New Native Grass Plugs Planted

We have been busy at the Ranch the last couple of weeks.  We recently planted  2,400 one sided blue grass, 2,400  purple needle grass, 2,400  california melic, and a 1,000 idaho fescue native grass plugs. The planting continues next week as we will be sowing 9,600 danthonia native grass plugs next week.
 planting 2014

Come Join Us At A CNGA Workshop!

The Sonoma Mountain Institute Staff is looking forward to many of the workshops that the California Native Grassland Association is about to offer.  We welcome you to join us in supporting this association that brings education and awareness to the importance of restoring and preserving California’s native grasslands.  Please click on the following link for more detailed information on the workshops available in 2014.

California Native Grassland Association- workshops

2014 Here We Come!

As the trailer doors shut, and the truck heads off the property with the last of the cattle, a certain amount of relief sets in for us. Another grazing year closes without incident, much is learned and positive changes have happened along our landscapes. We let go of the focus we have had on obtaining proper densities of cattle and stimulating animal impact. We let go of trying to achieve the optimal graze and recovery periods while maintaining the health of the cattle. We sink in and appreciate the opportunity we have had to steward the land and begin to turn our focus for the months ahead….with no cattle.

 

We have chosen to bring other ranchers cattle onto our properties for limited periods for several reasons. One of the most important is that it much more closely resembles the way nature did it for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. In the not too distant past herbivores grazed a location for short periods of time at high densities with intense impact and then did not return for months or years at a time. Herbivores followed the vibrant and healthy grass, moving on to greener pastures and left the areas they just grazed to rest and recover. The wolves, and American cheetahs and sabertooths kept the herbivores moving and the landscapes healthy.

 

Most ranches are built on a continuous system that has cattle on a piece of ground all year round. While that wouldn’t have typically been the case in evolutionary history, a competent grassland manager can manage cattle on the same piece of ground year all round in a sustainable or even regenerative fashion. However, for us,  we find it easier and more effective for our landscape if we bring a higher number of cattle in seasonally and then send the animals off when we have achieved our desired level of impact. We are also fortunate to not have production pressures that many ranchers have so we are able to be much more flexible with our management.

 

So the question that naturally follows after hearing that we only manage cattle seasonally is,  “what do these guys do when the last trailer leaves property and the last piece of fence is rolled up.” A few years ago I learned a pretty valuable lesson at the Ranching for Profit School (http://ranchmanagement.com/) about the difference between working in your business (WITB) and working on your business (WOTB). When Nate and I are moving cattle on the landscape, setting up and taking down fencing, troubleshooting water issues, and separating animals to be worked…typically we are working in our business/organization. When the trailer pulls away and the cattle leave we have the ability to start asking questions about how we are running the business/organization. At least when we aren’t thinning brush, fixing fence, planting plugs and harvesting grass seeds. We have the ability to ask should we even be using this type of fence? Who should we get cattle from next season? How should we monitor and why? How could we standardize the infrastructure process so we are not wasting time? What is the fastest way to set up fence through dense brush? What goals and objectives do we have for 2014?  All these questions are WOTB questions and it is how we spend a good deal of our time when the cattle leave for the season.

 

Ranch Management Consultants (RMC) who teach the Ranching for Profit course have a set of ten meetings that they recommend ranching businesses conduct when they leave the school (http://ranchmanagement.com/nl68.pdf).  These meetings range from conducting a grazing plan to having a mission statement and purpose to organizing your workspace to be effective. We have been trying to do at least one of these meetings per month and they have been very helpful. In addition to the meetings there is a bunch of pre and post meeting work to do surrounding the meetings that requires a fair amount of time. Our grazing chart is one of those products which you can see below, but it will need to be revised due to the drought.

