Why I am a Full Fledged Grazer

By Marvin Moyer
Reprinted from The North Eastern Holistic Resource Magazine, February 2011
I have had cattle since the '70s and of course you usually do what other farmers do around you. So, come spring and the grass started growing, I would put the cattle out on pasture and leave them there all summer. It often took several months to get the cattle back in the shape they were before I put them out. Of course, they did grow in frame size, only they were rather lean. One day, I was out on the tractor and a young man stopped in and asked if I was interested in rotational grazing. I wasn't sure what rotational grazing was. After I found out what was involved, I was interested. He gave me some suggestions and some hand outs and left. That was my introduction to "rotational grazing". It was sort of like a new pair of shoes. It took me several years to get used to them, but now they fit so well I don't want to take them off. Rational grazing, for those who aren't familiar with it, is a method of grazing. The farm is divided in many small sections called paddocks. The cattle are then rotated through these paddocks every two to four days. In this manner, they always have fresh green, grass available. So, now when I brought the cattle in for winter they looked better than when they were put out. They had a nice finish on them and they looked healthy and sleek. In the summer, they grazed without grain, but come winter I fed grain. After all, isn't that what all farmers do? How many farmers do you know who feed their beef no grain?
The next step in my learning curve was really radical. I heard Dr. Bauman (from Cornell) speak about the benefits of all grass fed beef, no grain at all, and I thought to myself that is what I want my family to eat. This was back in the 1990s and there weren't many people raising this kind of beef. After some research, I bought a red angus heifer and two Galloway cows which were supposedly able to turn grass into protein efficiently. Cattle that are spoon fed and spoiled and wait around to be fed instead of going out and finding their own forage. So it has been over ten years since I stopped feeding grain, and the shoes are fitting better each year. I don't think I ever want to take these shoes off. I really get excited when I think of the healthy beef produced on grass and also the benefits to the environment.
First, let me begin with the beef. We have heard for some time now about not eating fat. It clogs arteries and increases heart problems. This is true of grain fed beef, but grass fed beef is different. One of the things Dr. Bauman spoke about was the fatty acid: conjugated linoleic acid or C.L.A. This is most abundant in grass eating ruminants. According to research, C.L.A fights cancer, helps against diabetes II, keeps the arteries clean and has fewer calories than grain fed beef. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is very good. This will vary from farm to farm but my beef when tested was around tow of omega 6 to one of omega 3. The benefits go on. The risk of E-coli is greatly reduced. E-coli need an acidic environment to grow and survive. Grain produces acids in the stomach; grass does not. Grass fed beef has three to six times more vitamin E and twenty times more beta-carotene. You can find more information at www.eatwild.com
When I was a conventional farmer, I would plant oats in early spring. Then, I would hope there would be no heavy rain showers to wash away my good top soil. Now, I don't have to worry about that because I do very little plowing. Pastures do get old and the native grasses do crowd out the better, higher producing hay and pasture varieties. So, I do need to occasionally replant and seed the new varieties. Compost, along with balanced minerals, does a lot to bring and keep the soil healthy and the grass and legumes producing. I compost the manure from the winter quarters and I am very pleased with the results. I use compost and a liquid fertilizer. I do not use dry fertilizers. Dry fertilizer often uses unidentifiable fillers, such as salts and industrial wastes, which can be detrimental to soil life. Plants use 95% of the foliar fertilizer and only 15-20% of the dry. The rest either runs down the streams or becomes attached to another mineral and is unavailable to the plant.
Grass, with the help of the sun, turns CO2 into carbohydrates which put pounds of meat on the beef. So, you see, the grass farmer is really part of the solution and not part of the problem. We are helping to ease the pollution problem and at the same time produce a healthy product. Isn't it interesting when we work with nature? The grass farmer does not need to use herbicides or pesticides. Healthy soil produces healthy plants with a sugar reading of 10 + brix. Brix is a way of measuring sugar in the plant and when you have brix reading of 12 or more you will have very, very little insect problems. Weeds also do not grow well on healthy soil. Weeds grow where the soil is out of balance. They usually have a taproot which goes down into the soil and they bring up minerals to replenish the top soil. Isn't nature fascinating? A good farmer will work with nature to produce crops with less input and less work. A healthy, well mineralized soil is my goal. And I have only scratched the surface in understanding how minerals, sun, microbes etc. work together to accomplish that goal.
Soil life is another whole new world. In the warmer weather, the soil life will work 24 hours 7 days a week and they will work free. All they ask for is an environment with organic matter which is compost, leaves, old hay etc. This un-seen army will break down the carbon and make minerals available to the plants. I heard one soil scientist tell the audience that there is still undiscovered soil life waiting to be found and named. Most people can buy a few beefers and do well with them. That was how I started, but the challenge is before me to put the pieces of the puzzle together to produce the healthiest and best tasting beef possible. One of the first places to begin is with the soil as some one said "healthy soil, healthy animals, healthy people." Many of the health problems of the American people could be greatly improved by eating healthier foods. So now you see why my feet don't hurt. In fact, these shoes feel so good, I want to wear them as long as I live.