Here at Sylvan Dale we are using cattle to help build up organic matter and carbon content of our soils.  The technique:  planned, rapid rotation grazing.  It turns out this also helps the soil conserve water.  Here’s a post from Dr. Roy Roath, CSU Professor Emeritus, describing a grazing experiment he conducted on range land in Northern Colorado:

In a program implemented north of Fort Collins in a ‘short grass prairie” receiving an average of 10-12 inches of annual precipitation; we implemented a grazing program designed explicitly to greatly increase water capture and retention. This requires a designed rotational grazing program to allow use, foster tillering and plant recruitment and management for growth and regrowth to full recovery in every pasture every year. In doing this we were able to increase forage on offer, leave greater residual cover and increase the diversity of the stand including greatly increasing the forb component. What we found is that the “short grass prairie” was really a mixed grass prairie suppressed by years of inappropriate grazing. We soon had major increases in cool season grasses and forbs and many tall warm season grasses that were not evident and not even thought to be a part of this ecosystem when we started. After five years in this program we had two dry streambeds that became streams that flowed 365 days a year and began to grow riparian vegetation the full length of their corridor. A critical part of this management strategy is to regain and manage cover on the primary terraces bordering the streambed. These are water storage areas and must have structure and cover to maintain the integrity to the stored water in the system. I can’t say that this works everywhere but I have enough experience in a variety of environments to know that one can vastly improve water capture and in doing so has a great probability of good things happening.

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The world has a water problem.  More and more of the landscape in temperate zones is turning into desert.  The planet is warming due to greenhouse gases.

Now along comes Allan Savory, the founder of holistic grazing management, claiming that herds of livestock can reverse these trends.  It sounds a little too good to be true, but Savory makes a convincing case.

My wife and I heard Allan Savory speak at the Quivira Coalition conference last October.  Now everyone can hear him speak at the TED Talks website.  It’s way worth twenty minutes of your time.  And his photos of transformed landscapes are stunning.

David J

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Just when you thought mass-produced beef couldn’t get less appetizing (remember the “pink slime” hamburger controversy?), along comes Zilmax, a new growth drug being fed to feedlot cattle across the country.  According to author Christopher Leonard, Zilmax was originally developed to treat asthma in humans.  In feedlot-raised cattle, it produces faster muscle growth…and more profits.  It’s FDA approved, but according to Leonard, it makes steak tougher, less flavorful and less juicy than beef from untreated cattle.  Beef McNuggets anyone?  Read the full article from the San Jose Mercury News, and a longer article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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From June, 2012Cow with hang-up 1

Cows are more athletic than most people think.  They are also usually pretty sensible.  But every once in a while they do something really weird.

This is number 601, veteran of five calving seasons, steady mama, six years in the herd without incident.

Until last Tuesday.

We had just finished separating cows from calves in preparation for branding and vaccinating the little ones, when a passing ranch hand let us know we had a cow with a high-center problem.  We dropped our syringes and branding irons and ran to help.

We don’t know what possessed this cow to take up the sport of high-jumping.  But her labored breathing and frantic leg thrashing told us she was in a world of hurt.  Her hind legs, stuck through the gate rungs, were in danger of snapping.

What to do?

Our cattle manager had the wit to thrust a piece of plywood between the cow’s back hooves and the gate, then clip the wires holding the gate panel to the fence.  We slowly tipped the panel forward to the ground.  Number 601 scrambled off, huffing for breath, drooling, wild-eyed, and looking like a candidate for a bovine psych ward.

As we tried to edge closer to assess any damage, Number 601 eyed us as if we were the cause of her troubles and galloped off to the far side of the corral.  That’s gratitude for you.

David J

In response to an article by Bobby Magill in the Ft. Collins Coloradoan about a new “Ecosystem Services” Conservation Effort in Larimer County, one reader questioned whether city dwellers should contribute funds to help farmers and ranchers reduce nutrient or sediment pollution that flows from their lands into the watershed.  Shouldn’t there be regulations that force landowners to assume these costs themselves? he asked.

A legitimate question.  Here is the answer prepared by the Steering Committee of the Colorado Conservation Exchange, the group promoting the ecosystem services concept.

There are hundreds of small livestock and horse operations in our watershed, and thousands of agricultural crop lands.  Individually, none of them releases significant pollution or sediment into lakes and streams.  Collectively, they hold the potential to improve water quality for all. Read more on Why Help Ranchers Improve Our Watershed?…

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Jessup Family 1944

The Jessups, 1944
“Tillie,” Maurice
Susan, David

October 25, 2012

Our first snow of the season.  Wet flakes, barely covering the ground.  I woke up, peered out the window and glanced at the date on my watch.  With a start, I realized it was my father’s birthday.  One-hundred years ago.

He passed away in 1993 at the age of eighty.  A terrible lung fibrosis stilled his great heart.  During the nearly twenty years of his long decline, he never complained.  He kept plugging away at his dreams and projects at Sylvan Dale, the place he loved, even when he had a hard time moving from his chair to his desk. 

We still experience the beauty of the place he and my mom developed and nurtured.  A great privilege.  My sister, Susan, delved into the files and pullout out the “Remembrances” book for his memorial service.  I thought I’d share what we wrote about him: Read more on Maurice Jessup Would Have Been 100 Years Old Today…

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Buy This Book

Publishing your first novel is a bit nerve-wracking.  First you get an ego adjustment from your critique group as they pick apart your precious prose.  Then you get more character-building experience by having your finished manuscript rejected by scores of harried agents and editors.   When you finally get published, expectations sufficiently lowered, you wonder whether anyone will come to your book launch.  You’d be happy with a crowd of three, over and above your immediate family.