 

One of the things that was clear to Nate and I this grazing season was that if we ever want to expand we need to standardize and document a good deal of what we do. One of the areas we wanted to standardize and document were how we go about collecting, storing and presenting our monitoring data. SMI has historically conducted a fair amount of monitoring activities. We did some work around getting clearer on what the goals of our monitoring program were and the types of data we wanted to collect. This required a fair amount of work and we eventually came to a rough beta operations protocol for the monitoring data that will help to simplify all the work that needs to be done regarding our monitoring program.

 

Another large area that we needed to standardize and document surrounded our infrastructure materials and how we used and interacted with them. In order to do this Nate and I conducted time trials under a variety of conditions in order to clarify what methods and tools we were using that worked best. We were also interested in developing better tools and methods which we thought would be easier when we could work with infrastructure without having to worry about caring for cattle. You can see a more detailed summary of those time trials linked here: Infrastructure Time Trial Summary

 

There are quite a few more items that we have done since the cattle left the property (such as Nate continuing to crack away at his writing project), but those were some of the bigger items we have gotten through. Now we are turning our heads to look into the coming grazing season and what we see are the dominant impacts of drought. 2013 was the driest year on record for California (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/31/2013-dry-california_n_4525573.html). Which means that nobody alive really understands what the grass growth for this upcoming year is going to look like.

 

One of the frustrating things for us as grass managers in California is that it takes a full year too really see the impacts from your management. It is a pretty delayed feedback cycle due to the Mediterranean climate patterns we have here of six months of a rainy season, followed by a six-month dry season. This rain pattern creates a short growing season followed by a long dormant season, which slows down biological activity and how fast organic matter can be cycled through and improve the system. It is not something you can speed up in any way, which slows down how fast you can learn and obtain meaningful data. In climates with a more evenly distributed rainfall pattern you can see results and impacts quicker then in California.

 

The drought we are currently experiencing could push that feedback timeline out a whole other year making us wait to see the impacts from the grass management in 2013 out two years to 2015. In truth though, not being able to see the total results of our management pale in comparison to what is happening to many ranchers out there on the landscape. A lot of people who make their living off grass are going to loose animals, money and possibly their land if they are not able to pay bills through the grass that rain brings, or doesn’t bring. There are some tough times ahead for the brave folks who participate in rangeland agriculture if we don’t get a decent amount of rain from January – May.

 

A general way to think about grass growth is that grass needs both moisture and temperature to grow. In California we typically get our moisture during the coldest part of the year, which isn’t the greatest. Therefore there are two times per year when we really get growth on the grass, October through early November, and then again in February through April. Typically the grass begins growing in October and then slows until February when it then takes off for it’s biggest flush of the season. This year we have almost no growth to start with from October, as the rains have been so sparse. If it does rain soon, we are not sure what the grass will look like, as we have no real head start from October rains. This means while we have a grazing plan here at SMI the drought is causing us to have to delay our plans as we see what really happens on the landscape and adjust accordingly.

 

Dealing with drought is a serious and constant part of management. You can be sure that if you make your living from grass that drought will impact your business at some point or another. The RMC folks have some very helpful drought planning tools that they use at their school. A synopsis of them can be found here: (http://ranchmanagement.com/nl65.pdf). For us at SMI we are continuing to work on different projects; fixing fences, building relationships, building tools for grazing, writing, building out monitoring info hosting websites, while we wait and look to the sky. If we don’t get enough rain then we will have to forgo grazing this year and look to support others who have land to manage and ranchers that could use our support. The Chinese character for crisis is a combination the characters for danger and opportunity. As adversity will always present itself I think it is important to view those circumstances as chances for growth and cultivating new and dynamic opportunities. So 2014 here we come!

