A twist of limestone

Soils are complex things. One of the big problems with trying to learn about soils is that everybody’s farm is different. The bedrock is different. The soil may have blown in or been dragged in from somewhere else. The history of usage is different. The climate, plants, topography and animals are different.

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Within one paddock you’ll find areas that are very fertile and grow well and others that are just dead. If there is so much variation in one field where many conditions are nearly identical then the variations between farms, regions and countries can be just huge. This makes transferring ideas from one place to another a little difficult at times and it reinforces that it makes sense to listen to your neighbors.

If you want to learn about soils there’s a lot of interesting information out there. I’ve been reading material from Australia where they often have droughts. New Zealand do excellent work with pastures, but their winters are mild and most places get decent rain. The USA has done a huge amount of work which can apply here (although I am still trying to figure out which state or region has the most similar climate to ours).

Today I was checking out the agricultural part of the Soil and Health Library and reading Michael Astera doc on soils when I found this quote:

“The state of Kentucky is known for raising some of the finest horses in the world. The neighboring states, Tennessee and Indiana for instance, are not. Why? Because Kentucky soils are largely made from broken down limestone, high Calcium and probably high Phosphorus limestone, what strong bones are made of.”

Cool, I thought, we have similar soils and are known for raising cows with strong bones. Astera continues,

“The same goes for areas of France that have been raising strong, healthy cattle and horses since pre-Roman times – the rocks their soils are made of contain high amounts of Calcium phosphate.”

OK, he’s way ahead of me. The reading continues.

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Legume wars! And I love seeing that plantain grow tall.

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4 responses to “A twist of limestone

  1. Good find with the article!

    A neighbor who raises Charolais cattle (beefers here are usually Charolais or Hereford) has had two cases of severe joint problems in less than year old heifers lately, bone against bone and no cartilage to mention of. Both started limping and had to be butchered, must’ve been painful. In the vet’s opinion the breed’s been bred to a point where home-grown feed plus mineral won’t meet the animal’s mineral requirements anymore. I don’t know if they sell something out there that actually does, or if it’s more of a mineral imbalance thing than a deficiency, or something else entirely. I would think that fertilizer use and soil degradation have a part to play besides the breeding, but who knows where it eventually falls apart. The neighbor’s a very conscientious conventional farmer, so he goes carefully by the best advice he can get from the usual sources.

    We tend to have acid soils here and already in a farmer’s manual from 1854 there’s a word in for liberal liming. The manual does have good advice on several topics especially if you read between the lines, but a lot of it presupposes lots and lots of manual laborers and an effort to get as much grain out of your fields as possible for the income and to pay taxes. In some ways it reads like it’s not quite old enough to have the best advice yet. I try to ask myself what the writer would’ve done with less labor, or if he’d had electric fence to control animal impact and grazing which wasn’t possible then. One really interesting thing to experiment with would be intensively managed forest pastures. I’d have to get a few beefers and run a separate herd to do that though, but it’d sure be interesting if I could try it out, for the minerals, for animal performance and for wood harvesting and forest restarting too, sort of like the slash-and-burn that was done a lot, but just with animals.

  2. Hey A. A. how’s it going?

    I guess cow breed development goes hand in hand with developments in farming in general, so if you go with a big modern breed and don’t use the modern farming systems perhaps there’s higher risk? Charolais, like the Blondes, are often sent to the feedlots so breed development goes to maximize the performance there rather than on pasture.

    Our Salers cows are a very old breed but within the breed there has been modernization so we went for cows that are from the old-school roots. Charolais are huge modern cows that render amazing amounts of meat but I bet you could find some old-school Charolais that are less profitable for modern systems but that work better on pasture and have higher fertility. They’re good looking cows!

    Forest pasture sounds very interesting. There are a few threads around on implementing it and there’s at least one old classic book on the subject which of course evades memory. I did a quick search on silvopasture and there seems to be a ton of stuff out there, too.

  3. Hi there!

    I think what the vet meant was that those cattle would need some sort of designer ration that had just the right minerals in it so they couldn’t by any chance miss out on eating enough. I’m a bit doubtful if that’d do the trick, but anyway. The particular neighbor houses his cattle year-round in the sort of stabulation libre you showed in your earlier post, no pasture. To my mind he’s basically got a perfectly as well as cleanly (and odorlessly) managed modern farm, apart from not feeding a bought feedlot diet. I have yet to find hay that my cows would like better than his. This is just one farmer of course, so I don’t know if others are starting to see similar problems. Your post reminded me that maybe there’s an angle to solving it he (or the vet) might not have even considered, like soil improvement. He’s been losing more money each year growing those cattle and is thinking of going the machine business only route too. I’ll try to ask him more about it all when I see him the next time and ask if he’s got any idea about the old-school Charolais you mention. Maybe they’d be an idea even if he didn’t run them on pasture?

    If you remember the name of the forest pasture book drop me a line. The biggest downside in what advice I’ve seen is that it’s about milkers who are expected to be fed a very rich ration at milking time, which does make certain sense but not so much if I can get a greater benefit out of grazing management. I’ll need to take better look and start imagining :)

  4. We just had the county extension agent out here to talk about our orchard and pasture. It was so informative and helpful, and I think we’re going to start with soil testing.

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