By Luz Ballesteros and Felicia Bell

Soil for Water network member High Hope Farm is located in the “black prairie” country of western Clay County, Mississippi, and is owned and operated by Johnny and Deb Wray. Soil for Water Mississippi team leader Felicia Bell recently sat down with Mr. Wray to record an interview, discussing his regenerative journey and the improvements he’s seen in his farm’s soils. 

 In 2008, the Wrays decided to commit full-time to farming and moved permanently to the farm, after being inspired by Wendell Berry’s sustainable agriculture and local food systems philosophy. On their 38-acre farm, they raise regenerative grass-fed beef and lamb with two goals — providing safe, healthy beef and lamb to local consumers and sharing their regenerative agriculture journey with younger generations, hoping someone will follow in their footsteps. They use no steroids, growth hormones, antibiotics, or other chemical products. Their “high hope” is “to have a place that offers hospitality to friends and strangers alike — a welcoming table of good, healthy natural food, and a spot where earth, animals, plants, and people live, work, and play together harmoniously.” 

When the Wrays first began, they tested their soil and found it was deficient in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) minerals. Going against conventional wisdom, they decided not to depend on chemical inputs to correct these problems but instead chose to follow intensive rotational adaptive grazing to improve their mineral cycle. These decisions have paid off with dramatic improvements in their soil health. After 14 years of regenerative-adaptive management, Johnny was happy to share that current soil tests show significant improvements in organic matter at almost 6% and no NPK deficiencies.  

Additionally, research on the farm by Mississippi State University showed that roots were deeper, soil microbiology was increasing, and some native grasses were returning, so much so that Johnny developed a new problem — growing too much grass. However, after consulting with Dr. Allen Williams, Johnny decided to let the paddocks he couldn’t manage rest because in the end tall grasses have deep roots that play a significant role in water infiltration and soil health. 

This increased soil health has made High Hope Farm more resilient to unpredictable weather changes. Johnny mentioned that he realized he is a “dirt farmer” because “as you improve your soil, you improve your grasses, and you improve your livestock.” He has noticed a decrease in water runoff and soil erosion. Keeping the ground covered year-round also keeps the soil’s temperature noticeably cooler during hot Mississippi summers. These are all indications of a healthy soil sponge that captures, holds, and uses water more efficiently. Johnny says that observing these improvements as a direct result of his management is “very encouraging,” and has made his operation profitable. 

Johnny mentioned great resources that helped him in his journey, including Understanding Ag, ATTRA, Soil Health Academy, USDA-NRCS, Mississippi State University, and regenerative movement pioneers like Dr. Allen Williams. He also emphasized the importance of being part of local producer networks to learn from others. These experiences have shown him firsthand how diversity and ecosystem dynamics are a fundamental part of regenerative farming.  

For more information about High Hope Farm, visit their website and listen to Felicia Bell’s full interview with Johnny Wray here: Episode 275. How ’Dirt Farming’ is the Foundation of a Mississippi Grazing Operation 

Related NCAT Resources 

Pasture, Rangeland, and Adaptive Grazing

Soil Health Indicators and Tests

Paddock Design, Fencing, Water Systems, and Livestock Movement Strategies for Multi-Paddock Grazing

By Lee Rinehart, Sustainable Agriculture Specialist 

“If you always leave grass behind, you never run out of grass.”

I was going to save this quote for the end of this article; when I heard it during our conversation, I knew it would nicely summarize Guille (Gil) Yearwood’s philosophy. Now, I think it’s better to start with this quote. It’s an observation he had, “one of those moments,” in his words, back in the 1980s when he began his transition from continuous grazing to a rotational system. “I’ll never forget that day years ago when I went back to a grazed paddock a week later and saw regrowth.” It was something he’d never seen before. “When you graze a pasture continuously, you have no idea how much grass you have because its continually disappearing.” After Guille switched to rotational grazing, his paddocks would look like a hayfield four weeks after grazing. This, in his words, “is totally different and totally better.”

Guille Yearwood has been ranching forever. He started during his teenage years—1975 to be exact—and has been raising cattle ever since. When he started, he had other businesses going as well as the cattle work—25 years in real estate for one—but Ellett Valley Beef Company has been his full-time job since 2008.