A New Video Created by Cultural Conservancy

The Cultural Conservancy has completed a short film called, “Guardians of the Waters-Native Youth Explore Cultural and Ecological Health” in collaboration with Sonoma Mountain Institute and the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center (OAEC). Aside from the cultural preservation that the Cultural Conservancy projects, much of the boat building and paddling processes occurred at OAEC pond as they worked on Tule projects from the Tule’s harvested at SMI’s lake. The video was produced by Mateo Hinojosa, Nicola Wagenberg and the youth.   The world premiere was held at the recent Indigenous Forum at Bioneers. Please see the link below to view their hard work and inspiring message.
Cultural Conservancy Video

2013 Annual Board Meeting

We had our annual board meeting at the ranch in Petaluma on October 15, 2013.  The board meeting reviewed all that was accomplished in 2013 and discussed future projects planned for 2014.  It is our hope to increase our tree and grass propagation, train new shepherds, expand our compost building capacity, and take over the insurance and the care of Godfrey Ranch. The annual budget was passed and all attendees were in agreement of the projects to come. Overall, all the board was happy with the progress made in 2013 and they, as well as, our great team of staff are excited for the upcoming projects in 2014.

 

Another Successful Tule Harvest at S.M.I.

In late August of 2013 another Tule Harvest happened at Sonoma Mountain Institute in Petaluma, CA.  This year’s harvest was a great collaborative effort made by Occidental Art and Ecology Center for their onsite management and assistance with tying up some of the bundles of tules, S.M.I. assisted with cutting, drying, and hauling our clean, healthy, and beautiful tule, as always The Cultural Conservancy team gifted the project their experience in the creation and design of a Tule boat, and lastly the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria and the Kalliopeia Foundation have provided their support of building Tule Boats for years. The Cultural Conservancy will also be debuting at Bioneers this year alongside the Tule Boats that will be on display. Sonoma Mountain Institute is grateful to take part in the continuing preservation of  indigenous cultural traditions.  IMG_7595 IMG_7615 IMG_7632 IMG_7633

Going Back in Time

We at Sonoma Mountain Institute have been searching for information on the history of this beautiful land in which care for here in Petaluma, CA.  Luckily, we found California’s Coastal Prairies website that takes us back in time to the Pre-History and History of Sonoma County.  The website begins about telling how grasses started to develop 80 million years ago and then leads to describe how California underwent climate and geology changes that diversified grassland environments. Summaries regarding the last 10,000 years and our current history, explain the evolution of megafuana grazing the land, the arrival of Europeans and Native Americans, and the historical timeline in which non-native grass and forb species have invaded the historic space in which native species primarily resided. Although we found additional websites that offered information about our historic location, we found that the California’s Coastal Prairies website did an efficient job of encompassing the longest time period and had the most detailed information within their historical timeline.  If you are interested in reading more about the Pre-History & History of Sonoma Counties Prairies feel free to click on the hyperlink above.

 

 

The Shepherd’s Summary of the Grazing at S.M.I.

Written by: Byron Palmer – S.M.I. Shepherd

The theme of this ecological treatment could be considered tranquility and ease. The importance of this first time event was to ensure that it went well for the cattle, the people and the land. It was important that all three of those participants felt good about the process and the results of the activity. I would say that through the efforts of the whole team at SMI we achieved just that.

An important element of the project going well was making sure that the majority of the rainy season had passed before we introduced the cattle to the property. We wanted to make sure we avoided unaesthetic mud pits around the property. As a result of that concern we introduced cattle onto the property April 1st which gave us 40 days or so of good grass. Due to the uneven distribution of rain in the 20012/13 rainy season with heavy rains in December and not much else following it seemed like SMI’s grass didn’t really get going until April 1st anyway. As I have not been here in previous years I can only guess at this, but I think that the uneven precipitation distribution had something to do with the late onset of rapid growth in the vegetative state of the annual and perennial grasses on the property. The uneven distribution may have also impacted the length of the growing season as well.

As was stated we introduced the cattle onto the property on April 1st. Nate Chisholm had gone down to the property the cattle had come from previous to this date to make sure the animals electric fence training was going well. Nate’s review was that the training was going to our satisfaction and when the animals arrived they seemed to have an understanding of the nature of an electric fence. Having the corrals to intake the animals into when they arrived at SMI and train them a bit more to the fence was key in having a peaceful transition into a completely temporary infrastructure system based off of a single strand of .7 mm poly-wire.

