Nate Davis

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since Sep 27, 2021
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Recent posts by Nate Davis

Yes, I often feel like giving up when I get overwhelmed or things keep going wrong. I find myself asking "why did I ever bother doing this in the first place? Why did I leave the easy life I had to do this insanity? Maybe I should go back to the easy life?" Surely this is common among people trying to make the transition from urban decadence to rural self-reliance.

This is what always snaps me out of it - I take a break from what I'm doing to catch my breath and think things through. I ask if the problems I'm having are really so bad, and if there isn't a better approach to solving them. I try to just observe for a while, to take things in so I might see them in a different light.

In doing so, I realize how amazing my life really is, and that I'd never want to go back to the way I used to live. Yes, there's still so much hard work ahead of me, but dammit that's the whole point! All life is meant to struggle, so partaking in that struggle is how we know we're alive. We should be thankful for being alive and well enough to work hard. Think to the times you were laying in bed with a bad flu, would you rather be doing that?

It's only important that we take time to have a break every now and then to recover, and to appreciate what we may be taking for granted. And accept when we don't get everything done that we want to, but being will to come back and try again.
3 months ago

Lu Kbraun wrote:This is really interesting. I've read a lot on mob grazing, but Travis' arguments seem very convincing. I wonder if anyone has further thoughts on this? Thanks and best wishes

I'd say Travis is right, but that doesn't mean that what you're reading about mob grazing can't be valid at the same time.

If you've read any of Gabe Brown's work, you may have heard of his principles of soil health. The 5 principles are: 1. minimize disturbance 2. armor on the soil surface 3. living roots in the soil 4. diversity of species 5. animal integration

However recently he has turned that into 6 principles. Now the #1 principle he always tells people is: know your context.

This is perhaps the most important principle of all. The problem with the study linked in the OP, and so many other scientific studies, is that they don't take into account context. Often it is impossible to. Which is why when many studies try to replicate the efforts of people such as Gabe Brown or Masanobu Fukuoka, two farmers who have come to essentially the same conclusions despite radically different circumstances, they end up with contradicting results. Going off of these studies, holding them in higher regard than people's experience since science is supposed to be objective, it's easy to dismiss them as quacks. But there are certain things that simply cannot be deduced via the scientific method. They can only be deduced by personal observation.

Another reason these studies often fail to reinforce the experiences of individuals is they don't really understand what the individuals were doing, and so they improperly try to apply the exact methods that they used in an inappropriate context. With Fukuoka, after first reading his book I remember reading about studies that attempted to replicate his findings, all of which failed to and concluded that what he was doing just doesn't work. As such, I wondered if what he preached was really legitimate, even though it made so much sense. Since then, there have been countless studies that back up what he was telling people since the 70s, as well as countless individuals who independently discovered the same principles as he did even in much different contexts. The important thing is not the exact method, it is the principles we follow and how they apply to our context.

Mob grazing is not just about having a high stocking density. It is about maximizing impact when it's most needed and still following the other principles of holistic management, such as taking and leaving the right amount of forage and allowing the right amount of rest. Gabe Brown, and his partner Allen Williams, although they may talk about mob grazing, have never said to do mob grazing all of the time. They push what is called Adaptive Grazing. This is about using the right kind of management decisions according to your context and what you observe, while following the soil health principles.

The people you typically see using mob grazing to great effect are large-scale ranchers who are running hundreds of heads of grazing animals across hundreds to thousands of acres. The great thing about rotational grazing is that it scales up so magnificently. I have personally observed, from working on different farms, the contrast between moving 5 cows, 20 cows and 100 cows. In many ways, it's actually easier to move the larger groups. And setting up paddocks for them hardly takes longer than the smaller groups. For the larger groups, mob grazing can very much make sense. For just 5 cows, the experience will be similar to Travis's. It just isn't worth the effort.

Point being, if you only have a small group of animals or even just one cow, you should still rotate them through your pastures. But it's pretty pointless to replicate one-to-one the guys who are moving 100 head twice a day at high stocking density. That doesn't mean you still can't learn from them. I do believe that a larger herd is more efficient in just about every way for building soil. Still, I have seen the amazing effect that even a basic rotation of a single cow can have on soil fertility in just a few years. And it's a great way to learn when you are merely keeping a cow while working a full-time job. Maybe some day you can use the experience to do it at a much greater scale.
4 months ago
Also, if you live in a warmer climate, crabgrass is apparently great for chickens in much the same way as bluegrass. If you can tolerate crabgrass...
6 months ago
IMO the best plants for restoring a nuked chicken yard are the same things that grow well in a lawn. Assuming you live in a temperate climate, kentucky bluegrass and dutch white clover would be the best candidates since they can tolerate close grazing and persist really well. Along with countless broadleaf "weeds" that grow in lawns in your area. Around here dandelion, wild violets, chickweed, plantain and purslane are common weeds relished by chickens.

Whatever you do, to ensure your chicken yard doesn't turn back into Mordor, it's essential to split it into paddocks so that each area gets a period of rest. Even four paddocks that you move them around every couple of weeks should do. Although seasonality is important, if you have hot or dry summers the plants that do well in cooler weather may get too stressed out. Luckily, summer is also when there is an abundance of other food, like berries and seeds, so you should allocate another area like that for them to go. Then once the fruit is all gone you can move them back to the grassy areas.

