Doug Abney is a cattleman. He raises purebred Belted Galloway cattle and is setting up to do intensive grazing of younger cattle with the help of and EQIP project through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Bargersville cattleman knows good pasture when he sees it.
Recently he visited Archie Sauerheber's farm near Ramsay. Steep slopes and rolling terrain, with bedrock underneath in some places, may not make it seem like an ideal place for cattle. Yet Abney thought it was a beautiful setting, and a great farm to run cattle on. Even in late October, the fields were green.
Sauerheber told him that the fields always weren't that way. He's owned the farm for several years and has maintained it in pasture with few soil erosion problems. But he assures him that in the 1930s and 1940s, much of southern Indiana, including his farm, was prone to gullies, some so deep you could bury small machines in them. That's because farmers of that day tried to plow up as much as they could, sometimes even areas with trees here and there.
Once the soil conservation movement picked up steam, many farmers took advantage of new techniques, and in some cases cost-share money, to get the fields back under cover. That typically meant moving soil to fill in gullies and establishing grass so that the hills no longer erode.
There is considerable past erosion, which means top soil is at a premium in some places, but many areas that were once a patchwork of gullies are now green and support cattle.
Over time the grass has helped start to rebuild organic matter and top soil. However, it's a slow process. There are still areas with little topsoil remaining, even though they can grow grass.
Sauerheber maintains a herd of about 30 cows on his fields. He manages the land and cattle so that he can make a profit, but yet minimize soil erosion problems at the same time. Abney, whose farm is not nearly as erosion-prone, was impressed.