When we introduced the animals into management unit A, getting the animals used to regular handling and constant electric fence containment was our goal. As a result our paddocks were a little larger than they ended up being the majority of the grazing event here this season. Once we made it through management units A and part way into B we began working with the animals more to achieve higher densities.

There are many ways to achieve higher densities and I received a wonderful education from Nate this year on different ways to achieve that density. He began by explaining to me the variations within high density that happen in the natural world. I will not attempt to explain those here (not that I could), but it was an interesting contrast to many of the systems I have seen by people attempting to use solely infrastructure to achieve ultra high densities.

Some practitioners of planned grazing will spend 2-4 hours a day setting up and breaking down temporary fencing in order to move animals as many as ten times per day, achieving a relatively uniform impact, of at times 800,000 pounds of animals per acre. This is applying a linear system of a regular type of density to a given area, and seemed after further reflection, less natural then the types of density present in the natural world. What was interesting to me in Nate’s approach was that instead of taking 2 or 4 hours setting up and taking down a lot of fencing, he preferred spending that time using stockmanship to achieve those densities.

This has many benefits, including working the cattle to become more calm and responsive as well as developing our stockhandling skills. By walking the animals and placing them where we want them on the landscape we achieve the highest possible densities while also being able to target areas that might need it the most. We regularly set up our fencing so that they had enough grass in a given paddock for a day or so. We then both would come in once a day and work with them for a portion of time to achieve higher densities and impact high value target areas such as poison oak groves.

As we moved further into Management Unit B we stopped putting pink flagging on the poly-wire as they became used to the heard seeing the fencing. We also started working with the animals on a daily basis to achieve higher densities and impact areas that we wanted to target. Specifically, there were some grassland/woodland borders that had quite a bit of brush build up and we had a lot of fun marching the cattle back and forth through them to bust it up and open the transition area between the borders.

As we moved through the woodland I was interested to see what kind of forage availability we were going to get. After reviewing most of the heavily wooded management units it looks like the woodland areas produced on average 15 ADA’s (animal days per acre) or so. Better then what I expected. It will be interesting to see how they perform next year. In these wooded areas we still set up paddocks that had enough forage for a day or so, but it was much harder for me to estimate the forage needs in those areas compared with the grasslands. In some of the areas of Unit B we might have set up fencing that placed the cattle at a density where they needed to be moved 2-4 times per day. We ended up varying it up a bit through Management Units B & C, but a day’s worth of forage was usually the upper limit in size in these Units.

As we rounded the corner on the property and headed into Units D & E about May 1st or so the grass started really transitioning into the less nutritious reproductive phase of it’s life cycle. It was interesting to note that at this point in time and the later we got into May, the cattle’s behavior began changing. If they did not have vegetative grass available in a paddock for the day, they were much more vocal and their movements were much more agitated. They would often rather stand around and bawl then put there heads down and make something out of the mature grass. It started becoming more and more unpleasant to be around the cattle. It was at this point that Nate initiated the much needed discussion about balancing body condition and getting optimum impact on the ground.

What we came to was that in order to be in line with our goal of the whole operation going calmly and easily we needed to begin to move the cattle around on the property where there was still grass in a vegetative state. We needed to preserve body condition on the cattle to maintain a good relationship with the cattle owners. Nate has had plenty of experience attempting to force cattle to eat mature grass while sacrificing body condition and animal performance. Based on his experience we should avoid this situation at all costs. It never ends well. As a result of the changing life cycle of the grass, using stockmanship to trample down large amounts of grass that had gone into a reproductive phase became a focus of much of the time we spent with the animals. We would make sure that they had quality feed and they would impact those areas evenly. However any areas in proximity that were in reproductive phase that we wanted to impact we relied on walking them over those areas again and again.

