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:


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