Ellett Valley Beef Company encompasses seven locations around Blacksburg, Virginia, mostly on leased property, on which he grazes seven groups of South Poll beef cattle—a total herd of around 350 animals. Back when he first got the rotational grazing bug, by paying attention to Virginia Tech’s rotational grazing research, Guille divided his pastures into eight or 10 paddocks and began grazing stockers through the rotation. This is when he had his “aha” moment. He saw his forage yield increase immediately, and though the gains per head were not what he was used to, he noticed a higher herd weight gain because he could easily increase his stocking rate. Guille realized this new system could be taken up a notch, and now has 80 paddocks spread across all his pastures.

Cows grazing fescue – Oct. 2021

Guille would travel up to 90 miles a day checking and moving cattle before he reduced the number of leases a few years ago from 13 locations. Now, they’re all closer to home, significantly reducing the time to check and move cattle. Now, he and a part-time hired hand can check and move cattle more efficiently. He relies on grass alone and follows adaptive management techniques with frequent moves, mostly daily, and recovery periods of seventy to ninety days to allow for full plant recovery before the next time cattle see the paddock. Guille considers his system to be truly regenerative. In fact, he started regenerative grazing long before term came about, and he’s glad it did “because it’s a good term.” It accurately describes his way of doing business. His regenerative practices include highly diverse pastures, grazing for animal impact and nutrient cycling, and long recovery periods for plant rest and accumulation of high amounts of organic matter to the soil.

Ranch Profitability  

“To be profitable, I need to graze all year, if possible,” Guille noted. His goal is to produce excellent grassfed beef and be profitable, and to accomplish that, his focus is on grazing as many cattle as he can through the winter. Some time back he began thinking about return on investment and started looking at the farm this way, realizing he needed to run this like his other businesses. He did an economic analysis and a budget and figured out that he couldn’t afford fertilizer or hay equipment. “I saw that [buying fertilizer and making hay] would not make a profit, so I got rid of them.” Instead, Guille buys hay to cover the 40-65 days during the year when he needs it. For the remainder of the year, the cattle graze fresh and stockpiled pasture. In fact, the interest he received from selling his hay equipment covered his hays costs, and he’s never looked back.

Guille’s pastures have been fertilizer-free since 2000. Prior to transitioning off of fertilizer, he had broadcast clover for several years, as he was particularly concerned about nitrogen fertility. But the second year after stopping nitrogen applications, he fertilized a fescue pasture in August, a common practice for preparing fescue for winter stockpile. However, after comparing days of grazing data between this and the prior year when no fertilizer was used, he realized he lost money with the fertilizer application. The days of grazing were the same for both years. This was the end of Guille’s use of purchased fertilizer. The diversity of his pastures, which included legumes and grasses, coupled with his adaptive management, provided the nutrient cycling and carbon sources he needed to be sustainable without it. All the while, he was ratcheting up his grazing techniques, trampling residue, and feeding hay on land that needed the nutrients. It seems that when he decided to go fertilizer-free, he had already been taking care of the soil for years, so he was ready.

Educational Philosophy

Guille’s college work includes an English degree from Virginia Tech and a master’s in English from Rice University. It is easy to tell from reading the blog entries on his website that his liberal arts education sharpened his critical thinking skills and gave him a foundation well suited for the complexities of agriculture. Since then, he has been inspired by Joel Salatin, especially his book Salad Bar Beef, which he says had a big impact on his philosophy. Other luminaries that inspired him include Andre Voisin, the “first true scientist that addressed rotational grazing,” Newman Turner, Jim Gerrish, and Allen Williams, who “has it figured out and is backed up with real science.” He learned about brix levels in forages from Williams, and though skeptical at first, he has seen a tremendous difference by moving cattle to new paddocks in the afternoon when brix levels are highest. Guille has learned so much and, with a natural drive and desire to help beginning and transitioning farmers, has much to share from his experience.

“The big challenges a new farmer needs to overcome are the tactile, physical problems. These are harder for people to pick up than we realize. For instance, a polywire reel is a foreign object to a beginner, but for me, it is an ordinary tool like a screwdriver.” Guille helps beginners by simply taking them out and involving them in moving cattle, checking cows, or moving polywire, and showing them how to shut off the power, tie polywire, or set posts. Newcomers are fascinated by the complexities of grazing tools and procedures, and he has come to understand how new this is to some people, so he trains people from this tactile perspective. Also, new farmers don’t know cattle and it’s a long learning process. His advice is to read all the books you can at night and during day go to the stockyard. Seriously, the stockyard. When a cow comes into the pen, evaluate her breed, condition, and weight, and especially listen to the people talking around you and pay attention to what they are observing.

