install a new temporary electric fence and it takes 10 minutes to move 800 yearlings,” he said.
They have a good water supply system and miles of pipeline to always bring fresh water, as well as streams and storage dams.
“As a rule, one reservoir can water four pastures,” he said.
With improved soil and grass health, Kologi was able to increase his stockpile by 30%.
“It’s like buying a 30% bigger ranch,” he says.
As a BCSCD board member, Kologi said the district has 120 acres of farmland, called Menoken Farm.
“Menoken Farm is where we can do these tests and educate and inform people about soil health. This is our main motivation. We use regenerative farming and animal husbandry practices on the farm, as well as rotational grazing of sheep and cattle,” Kologi said. “We use cover crops followed by cash crops, or vice versa, in the name of soil health and resilience.”
Kologi participates in visits to Menoken Farm.
“Jay Fuhrer (a soil specialist on the farm) was my mentor and I learned a lot from him,” he added.
Crops, blankets and cows scheduled for August 10
Fuhrer said there will be another “Crops, Blankets and Cows” on August 10 this year, so mark your calendars. It will involve integrating crop and livestock systems with cover crops as a bridge.
“You take cropping and grazing systems and look at the benefits and challenges of each of those systems. The goal is to integrate the two with livestock. Cover crops are the bridge,” Fuhrer said.
“We will have more good speakers in August and more good discussions. In the morning we will be at Menoken Farm, and in the afternoon we will be at Cody Kologi Farm near Moffit,” he added.
For more information, see Menoken Farm at https://menokenfarm.com.