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Animal Health Notebook
Good soil in the hand Alan Newport
Healthy soil results from management decisions that provide big disturbance and then plenty of recovery for the plants and soil life.

Dirt versus soil: A little explanation

The end result of the equation is all in the management.

Back in August of 2016 we were planning meals and food for our 499 Ranch college and conference. Everything centered around beef that came from our forage and soil and grazing program. But we needed some vegetable sides. We wanted local, nutrient-dense material that had been grown biodynamically. I wanted tomatoes, peppers and a few other ingredients. Research led me to Tennessee’s barefoot farmer, Jeff Poppin. "Barefoot" likes to barter, and we made a trade.

“Barefoot” grows six acres of a diverse mixture of greens, colors, tubers, roots, corn and more every year. He has a handful of cattle, and his partner has added a milk cow or two and several hens on pasture.

The other evening I drove several miles north to their CSA (community supported agriculture) to pick up a sack of sweet-potato slips. We ended up at a local brewery and tabled with a partner shop of 1940-model folks that I quickly learned are old lawyers with lots of experience in environmental law. They were interested in buffalo, soil building, nutrition and carbon.

“Barefoot” introduced me as some kind of expert and it wasn’t long before I had to start fielding questions and giving opinions. I explained the difficulties of buffalo management and the advantages of cattle. They voiced concerns over dietary fat and I went over the natural model truths. Most important, I explained the vital relationship between properly grazed cattle and soil and the community. The centerpiece for a healthy diet involves dirt versus soil, with cattle properly grazed and harvested. This is what we strive to accomplish.

The lawyers were interested in boom-and-bust pasture management resulting in soil building. They were impressed when I explained how we could catch and hold 80% of a five-inch rain even (140,000 gallons) and the runoff would be clear and drinkable.

I also mentioned the fact that raising the mowing height on yards, roadsides and other properties to four or more inches would reduce runoff by 25,000-50,000 gallons per acre in every rain event of significance. The more functional the animal-plant-soil-complex, the better water quality and availability become. Ditto for air quality. This is a portion of what dirt versus soil is all about.

One of the beauties of natural model programing is that 1+1 can routinely equal 3, 4, 5 or 6. Next year can be better almost every time. Soil is life from death. Dirt is mostly dead. The natural model requires death but can multiply it into an increase of more life.

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