“Some things we are just going to battle,” he said. For instance, weeds in fence lines are a major struggle for Guille. He has miles of electric fence and keeping them maintained is labor-intensive. He can spray a lot of fenceline in a short amount of time but would rather not use herbicides, and some lessors don’t want him to spray pesticides. “Weed eating would occupy me all summer, and then there’s the yellow jackets!” It’s an ongoing struggle, and he makes it clear he doesn’t have all the answers. “On this ranch you’ll see a lot of mistakes,” he said, but he has learned more in the past four years about grazing than in the 10 years preceding it. “Don’t panic… just try it” is the best advice he can give. “Don’t be afraid to set the field up and try it; if it doesn’t work, adjust and move on.”

Fine Tuning and Adaptation

Pasture with johnsongrass, fescue, clover, and stickweed (Verbesina occidentalis).

Guille doesn’t farm his land. Rather, he follows the truly regenerative practice of grazing what is available with one-day grazing periods and 70- to 90-day recovery periods. Plant communities change seasonally and yearly as different (adaptive) grazing practices are employed on the land. His pastures are diverse and include johnsongrass, which many graziers have tried to eliminate but he sees as complementary to his grazing system. Johnsongrass has usually been found in bottom land but now it’s moving on to upper lands, places he has never seen this hardy perennial grass before. It works out well in his grazing system because by the time he gets around to a paddock with johnsongrass, it’s fairly mature so it has no prussic acid problems. Also, there is enough diversity in the pastures and grazing them before the frost works well in his rotation.

Guille’s adaptive management hits a high note when it comes to finishing steers on grass. When trying to finish a group of steers (get ready, this is brilliant), he mimics continuous grazing (which, though hard on the pasture is good for optimizing individual animal gain) to allow the animals to exhibit more grazing selectivity. He keeps the rotation going at about the same grazing and recovery periods but gives the feeder steers bigger paddocks. “I’ve measured these results. On excellent pastures with medium-frame cattle, one group gained 4.2 pounds over six weeks and another group gained 4.6 pounds.” If a normal paddock size is a half-acre, he gives the finishers an acre and a half for the same period, giving them the ability to be more selective in their grazing.

Guille Yearwood currently serves as Farmer Advisor for the Virginia Soil for Water Project and is working with the Virginia Association for Biological Farming to plan a field day on his ranch in the spring of 2023, where participants can see up close the practices that he has been refining for the past 50 years. “This is the best job in the world,” Guille noted at the end of our last talk. His passion for the land and grass-based agriculture is palpable, as you’ll see if you make it to the spring field day. And, oh yes: Guille is an excellent writer, with a witty humor and deep love and knowledge of his subject, as you can see from the blogs posted on his website.

 

Related NCAT Resources

Soil for Water – Working to catch and hold more water in our soil

Pasture, Rangeland, and Adaptive Grazing – ATTRA (ncat.org)

 

Other Resources

EVBC Grassfed Beef (ellettvalleybeefco.com)

by: Hernan Colmenero

Tammi and Stephen Bell are the kind of couple who believe that less is more. Their motto seems to be to let the plants and animals do the work. That’s exactly what they’re doing at Waterline Farm in Pryor, Oklahoma.

Now, they are not completely hands off. Although they don’t usually mow their lawn, much to the chagrin of their neighbors, their goats do the mowing by grazing it. Similarly, they believe it’s important to first think about infrastructure. That means digging small trenches to direct the flow of water and building hügelkultur mounds to slow and keep water on their land a bit longer. It also means being patient and observing the land. They may agree with Michelangelo when he said “the task of the sculptor [is] to discover [the statue].” They want to discover the beauty of the land and help it become what it wants to become.

The Bell’s goal with Waterline Farm is to become a homestead demonstration site practicing regenerative agriculture with an emphasis on ecological stewardship. Their operation has seen its fair share of challenges, but the Bell family has turned them into opportunities. In 2019, a massive flooding event raised the level of Lake Hudson in Oklahoma, on which their property is located, and crept up several hundred feet onto the pasture. As the water receded, it created natural contour swales, which they used to plant sycamore and oak trees to increase water absorption and retention, therein slowing the flow of water to the lake. Realizing that their shoreline was fragile after seeing how their neighbor’s shoreline receded, they also planted several more sycamore and cypress trees closer to the shore, creating a wide strip of protection. Additionally, they made use of the silt the lake water brought and let the native grasses grow tall, allowing the deep roots to take hold in the soil. This added organic matter, created more soil aggregates, and increased the presence of wildlife, such as Monarch butterflies and a resident bald eagle. Both of those changes served to expand their silvopasture system while making progress on their goals of regeneration and wildlife conservation by simply giving the land more of what it could use.