We decided to start grazing insets of Management units F, G and I where grass was still in relatively good quality. In Management Unit M the woodland understory still had a good mix of nutritious grasses so less stockmanship was needed to achieve our desired impact. We eventually jumped back into new areas we hadn’t planned on grazing (Units N and O) as the grass was more nutritious and in a vegetative state which the cattle prefer. As we moved into unit N we got word that the cattle were going to be pulled off the property in the next few weeks. As a result we began moving the cattle through areas a bit faster hoping to get wider impact on the back of the property and trading off in some cases the more targeted and intense impact we were getting before. That being said we were still working with the animals daily, but the overall paddocks they were in day to day were bigger. At this point the velvet grass and harding grass in Unit D had recovered (30-33 day recovery) and were hoping to walk the cattle over to that area to graze and impact once more to see how it performed with two shearings. However we got word that all the cattle were needed back on their home property by June 10th.

Overall the data was encouraging. We averaged about 15 animal days per acre in the wooded areas and anywhere from 30-45 ADA’s on the grasslands during the vegetative stage of growth with the SMI grasses. It’s really difficult to estimate How many ADA’s we could get or were present on the taller reproductive phase annual grasses as we never truly pushed that type of diet on the cattle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was 60 + ADA’s there in some areas. The grasslands performed in terms of forage as to be expected in this region. It will be exciting to see how they adjust over time with this renewed regenerative grazing regime. I think next year if we get better rain distribution we will see much more forage then we saw this year and it will be easy to forget the relationship between this years ADA’s and the poor rainfall. However I will do my best to remember and not get too excited, attributing the possible increase in forage solely to our treatment.

It was sad to see the animals go Monday morning June 10th, but overall I’m pretty satisfied with the execution of the entire grazing treatment. Any time you try something new you will always be readjusting on the fly and recalibrating your desired outcome. I think that we met our goals of having happy cattle, people and land. The cattle gained on average 2 pounds a day which is pretty respectable considering how quickly the quality of the grass changed once the cattle got here. The land was impacted well and we got some good baseline activity to work off of over the coming years. A good deal of the understory of the wooded areas was impacted with P.O. being hit hard in certain areas. We have a better understanding of the seasonal pattern of grass maturity on the property which will help us inform a more effective grazing plan next time around. We also obtained some valuable data on the amount of ADA’s we can expect off different parts of the property at different times of the year. I think overall the cattle owners and the team at SMI were all happy and satisfied with the outcome of the experiment and we look forward to getting it going again just as soon as makes sense for us!

 

S.M.I. Grazing Summary:

Total Acreage: 209.1
Average Animal Units = 41
Total Days at SMI = 104
Animal Days based on average of 44 AU = 4270
Average ADA on part of property grazed = 20.4

Beaver Fever

In Glen Ellen, a colony of beavers arrives- and this time, they’re a little more welcome

Written by: James Knight

 

In the mid-1990s, a family of beavers found their way up Sonoma Creek and settled in Glen Ellen. Although they were the first beavers that had been seen here since the animals were extirpated decades earlier, they got the same welcome that is traditionally offered to beavers: they were trapped and killed.

But recently, dams have again been observed in Sonoma Creek, and evidence suggests that some intrepid beavers have jumped watersheds and are headed toward the Laguna de Santa Rosa. The beavers are back, and this time, they just might get a fair chance.

“Back in the ’90s,” says Brock Dolman, Watershed Advocacy, Training, Education and Research Institute director at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, “there was no functional recognition that beavers were anything but a pain in the neck.” The Glen Ellen beavers became a pain in the neck when they felled 50 grapevines—Merlot, but still—with their famously effective incisors.

The few people who protested the action could do little but complain after Fish and Game issued a routine depredation permit and the deed was done.

To the beavers’ disadvantage, they’re listed as an exotic, nuisance animal only because of a brief period from the 1920s to the 1940s when the state “planted” beavers from Oregon and Idaho. But historical accounts from ship captains, explorers and General Mariano Vallejo tell of an abundance of beavers in North Bay waterways, and of heaps of beaver pelts shipped out during the California fur rush prior to 1849.

