This article is a short investigation of what has transpired over the duration of this spring period at “The Oasis”. As a person who intrinsically understands grazing management as a means of optimising carbon sequestration to promote soil health and improve production parameters of a property this spring has led me into a conundrum.
This is an integral part of my philosophy about life and farming – the need to always be questioning.
It is my perception that in being prepared to question things always – and I mean “all ways” we maximise our chance of growing. In life I believe our purpose for being here is ‘to grow into the next grandest version of who we are’ as Neale Donald Walsch of “Conversations With God” fame would say; and in farming it is my belief that we should be seeking to grow the productive potential of our property in every way that we can. This means that I am seldom happy with the ‘status quo’ – with things being as they are. Do not get me wrong – I am usually a happy person J. But I believe there is always a way of improving upon what we have or of understanding more than I already do.
So back to my conundrum! Let me first off say that one of the guiding tenets of my life is that “the best fertiliser is a farmer’s footsteps” – an age old Chinese philosophy. So, I understand and am deeply in touch with our property at all times for I am always walking it and tuning into it. Mother Nature has so much to teach us when first we are prepared to ask the question, and then we are prepared to ‘listen’ for the answers. Which are never set in stone! For life is always changing. Nature is always changing. And it is that constant change that promotes growth – in all of its myriad forms.
We had sufficient residual moisture from our winter rains to promote some pasture growth in the early spring – something we deeply appreciate as we do not experience winter growth here due to severe frosts and poor mineralisation of our soils. Spring is often one of our dry periods – through to early December when our summer rains might arrive.
So as the grass and other forbs began to grow my conundrum became this – do I speed up our rotation to maximise the size of the solar panels (leaves) I was leaving behind in an effort to promote a more rapid regrowth and therefore more potential production if it rains again. Or do I keep it slow as it had been through our non-growth season allowing the pastures in the paddocks ahead to maximise their growth before being grazed – and probably strengthening their productive potential at the expense of the paddocks being grazed slowly at present.
Both of these options have merit. The first option works if it rains again regularly - if it does not I may not develop any bulk of feed in front of me to carry me through a dry period that is traditional for us. The second option prepares for a customary dry period better perhaps but at the expense of those paddocks still being grazed more severely.
As always for those of us who choose to play the game of growing anything there was no easy answer. I leaned towards both of these options for both make perfect sense. However, as I walked our property and wrestled with my conundrum I was given the answer. We have been on an amazing journey of re-building the productive potential of what was a very degraded landscape due to it having been sluiced for tin. Through our use of biodynamics and rotational grazing and much soul searching along the way our property is beginning to realise a phenomenal productive potential. We are becoming more in tune with our property and more adept at making decisions for the benefit of the property rather than based on what we would have believed. We have learnt so much and continue to learn so much from what our property and Mother Nature have to say.
So I chose the first option. To graze more quickly – optimising the leaf area (solar panel) left behind to maximise recovery. This required me to have faith in what our property was ‘telling’ me – that it was ready to do this. And is has paid off more handsomely than I could have envisaged.
Several things contributed. The one net gain of energy we have on this planet comes from the process of photosynthesis – so that first and foremost is what I am in the business of maximising as a custodian of the landscape. In choosing to move more quickly through the rotation and leaving a larger leaf behind (maximising photosynthesis potential) I was also leaving deeper roots which help to reduce the effects of rainfall deficiency, aerate the soil and create more sequestered carbon as well as helping to feed the microbes the exudates the plant makes available as a result of photosynthesis. All in all a wonderful situation if it works.
We hit hot summer temperatures without rain and yet still our place was hanging in there. All of our work prior to this was working – the carbon that has been sequestered over the years was holding enough moisture that we were surviving. Not thriving but surviving. The areas of shallower soils overlaying rock shelves were turning brown and each day our grasses were rolling up their leaves only to unfurl them as the dew settled overnight and to repeat the process again the next day.
And then joy! 15mm or rain. Not nearly enough to help neighbouring properties but our pastures took off again. I am so in awe of the ability of Nature to provide – if only we will stop and listen. I feel life does not work if we are busy trying to do everything in contravention of the Laws of Nature and that conventional agriculture is a perfect example of this.
There is also as I write this another aspect of this that has come to my awareness. If I had chosen the second option which is what history (and rainfall records) leaned me heavily towards I would have been following a scarcity mentality. A fear of not enough rainfall to support the biology of our property. That would have been the creative impulse I put out to the Universe and that would probably have been what the Universe provided – not enough rain! However, having trusted what our place was indicating to me I instead put out a belief that all would be taken care of in Divine order and that seems to have been, and continues to be, the case.
Ignoring this last paragraph my intent behind this Rambling is to reiterate that there is never one right way to do something; and that something that does not work is not just proof that we have stuffed up yet again but rather an opportunity to learn and grow. I also believe that we must let go of dogma. I see people portraying certain systems of management as the be-all and end-all and then observe people not gaining the benefits of the insights they could have gained from them because they could not follow them correctly, or they did not work for them. We do not need complexity. If it is complex it is not natural for Mother Nature acts in a manner that is simplicity itself.
Look, Listen, Learn. Our places have all the answers. Take the time to know them intimately, to feel them both underfoot and in our hearts and then we will be amply rewarded as the artisans that we are – crafting new life and food from this amazing landscape.