John Holdridge and I bought this farm, West Wind Farm, in 1979 as a retreat from city life and preoccupation with US national and foreign policies. We loved the West Virginia views, the fresh air, the brilliant night sky, the hiking. Soon we began to learn about the cattle industry and the importance of grass. We learned that if you manage both grass and cattle just right, your cattle could gain weight and your pastures gain fertility. Little did we know that, as we learned more about rotational grazing, carbon emissions, and carbon sequestration, we would awaken to the potential of grass and grasslands to influence both national and UN policies concerning Climate Change.
In the 1980s, we followed local custom and joined with our neighbor in a cow/calf operation. Each Fall we sold calves to the market. Only later did we learn that these calves were destined for feedlots. In the 1990s we bought yearling calves in Spring, watched them eat our grass all summer, and in Fall sold them to the market, from which, again, they were destined for feedlots. By then we had learned the dreadful nature of feedlots, and we fervently wished we had a better choice.
That choice came in January 2000 when we attended a Stockman Grassfarmer conference in Roanoke, VA. There we learned from speaker/farmer, Joel Salatin, how we could buy yearlings in Spring, let them eat our grass all summer, have them butchered in Fall, and sell grassfed beef in Winter. Thus we could totally avoid feedlots. We practiced that system from Spring 2000 through the Fall of 2013. In those 14 years we came to understand truly important concepts – both from our own farm experience and from much reading and research. Now we hope to share some of those ideas with you.
At West Wind Farm(WWF) all animals were raised with no grain, no antibiotics, no hormones and we used no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. We moved our steers daily to fresh pasture in a system called Management Intensive Grazing (MIG). At WWF we call it Organic MIG. We learned by experience and by learning from others that important essentials are:
- Grass and clover pastures, organically managed
- Sun and moderate temperatures
- CO2 in the atmosphere
- Rain (or irrigation)
- Cattle bred to thrive on forage, not grain
- Poly-wire electric fence for paddock devisions
- Daily, or more frequent, rotational grazing
- Small paddocks; long rest periods
- Easy access to water and to kelp/salt mineral mix
Between 2002 and 2007, we regularly sent WWF soil samples to the WVU Soil Test Lab. To our surprise, results showed a remarkable increase in organic matter – MORE THAN DOUBLE over one 5-year period. We were thrilled to think that thanks to Organic MIG and the miracle of photosynthesis, WWF was experiencing carbon sequestration.
In 2008 the WVU Soil Lab supervisor calculated that 4 tons/acre of organic matter increase meant that in 5 years each acre of pasture WWF had drawn 15 tons of CO2 from the air into the pasture.
Later in 2008 a USDA/ARS scientist estimated a net carbon sequestration at WWF. This was the time period when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Global Warming and Climate Change was saying that the whole cattle industry was causing a big increase in global warming. I was excited to think that the system I used to manage our steers at WWF was reducing CO2 in the atmosphere!
So, this is the reason for my Grass Power and Climate Change web and blog site. I invite you to join me in this discussion in the hopes you can help me to spread the word about this positive and environmentally beneficial practice, which is:
Good for the animals, good for soil fertility, good for the farmer, good for the consumer, and good for the environment.
* © Martha Holdridge December 2014. Use only with permission and acknowledgment of the author.