Then in 2006, a mating pair wandered out of the Delta and constructed a dam on Alhambra Creek in the middle of Martinez. “You could sit at Starbucks and watch the kits play,” says resident Heidi Perryman. The city council, worried about flooding, first considered the quiet, business-as-usual approach. But with so many people watching and protesting, the beavers got a stay. Perryman formed the nationwide advocacy group Worth a Dam, to help people navigate similar situations. (Her next talk on the issue is Thursday, July 11, at San Francisco’s Randall Museum.)

The solution in Martinez was simple. A flow device was installed that keeps the pond at a manageable level, while concealing the sound of flowing water. “The thing about beavers,” says Dolman, “is they’re a big rodent. They are nature’s great engineers—but they’re not that bright.” In one experiment, a boom box was placed near a dam, playing a loop of running water. Sure enough, beavers soon appeared and began piling mud and sticks on it.

In Martinez, it isn’t just about beavers anymore. When the pond filled with fish, river otters returned to the area. Mink also turned up, along with a host of waterfowl and songbirds.

That kind of result could improve habitat for the North Coast’s federally endangered coho salmon, says Dolman. “Having grown up in Idaho and back East, I loved to fish in beaver ponds because there were a lot of fish in there. So I got to thinking: Why aren’t we talking about beavers?” While state agencies and landowners are trying to slow down stream flow and erosion with costly projects, “beavers can do it better, faster and way cheaper.” Dolman’s organization was invited to contribute beaver language to the 2012 Coho Recovery Plan.

If beavers pop out of the creek into another vineyard, it may not play out the same as last time. In Siskiyou County, Dolman says, the Department of Water Resources had requested a trapping permit almost annually for 30 years, because beaver activity interfered with a data collection point. “Two years ago, they were doing the same thing, and the biologist said, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve got to talk about this.’ They had a community meeting, created a beaver technical group, and for the first time the DWR didn’t get that permit.”

Beavers can be excluded from an area easily, according to Perryman, with a half-foot high, solar-powered electric fence. At Glen Ellen’s Hunter Farms, vineyard manager Chris Bowen says that trapping is something he “certainly would not be party to again. We decided that beavers aren’t great climbers, so we just improved the bottom of our fence that already existed.” It’s worked so far, Bowen says.

If beavers can provide some of the environmental services that we need anyway, Dolman suggests, we ought to allow them to. “And they’re doing it for free. In these economically restrained times, why wouldn’t we think of partnering with them, if it’s benefiting us overall?
”

 

If your interested in more information about Beavers please feel free to look at any of the sites listed below:

 

BEAVER NEWS:

The OAEC WATER Institute has been working to protect beaver (Castor canadensis) in California for years. In 2011 we officially launched our Bring Back the Beaver Campaign (see full list of campaign goals). This project aims to restore and protect beaver in California through the following means:

Advocacy

  • Collaborate with members of the California Beaver Working Group to bring back the beaver
  • Work with local and State officials to protect and expand existing populations
  • Build alliances with partner organizations whose goals could benefit from the environmental services and habitat provided by beaver
  • Support the update of the seventy year old Status of Beaver in California Report (1942)
  • Support the development of a California Beaver Management Plan

Training & Education

  • Train landowners how to implement non-lethal beaver management solutions
  • Educate landowners, ranchers, agriculturists, flood and water supply agency staff, natural resource managers, and decision makers about the benefits of beaver
  • Promote the role of beaver in the mitigation of global warming and the adaptation to climate change
  • Produce a California-specific publication on co-existing with beaver towards watershed health that demonstrates how to implement non-lethal management strategies and highlights the benefits of beaver to communities and other species such as salmon and birds.