But not everything can be accomplished by watching from afar. Stephen is adamant that one needs to get their hands dirty, their boots muddy, and observe the land from various places to get an idea of where the water is going and what the land is doing. Then, it’s important to act. In this way, he noticed that rainwater was flowing from his property into his neighbor’s. So, he built up hügelkultur mounds along that edge of his property to slow the flow of water. Most recently, he dug a trench with his 39-hp tractor to direct water to his orchard. All these actions serve to catch and hold more water in their soil, lessening the potentially damaging effects of floods.

Even though the Bell family doesn’t do it for the money (they’re both comfortably retired), they expect to turn a profit this year. They are saving money by not buying costly fertilizers and by supplementing their groceries with the food they grow and harvest themselves. Even their livestock enjoy the fruit of their harvests, which means less spent on buying animal feed. Moreover, their farm has garnered the attention of Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), the Oklahoma Forestry Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), and perhaps most importantly, their fellow community members. Some of this has led to grants and other beneficial financial opportunities. Tammi says it is “the big circle coming back.”

The Bell family says that the peer-to-peer learning systems such as Women, Livestock, and the Land course and the Soil for Water Network, both part of NCAT, have been instrumental to their success. “People feel isolated and when they see others doing something similar, that works,” says Tammi.

Learn more in the YouTube video, Welcome to Waterline Farm.

Erik Tucker has been ranching in Southeast Colorado since his early 20s, and although he didn’t grow up on a ranch, he has long felt  that the old way of ranching just wasn’t working. He likes to observe the sunshine, rain, and natural processes of the world that culminate in pastures and healthy cattle. He knows livestock didn’t always need so much handling, especially when bison freely roamed the area. He often thinks about those times and wonders if they can be recreated in their efficiency.  

A meeting with Allan Savory, co-founder of Holistic Management International and founder of Savory Institute, confirmed what Tucker’s intuition told him all along: there is a way to ranch that promotes economy AND ecology, never one at the expense of the other. To accomplish that, Tucker makes sure three components are in order: stockmanship, grazing, and marketing. Tucker believes that if you invest in these three things, you’ll receive dividends that pay over a lifetime.  

The idea of proper stockmanship originated from Bud and Eunice Williams, creators of what BeefProducer called one of the most important innovations in 2011 (along with barbed wire and antibiotics) (Williams, 2022). In essence, Tucker says proper stockmanship is about getting the cattle to the right place at the right time for the right reasons. If a rancher understands what livestock want, could, and probably will do, they can get the animals to respond how they want them to, more often. The result is less stress on the animals and handlers, and more time for everything else. 

Appropriate grazing management is key to meeting your ecological goals, says Tucker. While he uses the principles of planned grazing, he says one’s specific context should ultimately drive decision-making. In fact, he thinks context is so important that he (and others) would like to add that as the sixth soil health principle. No two pastures are the same, let alone two ranches, so they should be observed diligently and acted on accordingly. By practicing proper grazing management, a rancher can catch and hold more water in their soil, leading to more dense and diverse pastures. Visit the Soil for Water Forum to read how others are catching and holding more water in their soils. 

Proper marketing is what brings the entire operation together and makes the engine move forward. Tucker is adamant that a rancher creates value by investing his time, effort, and energy into improving a product or service. The more skillfully a farmer does that, the more value that is created. Good marketing tells the story of that value, the story of that producer’s time, effort, and energy; it tells the story of why balancing economy and ecology is the responsibility of each of us, producers and consumers alike. This can no doubt lead to bigger margins.  

Sometimes economical decisions take precedence over ecological ones, or vice versa, but neither should be made at the expense of the other. Tucker suggests that all new producers first understand  why they want to get into the agriculture business. Then, he urges us to understand our context. There are already plenty of resources like the Soil for Water Network and its partners that can help new, transitioning, and established producers understand and work within the ecological limits of their land. There’s no end to better, as Bud Williams says. It takes the development of one’s intelligence, skills, and commitment to their work. Tucker reminds us that setbacks are good because they serve as a sign of what is broken and where to go next. That process adds value to an operation. As chiefs of whatever land we may be on, we can make sure every decision we make relates to the welfare and well-being of generations to come (Vecsey and Venables, 1980).

Reference: 

 

Vecsey, Chirstopher and Venables, Robert W (eds.). 1980. An Iroquois Perspective. American Indian Environments: Ecological Issues in Native American History. Syracuse University Press. 