 So it was with a sense of wonder and gratitude that I peered out at a crowd of over one hundred book enthusiasts who elbowed into Loveland’s Anthology Book Company Friday night, October 12, to hear about my historical novel, Mariano’s Crossing.  Thank you thank you and thank you.  The book store thanks you.  They sold some eighty books, and not a few beers.  And let’s add the thanks of the Loveland Historical Society, who will receive my part of the proceeds of your generous purchases.

 Now the euphoria is fading, and I’m wondering if anyone will like the book. 

 Attention, readers:  If you do like it, feel free to infect the social media with your viral accolades.  Tweet away, however that works (it’s a mystery to me).  On the other hand, if you don’t like it, contact me privately.  I’m used to it, but why spoil it for others?  Heh, heh. 

 David J

 PS.  You can buy autographed copies from my website at www.davidmjessup.com.  The book is also available at Anthology Books, 422 E. 4th Street in Loveland, CO, and will be distributed through regular channels to bookstores and on-line retailers after November 26.

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Promise

By David Jessup

She was supposed to be a companion dog for my wife, Linda.  Suburban-raised, well trained, affectionate, calm (the dog, that is).  A classic Australian Shepherd:  blue-black back, white collar, buff patches around brown eyes.  A polite dog.  She’d chase a ball to humor you, but nothing obsessive, like some Aussies we’ve known.  Nothing unusual about her.

Until she spotted her first elk herd.  (See video here)

Promise came to us in Maryland, courtesy of a friend who had to move away to take care of her aging mother.  A month later we flew Promise out to Colorado for our annual nine-month stint at the ranch.  It was April, time to begin irrigating our Big Valley hay field.  I invited Promise to go along.  She cocked her head and stood by the open car door.

“Hop in,” I said.

She sat down.

“Up,” I said.  I tried to make my voice sound excited.  I snapped my fingers.

Promise looked at me as if she suspected I was taking her on a one-way trip to the dog pound.
Read more on Promise, the Elk-chasing Cow Dog…

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The demand for our 100% grass-fed beef has increased so much that to supply our customers, we have more than doubled our production.  We’re now taking advance orders for beef to be available in late fall, 2013.  If you’d like us to reserve some delicious beef for you, please send a $100 deposit to the address below, or call the office with your credit card info, at 970-667-3915.

Thanks,
David Jessup
Heart-J Beef
Sylvan Dale Ranch
2939 N. County Rd. 31D
Loveland, CO 80538
970-667-3915

 

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By David Jessup

 

 

First I thought we were cattle ranchers. Then I learned we were grass ranchers (the cattle are merely a way to get the grass to the bank). Then at a 2010 Quivira Coalition conference, I found out we are really carbon ranchers, of all things.

Plants scrub the air of Carbon Dioxide during photosynthesis. Some of the carbon goes into the soil through the roots, where it gets stored in humus. Humus lasts a long time. It enriches the soil while removing excess CO2. Unfortunately, our chemical-heavy agricultural system is destroying it at a scary rate. “Don’t treat soil like dirt,” one speaker said.

Following the conference, Linda and I paid a visit to John Wick, a California rancher working with the Marin Carbon Project. He’s all hepped up about the potential of wrangling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it in soil humus. How? By spreading a thin layer of compost on his cattle pastures. He claims that a mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of agricultural soils in his state could absorb all the annual CO2 emissions from California vehicle traffic. Oh, and by the way, the increased soil carbon makes the grass grow taller and faster.

So you can improve your pastures and help save the planet at the same time? Sounds like a bargain.

We’re now trying to replicate some of his research here at Sylvan Dale Ranch. With some advice from John and carbon researcher Whendee Silver, a UC Berkeley professor, and some baseline soil samples taken by Rich Conant at Colorado State University, we spread compost on one side of our pasture in a checkerboard pattern to create a number of sample plots. CSU’s Center for Collaborative Conservation helped pay for some of the compost (it’s expensive!). We’ll mob-graze some of these plots with our cattle herd to see if trampling hooves and manure also enhance carbon storage. Then more soil samples. Results will be posted here as they come in (not soon, I might add – soil building is a long-term process).

In the meantime, I found some riveting internet sources on carbon ranching:

  • The Carbon Pilgrim. Courtney White, founder of the Quivira Coalition, writes eloquently about carbon ranching and explains the carbon cycle in a way that inspires the same goose-pimply feeling you get when contemplating the universe. White chronicles his trip to find out whether farming and ranching could play a significant role in reducing CO2 using carbon sequestration. A book is in the works.
  • The Soil Solution, a five-minute film on Youtube. Sustainable World Media visits with farmers, scientists, and educators who are exploring the connection of soil fertility to water quality, food security, and carbon sequestration.
  • Peter Donovan is an educator from eastern Oregon who has created a $10,000 prize for a farmer or rancher who can convert the most CO2 into soil carbon during a five year period. During his yellow school bus trip around America, he has managed to sign up fifty takers. Maybe we’ll add our ranch to the list. All in favor, say “Aye.”

Enjoy. This is good stuff.