Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ultra low cost small scale grazing

Greg Carlton, Knox County, Nebraska

Greg Carlton won't mind me saying this, but he has had to work from the bottom up. Having worked on or around farms for years he is now working on getting his own unit up and running.

His first philosophy is never to get attatched to anything. He is renting a small farm and he tells me if a bigger landholding came up at anytime he could be ready to pack up and go at anytime. And I thought the idea of the West being footloose frontierland died out ages ago! He says its important to keep flexible and not invest in any equipment or needless distractions from the main goal of gaining production without using capital. He says he never got on well with banks anyway and is proud that he doesn't need them now!

He has improved stocking rates on land that had previously been very denuded, by three fold. He wants to keep his sytem low tech - as you can see by his one significant cost on the left - the bale unroller.

Greg's strategy is to mob graze cows in the summer, he'll calve may and june. They then will go to standing corn and then rolled out hay on the corn field or some outlying land.

The following are bits of advice from my notes when I spent the afternoon looking a Greg's system:
  • Keep it simple and low tech. Holistic planned grazing will maintain species diversity, build organic matter and enhance the mineral cycle. Thats your capital.

  • Aim for low fossil fuel use and high animal use. Always look around for what you can use instead of buying it.

  • Never make your own hay! - If you need hay buy it. Five years out of six hay is cheaper to buy in than make. You need to count the nutrients and organic matter your adding with hay.

  • Green corn (standing maize) is a great feed. Half the price of shelled corn. He no-tills maize into pasture to extend his season and strip grazes it.

  • The herd will teach an animal everything he needs to know.

  • A heifer calving at three will last much longer than one at two. Don't push them

Greg's aim is to grow slow and steady, without debt. I couldn't help be impressed by his attitude and his efficiency. The picture where he is bale unrolling means he is adding organic matter to an area of the farm that needs more.

Sometimes a lot of the bigger graziers are wondering what Greg is doing because although a small farmer, he is known for his innovation and they want to see how much they can translate to their operations. The grazing corn thing is a case in point with a lot of farmers being risk averse to doing it even though the economics stack up very strongly in its favour.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    Very interesting, we graze stockpiled standing corn in the winter - Dec-Feb when the ground is frozen (via conventionally tillage). I take it Greg is spraying herbicide to do the no-till straight into pastures? Or is he just no-tilling into the existing grass?