Roberts Ranch was donated to the YMCA by Bob Roberts of Comfort, TX in the 1990’s. Since then it has served as a place where families and children can gather to explore the outdoors in a beautiful Hill Country setting. The pristine habitat, native plants, and wildlife make the ranch the perfect laboratory for learning about and exploring nature. The property has served hundreds of children through outdoor education program sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife and hosts conservation and stewardship workshops, hiking, tours, and environmental education field trips for youth and adults.

The Roberts Ranch has always been a working cattle ranch as well. In 2019, cattle were removed from the ranch in order to let the land rest and to undertake various restoration projects that include brush clearing, cross-fence repair, and riparian restoration. Cattle will be reintroduced in 2022.

Click here to read the full story.

Texastopia is located outside of Blanco, TX along the Blanco River. It is the property of Pete Van Dyke and his wife Elenor Goode. Pete owns Van Dyke Earthworks & Design, a permaculture consulting business. They started managing a 10 acre Bermuda grass pasture on the homestead in 2017. Prior to their arrival it had been used to propagate coastal hay for 30 plus years. The soil was very hard and compacted. It is their intention to regenerate this pasture using various permaculture strategies to decrease compaction, improve soil health, and increase above and below ground biodiversity. Additionally, they plan to incorporate silvopasture practices that includes livestock grazing.

In the fall of 2017 they used the subsoil ripper to help relieve the compaction, without disturbing too much of the ground cover. A subsoil ripper creates thin rips in the ground at various depth on contour to relieve compaction and allow moisture to penetrate the soil. The first time using the ripper they were only able to get down about 6 inches due to the heavy compaction from the disturbance caused by years of hay farming. They then broadcast cover crop seeds into the slightly disturbed soil. Their first year of cool season cover crops in 2017 did not do that well. The Bermuda grass was still thick so a lot of the cover crop seeds did not germinate. Also the deer pressure was high which further reduced germination. Two transects have been created in the field as described below.

Click here to read the full story.

Located Center Point, Texas in East Kerr County, Zanzenberg Farm specializes in raising heritage breed pigs on pasture. Much like heirloom vegetables, heritage breeds were very common on the American homestead centuries ago. Farm owners Justin and Kayte Graham take extra care to raise these animals on open pastures where they are free to breathe in fresh air, take in the natural sunlight, root in the nutrient rich soil and enjoy daily mud baths. The hogs are humanely raised and finished on whey. Their pork is sold at three different farmers markets in Central Texas. Their products are corn, soy, antibiotic, and hormone free. Zanzenberg Farm practices holistic management principles such as intensive planned grazing as well as innovating new management strategies that optimize soil health.

Click here to read the full story.

Dr. Chris Grotegut is a veterinarian, farmer, and stockman in Hereford, located in Deaf Smith County in the Texas Panhandle. Hereford has a rich agricultural heritage and economy built on the waters of Ogallala Aquifer. But this aquifer has been in perilous decline over the past hundred years as more and more land has been plowed for row cropping and turned into feedlots for thirsty cattle. Aquifer decline is a serious threat to the longevity of many producers in the Texas Panhandle. Chris is taking steps on his land to replenish the aquifer, and he freely shares his lessons learned along the way. 

Chris is the cutting edge producer/owner of an 11,000 acre farm named Tierra de Esperanza that produces organic crops and livestock. In recent years he has transitioned the family operation toward more efficient uses of water, labor, and equipment by returning much of his cropland back to native grass pastures. He plants winter crops over dormant grasses in years with favorable moisture, minimizes irrigation, and takes measures to protect his playas, which are the clay basins in his fields and pastures that infiltrate water very slowly to refill the aquifer below.

Click here to read the full story.

Ward Whitworth and his family have lived in the far western end of the Texas Hill Country near London, Texas for many generations. Today Ward and his wife Barbara manage multiple properties. The Whitworths are diversifying their operation by running multiple species of livestock together as one herd. They like the convenience and the challenge of running the stock together. It allows them to plan for longer recovery periods for their pastures while increasing the utilization of the forages available. Stocking rates have fluctuated as a result of Ward’s learning and monitoring process to lengthen recovery periods following two years of hot, dry weather. The Whitworths are intent on rebuilding a healthy complex of high succession perennial native grass species which is proving to be successful.

Click here to read the full story.

