I see this ranch as an opportunity to try out different land management techniques that will improve or promote the well-being of our natural resources as well as produce high-quality food. Soil and water health are at the top of the list, and what grows in the open areas can help or hinder their protection. For example, sheep or cattle can be allowed to graze designated (fenced) areas when the plants reach a certain height and removed when just the right amount of forage has been eaten to encourage re-growth and root growth. The manure left behind is quickly broken down and nutrients returned to the soil. Plant material in and on the soil captures water; deeper rooted and native species ensure a robust microbial (and water-retaining) environment below the surface. It may be a little more labor intensive to regularly inspect the fields and move the stock frequently, but the long-term benefits of improving the pastures is well worth it. At the same time, the sheep and cattle convert grasses to body mass, and in turn we (people) will be able to eat nutritious meat from healthy animals who lived naturally – outdoors, grazing, and living in herds.
Another way we will provide good stewardship is to keep our stock out of the ponds. We are very fortunate to have two healthy ponds on the property to provide water for our stock, for wildlife and possibly also to water our vegetable garden. The water collects naturally from the hillsides during the rainy spring, and (so far) the ponds appear to hold it well throughout the dry parts of the year. The banks have vegetation that stabilize soil, preventing erosion of the banks and sedimentation of the ponds. This is a great source of water for our stock, but their hooves can quickly damage the vegetation on the banks. By keeping them out – and pumping water to a tank the animals can access – we can ensure these ponds will remain healthy and useful for decades to come. The wood ducks, deer, turkey and other animals drawn to this source of water will appreciate it, too.
Keeping livestock and practicing responsible land management are compatible goals. I look forward to keeping you posted on the various techniques and experiments we try as we find the right balance.