This is easiest to do with a mobile coop and electric netting (which also helps keep predators out). But if you've invested a lot into a static coop, setting up a lane leading to the various paddocks is another way. I haven't tried that with chickens but I imagine it would be very nice once set up.
6 months ago
Great points. It is often taken for granted that a pasture is just a polyculture of livestock-edible plants, as such the same principles that apply to permaculture gardening apply to it.

Recently I was taken aback when I heard from an advocate of bale grazing that the main advantage of it is not nutrient distribution but rather water retention from the residue. This is because water is more often than not the bottleneck in boosting microbial activity, during summer especially, which is what really drives nutrient cycling.

In winter as well a mulch layer will insulate the soil from cold spells, and during thaws from compaction.

This is also one of the main points of mob grazing. Many university forage "experts" will claim that mob grazing is pointless because it merely results in more forage being trampled than eaten. But they don't consider the more long-term impact of that trampled forage; they are hyper-focused on forage utilization. Same thing with bale grazing. When one sees forage residue as an investment in pasture health, there is no such thing as wastage, so long as it's left where it's most needed.

Although rotational grazing is great for keeping forage in its vegetative stage, I think it's best to let the desirable plants go to seed at some point and mob graze (or at least mow) so it can re-seed itself and leave a nice mulch to protect the soil. Especially when a pasture becomes healthy enough that microbial activity increases, then it becomes necessary to regularly regenerate that thatch layer. Plus the seeds will produce plants that are adapted to local conditions.

When I see farmers take hay off of poor pasture that has barely grown, it makes me wonder if they wouldn't be much better off just mowing it, and in the winter bale grazing on it.
7 months ago

John Warren wrote:Hmm... this is an interesting read as I'm looking into cover crops to try to start growing in our field.  I've seen alfalfa recommended quite a few different places as a cover crop, but if it's that hard to get rid of without chemicals then I probably don't want to get it started on our land right now.

Alfalfa, when not grown as a monoculture, is more of a companion crop than a cover crop, since the cover it provides is over a span of years rather than months. If you want to do cover crops I recommend going to Green Cover Seed's website and using the SmartMix tool (not necessarily endorsing to buy from them, it's just a good resource for selecting the right cover crop mix).
10 months ago
Indeed alfalfa, like any perennial, will not terminate by crimping; that was directed towards any annual cover crop species you may sow. But crimping a cover crop will do a good job of creating a thick mulch which will suppress alfalfa or any weeds. It would also maintain much needed moisture for quick germination of the corn. The ideal would be a front-mounted roller-crimper with a no-till drill coming behind. This would give the corn perhaps the best chance to quickly establish ahead of the alfalfa. Plus you could do it all in one pass. But that's assuming you have access to such a crimper and that the cover crop is in vegetative stage ny then. It's certainly a risk but has immense soil benefits when it comes together. Regardless of what you do, let us know how it goes.
10 months ago

Bob Glass wrote:I did a few fast google searches and found.
Where alfalfa and corn gets planted at the same time.  The alfalfa competed on the corn and took a small loss on the corn, but you had a great stand of alfalfa for the fall.
I also saw where they would do the first harvest of the alfalfa, spray the alfalfa, and then plant corn.  I did not see anywhere it was talked about where chemicals were not used.  I also feel that the spring alfalfa would suck up a lot of water that the corn would not be able to use.  With wanting to plant sweet corn I would want to get planting as soon as posable in the spring.

I still need to do more reading and thinking on not terminating the alfalfa.  

I can't for the life of me find the study I referenced but I'm quite certain it was on an already established stand of alfalfa. Of course first year alfalfa will perform differently to an old stand. I reckon that the former would be more competitive for water and nutrients because it hasn't yet developed much of a taproot. From what I've observed, established alfalfa seems to be harmonious; but admittedly I'm used to diverse pastures not so much row crops.

In any case, I think if you were to soon mow it and then sow a cover crop - preferably with cereal rye, even hairy vetch if you really want to smother it - it should suppress the alfalfa well and deprive it of the energy it needs to take off in spring, it may even partially winterkill. Then perhaps another mowing in the spring and/or crimping as Phil said. Then if it's still kicking somehow you can resort to the sweep plow or herbicide.
10 months ago
First of all, do you really need to terminate the alfalfa? If it's starting to thin out then it's already making way for other plants to take over. I also recall a study that looked into the prospect of no-tilling corn into an alfalfa field and there was only a 15% or so loss of yield for the corn, but the overall yield of biomass was much greater than a sole corn or alfalfa field. I think it makes an excellent companion crop if it's not too dense of a stand, since it will fix nitrogen and pull water and nutrients from deep in the soil. A vigorous variety of corn should grow over it with ease so long as it has been mowed/grazed a couple times right before sowing. And a cover crop as you planned would also help to suppress it.

If you are really determined to terminate it however, I think your plan sounds pretty good. I haven't heard of a sweep plow but from what I can tell it just cuts through roots without inverting the soil? That is certainly preferable to a moldboard plow, which may do a better job of severing roots but will wreak havoc in your soil.  The sweep plow might even be better than discing, but still bear in mind that any extensive tillage below the top couple inches of soil will cause considerable damage that takes time to heal.
10 months ago