Research

  • Publish results of the re-evaluation of the historic range of beaver in the Sierra Nevada, the North Coast and California as a whole.
  • Contribute to the mapping of current populations

To learn more, contact Brock Dolman (ext. 106) or Kate Lundquist (ext. 118) at (707) 874-1557.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

BEAVER RESOURCES:

CA-Beaver-Flag

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Beaver flag created by Brock Dolman

2013 Glen Ellen Data

2013 Grazing Summary

I think that the grazing program at Glen Ellen continued to improve this year. The addition of the new corral system helped this process quite a bit. We used it a few times while they were here and it made the whole process feel much more smooth. We had several unexpected pregnancies, one of which came two days before we got the corral. That one required much more time, hassle, stress for the animal, and significant safety risk for the people involved. Everything went much better a few days later when we had to do it all again with the corral.

I wanted to bring the cattle onto the property as early as possible this year, in the hope that we might get two turns around the property in the green season. Because the season was very dry, that didn’t quite pan out, but we only missed it by a couple weeks. I wanted to do this because I think that is a dynamic that has been missing for a very long time on the property and would help the perennials beef up and remove a lot of the annual seed production, as well as dramatically hit the brush. On the other hand, I’m not really worried about the annual seed and the brush is definitely in retreat. And bringing the cattle so early could very easily have resulted in a muddy mess. When we got even less than a half an inch while the cattle were here, a few areas were right on the edge of being damaged. I threw out native seed on those areas to do a “wet soil seeding” trial. We’ll see how that goes, but I think it should be good. No sign of any seedlings coming up in the “dry soil seeding trial”. If we have cattle on the property during the rainy season going forward, it will require a good amount of vigilance. As long as the rain is not too hard, I will keep them spread out. As soon as they mash down the grass, I will move them on. But if it is raining so hard that they immediately break through the sod, I think I need to have the corral setup with a deep layer of straw on the ground. I can move them there and wait for the rain to slow up. This would mean that I would need to watch the weather and that maybe we should only have cattle on one of the properties during the winter, so that we have enough corrals to go around. In addition, having straw and hay on hand will be necessary as well. Maybe we should buy hay now and put it in the barn or the arena while it is cheap, in preparation?

Since the cattle were here so early, all the grazing was in the vegetative stage and we didn’t have to worry about trampling down any vegetation.

Looking forward to see what Jim’s data shows, anecdotal evidence suggests significant, steady improvement. The first year of grazing under Marius’ house, in Jack’s pasture, and in the orchard went well and I am looking forward to seeing how these pastures respond, since they have a significantly higher native component than the front meadows. As Mark and I observed, it seems that the grazing in these areas happened at about the right time to prevent any annual grass from resprouting. We’ll see what the effect of this is.

We got an average of thirty animal days per acre this time around, starting with twenty days in the first meadow and increasing pretty quickly to forty days per acre in the orchard. This suggests that during the three weeks that the cattle were on the property (March 11-April 4) that the amount of grass on the property doubled. This seems about right to me. We got about seventy animal days to the acre last year. I suspect we will get at least as many animal days from the next rotation, in which case we will get about as many animal days to the acre as we did last year. This is pretty good considering the fact that we probably had 20% of the effective precipitation this year as last year. But I think we got even more forage off of the property than is accounted for in the animal days. Simple animal day measurements don’t take into account weather the animals gained a bunch of weight or not. While the animals last year did just fine, since they were here in the summer with poor forage, they probably just maintained their body condition, which for growing animals means they gained somewhere around a pound and a pound and a half per day. In addition, the cattle last year were in much better condition than the cattle this year, so they ate much more this year. But we didn’t weight the cattle last year. This year we did weigh cattle in and out. It seems that the average per head gain this year was at least 2.5 pounds per day. Some of the cattle gained four pounds per day. As a result I calculated animal days so as to take into account weight gains. Each animal represented about .8 animal units when they came and three weeks later they represented .9 animal units.

