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Animal Health Notebook
Erosion in a cotton field Alan Newport
Tillage is just one of the ravages we wreak on the land to our own detriment.

How to destroy your farm or ranch

We need to change the way we think before we can improve the way we farm or ranch.

Most of us can justify our management decisions and actions, or at least make excuses.

For example, I’ve got a friend in eastern Tennessee who clears $30,000 per year with his side-line body piercing business. He claims to beat me with his model as to income. He is very accurate. I tell him that I have major ethical problems with his deal. He does not agree. I produce quality food and land and soil growth. He makes good profits punching holes and implanting cheap shiny rocks into various body parts that tend to turn my stomach. I get the impression most people do not care.

I see and regularly work around operations that are destroying a lot of ground, specifically their soil. This is and has been true in North America and most of the world for a long, long time. My friend Gabe Brown in North Dakota reports in his book Dirt to Soil that he stood on a big piece of ground in Australia that was previously 36 inches deep in fertile soil. At that time he was standing on subsoil that was the result of conventional farming. He and I both have had some wonderful results with building new soil, but I doubt that we will stay on the planet long enough to build 36 inches.

Destroying a farm or ranch is moving it toward desertification. The first sign is the loss of plant diversity. The second sign is significant bare ground. Normally there are no longer many healthy high-seral plants hanging around. Weeds and brush become evident and a problem. Stocking rates and animal health have gone south. The same is true of profitability.

Here is my list of how to destroy a farm or ranch.

  • Routine use of tillage, which will destroy soil structure, organic matter, and soil life and structure.
  • Apply chemical salt fertilizer and apply herbicides to limit plant diversity.
  • Manage for monocultures and or very limited species cultures.
  • Breed and keep cattle that do not fit the environment. They will be long, tall, big and produce a bunch of milk, if you haul enough feed to them. They bring top dollar when culled at 5-7 years of age after weaning two or three heavy, soggy calves.
  • Graze the same pastures at the same time every year or spread the cattle and leave them set-stocked.
  • Regularly spray herbicides and kill broadleaf "weeds" you don’t like.
  • Harrow and spread the manure pies every spring.
  • Routinely apply systemic parasiticals and insecticides to all the cattle. Feed larvacides.
  • Clip pastures routinely and spray the fence rows. Ignore the benefits of wildlife and birds.
  • Manage for short, water-loving grasses that love fertilizer application.
  • Sell your cattle when the weather turns dry or the market goes south. Then you can get in the hay business or lease the place to the row-crop boys.

Truth is that I could be accused of joking but I did not list a single management technique that is not routinely recommended and practiced by most universities, consultants and most of my neighbors. I never get an invitation to tax-supported beef producer schools.

I consider the writings of myself, Alan Newport and Walt Davis at Beef Producer to be driven by health and ranch profitability. On the other hand, if you follow my list of negative factors above, destruction of your farm or ranch is underway, and your income heads south. I’m not holding my breath until the destruction stops, but a change in viewpoint between the ears can make a big change on the land.

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