We highlight internationally renowned rancher, president of Pasticultores del Desierto, consultant for Understanding Ag group, and Soil for Water technical advisor, Alejandro Carrillo. In the early 2000s, at the request of his father, Alejandro took over his family’s ranch, Las Damas in Chihuahua, Mexico. At this time, he began researching regenerative agriculture methods in hopes of improving the revenue of the ranch, which had only been profiting approximately every four years. Luckily for him, there were people nearby who were already practicing regenerative agriculture, and who mentored Alejandro on his journey to revive the ecology of his ranch to grow more grass and revenue.

Sitting in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert, Las Damas receives an average yearly rainfall of ten inches. The Chihuahuan desert is the largest desert in North America and is considered the most diverse desert in the western hemisphere. Vast and diverse grasslands make this desert unique. However, it is also one of the most endangered regions in the world due to overgrazing, water depletion and diversion, urbanization, agricultural practices, resource extraction, invasive exotic species, and overcollection of native plants and animals. The good news is Alejandro, along with other ranchers and conservationists in his community, are doing what they can to regenerate and preserve this important ecosystem.

Alejandro used four simple tools over the last 15 years to regenerate the ecosystem on his ranch:  

  1. Added fencing to increase the number of pastures
  2. Moves the cattle daily between the pastures
  3. Increased and improve cattle drinking water infrastructure
  4. Allow 12-14 months of rest in each pasture between grazing periods

Las Damas has permanent cross-fencing consisting of a single high tensile strand, and movable polywire electric fencing throughout the ranch. What started as ten pastures across 25,000 grazable acres, has grown to 500 pastures, allowing cattle to graze each pasture once a year.

This allows for adequate rest before the next grazing to improve ideal forage. Depending on the density of vegetation in each pasture, cattle are moved once or twice a day to create short-duration, high-intensity grazing periods. Since drinking water for livestock is the greatest limiting factor on the ranch, Alejandro was very intentional about ensuring water distribution throughout. Round concrete water reservoirs capable of holding 40,000 gallons of water were placed at high elevations on the ranch. Then, smaller 2,500-gallon concrete water troughs were placed at lower elevations on the ranch. These smaller water troughs are gravity-fed from the large water reservoirs above and are shallower to allow cattle to drink. By investing $100 per hectare over 15 years on water and fencing infrastructure, Alejandro has made all the grazable lands on the ranch utilizable to livestock, improving his profitability by 350 percent.

Most ranches in the surrounding area of Las Damas stock one cow for every 125-150 acres. At Las Damas, Alejandro is stocking one cow for every 42 acres. Prior to transitioning to rotational grazing, the ranch averaged 200 head of cattle annually. It has since tripled to 600. By using the four tools, soil water infiltration rates on the ranch have improved from two inches of rain per hour to 18-20 inches per hour.

Besides a salt mineral, there are no supplements or vaccination protocols since all cattle are born and bred on the ranch; it is a closed herd. This removes many biosecurity issues involved when pathogens enter a herd from external sources. There is also evidence that grass-fed cows are more resilient to diseases due to the increased diversity of their gut microbiome, a critical element to health. Cow mortality rates dropped from 10% before the transition to now 1% annually.

Even though cows are being moved daily, the operating costs have decreased while profits have increased. Alejandro says the biggest benefit to the transition has been the improved communication among the three generations of the family ranch. Now, everyone gets excited about the projects and what they’re doing for the landscape. Everyone now has an opinion on how to continue to improve it.

“Going to the ranch and seeing what nature can offer brings joy and peace of mind. That has no price,” says Alejandro.  

While Alejandro recommends using the four tools of improved fencing, daily cattle movement, water infrastructure, and rest, he also recommends observing the land closely. There are no hard-and-fast rules for determining how long to graze a pasture, or when to reintroduce cattle again. There are so many variables at play that one cannot count on prescribed timelines or durations.

Finally, he recommends starting with the lowest-hanging fruit. He suggests starting with pastures that have healthier soil and higher grass density, then gradually moving on to improving less-fertile pastures. That will give the biggest and most immediate return on investment. It can also serve as the proof point needed to continue holistic management practices.

In the face of more ranches being abandoned and a younger generation that is less interested in pursuing agriculture, Alejandro has hope. He is here to win the battle of bridging environmental conservation, agricultural productivity, and economic prosperity. He believes we must be willing to lose sometimes, correct our ways, then try again. Throughout these trials, the goal of improving our ecosystem will remain the same.

For more information on Rancho Las Damas click here. For great resources on properly utilizing fencing, cattle movement, water infrastructure, land rest, and other regenerative tools, visit UnderstandingAg.com.

Learn more from Alejandro during NCAT’s second annual Soil Health Innovations Conference