The goats are the unsung heroes when it comes to pasture maintenance. They will graze almost anything! We use them to graze down blackberries, star-thistle, and any other invasive plants that cows will not eat.
Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices.
Aldo Leopold (1887–1949) championed environmental stewardship based on a land ethic "Dealing with man's relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it."
We at Hester Ranch take pride in our efforts to not only treat our cattle humanely but also treating our land even more so. Water and feed are our most precious possessions and here is how we protect them.
Even before we decided to become certified Organic, Mary Hester saw to it that we never were allowed to use chemicals to increase our feed, decrease our invasive weeds, or kill any insects for any benefit at all.
For instance, tasty blackberry bushes are an invasive species that when untreated can overtake precious pasture and turn it into one big impenetrable bush. Instead of spraying with chemicals, we take the time to mow with industrial equipment the large sections (sometimes acres of it) and then turn goats out so they can eat down the new berry growth, thereby not allowing the bushes to get out of control.
Modern chemical fertilizers can increase the yield of feed tremendously, but also have adverse effects on the water table and water runoff onto natural streams and ponds in which wildlife depend on.
Instead of using chemicals, we use mechanical dragsthat break up the cattle manure into more soluble pieces (instead of the large “cow pies”) that the ground can readily absorb.
We also wait 4 days before flood irrigating in order to let the animal waste absorb into the ground in order to reduce the amount of animal waste that can runoff into those same ponds and streams others rely on.
We also use chickens to help with our fertilization and fly reduction. We rotate chicken coups into the irrigated pasture after our cattle. These chickens use their claws to break the cattle manure in order to eat the fly lava laid inside. This produces 3 great outcomes:
1) The cattle manure is broken up into more absorbable sized pieces.
2) The chickens will limit the amount of flies; which are not only a nuisance to the cattle but can carry diseases such as pinkeye.
3) Chicken manure is high in nitrogen which is a great source of nutrition for our fields!
Overgrazing can be problematic for many reasons:
1) The good grass the cows enjoy will either become too stressed or eliminated altogether.
2) The undesired weeds will take over when the desired grass cannot compete and will eventually be shaded out.
3) When the grass is overgrazed, the essential micro-organisms in the soil will also die as their environment has been compromised.
4) Micro-organisms are responsible for releasing such nutrients as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulfur and Iron. They breakdown organic matter into forms useful to the grass. They also suppress pathogenic micro-organisms that can cause diseases.
We avoid these catastrophic consequences by fencing our pastures into sections and constantly rotating our cattle in order to let the grass rest, recuperate, and regrow!
View pictures and learn more about our stewardship and conservation efforts on the ranch:
Not only do we try to avoid overgrazing, we try to allow the grass and vegetation to mature before grazing to increase protein.
These chickens are enjoying eating down some weeds, eating fly lava, spreading manure, and adding nitrogen to solid. They also make for some of the best eggs around!
We are blessed to have irrigation water to use so therefore we make it a priority to keep the runoff clean. Here two frogs are..... um.... enjoying the clean water!
In order to keep the grass healthy and allowing for proper irrigation, we are constantly moving the cows to greener pasture. Here some local kids take advantage of our horses and giving me a hand!
Tules show up in irrigation ditches and can slow water to a complete stop. While most other conventional operations would use herbicides in order to clear irrigation ditches from overgrown tules, we use equipment which won't poison the water.