It was really good working with Guido. Even though there were a few problems with unexpected calves, it was more than made up for by his flexibility with the schedule and by his ability and willingness to handle the cattle the way I want to handle them. There aren’t many cattle owners who are able and willing to do that. He wants to reserve his spot for next year.

The exclosures that I put up indicate to me that there was at least a month of time that we could have grazed the property and it would have been just as good. The early period in the woods was before the oaks leafed out, and even after they leafed out there was a good week or two before the cattle would really eat much oak. They started eating oak about the same time that they started eating poison oak. I kept them out of the Perideridia sample plot this time around, and I think that was a good idea. The Perideridia is thick right now, while at SMI where we grazed it at about the time we would have grazed here, it looks like there was almost a complete Perideridea failure this year. Oops. Now we know.

In that vein, I feel like the biggest mistake that I made here this year wasn’t something I did that went wrong but in something I didn’t do. I wish that I would have grazed one side of the meadow, or the front meadow, a second time before the cattle left, even though I thought it was a little early yet. This way we could have seen what would happen and we would have learned something. As it is, I still don’t know, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. Anyway, as I said it seems like things keep improving and we will probably bring them back in the next couple weeks.

 

Monitoring Conclusions:

Just a few thoughts regarding the monitoring data this year.

I think in general the results show a positive trend and I am happy that there is slow movement in the right direction. But we should keep in mind that this year was a very different year from last year and any year on year changes might be the result of that.

Specifically, the dramatic increase in legume this year is what I might expect the first year after a grazing treatment, but it might also have something to do with the season. Most plots saw a major expansion in the legume percentage, the most notable being plot 1 which had only a minor legume component last year, and this year it was 50% legume.

There was also a modest expansion in the Elymus percentages in several plots, and Jim noted that there was a major difference in the vigor of all the Elymus plants that he found. If the plots had been located other places, we probably would have picked up more Elymus recruitment, but with the lessons learned from the previous cycle I will try to adjust management to make that happen over other areas. Hopefully this will show in the data.

It seems that the brush has been majorly affected by the grazing, as our observations would suggest. The wood edge plot had a three quarters reduction in the poison oak percentage. There were also changes in the Perederidea patch, though Jim said that while the plants were again much more vigorous, he didn’t think there was a big change in the percentage of Perederidea. Jim did that plot much later than he did the other plots, June 24th, and I wonder if he came out at the same time this year if he would come to the same conclusion. As it was, the Perederedea wasn’t in flower and it was hard to tell what was what. But he did find that the Ithruiel spear saw an enormous increase, though from a very small base and a new species of conservative native forb appeared, Chinese houses.

Everywhere thatch layers say major reductions. One plot showed that the thatch layer was ten times deeper last year. I think this is positive.

We also did two new plots in the orchard this year, to follow the changes in a control paddock. The only thing that occurs to me to report about that is that Jim recorded the phenology of the grazed plot as “mid phenology” and the exclosure as “late phenology” meaning that in the exclosure the plants had pretty much finished growing while in the grazed plot the plants were still growing actively.

The take home message for me after this monitoring session is that while we need to create good conditions for seeds to grow, we also need to have a seed in place that will use those conditions, and in some parts of the property, there might not be those seeds. While eventually perennial grass seeds will certainly land on every inch of the property eventually, they may not be the ideal grass seeds that we want. This might be a good opportunity, after the thatch has been majorly reduced and before other grass species have become established on the property, to get the sort of plants that are most in line with SMI’s goals for the property.

 

Soil Biology  Results:

Biological Soil Analysis- Front

Biological Soil Analysis- Middle

Biological Soil Analysis- Orchard

 

Soil Chemistry Results:

Soil Chemistry Analysis for Plot 1 Front

Soil Chemistry Analysis for Plot 2 Middle

Soil Chemistry Analysis for Orchard

 

2013 Species Data:

Complete list of Species at Glen Ellen 2013pdf

2013 Charts For Vegetation Distribution in Plots:

Photos:

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