Improving Carbon Sequestration through Bale Grazing and Keyline Cultivation

Progress report for FNC22-1326

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $15,861.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Gaugler Farm and Ranch
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Erin Gaugler
Gaugler Farm and Ranch
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Project Information

Description of operation:

For over ten years, Drew worked in the oil industry where he became a proficient mechanical engineer. By working in an outside industry, he found and created opportunities to become involved with farming and ranching on a full-time basis. He now manages a cow-calf and sheep operation along with 970 acres of native, 270 acres of improved pasture, and 240 acres of winter forage/hayland. Unfortunately, much of his land was abused prior to his management. Farming practices and severe over grazing left the soil to erode by wind and water. He has worked with NRCS, USFWS, ND State Water Commission and others to transition from a 3-cell pasture rotation relying on dugouts for water to a 28-cell rotation with miles of pipeline, multiple wells (solar and conventional), dams for wildlife, cover crops for pollinators and soil health, and miles of trees. Wetland acres are being intensively managed through mob grazing with sheep. He continues to work closely with these groups to address resource concerns and make long-term improvements in an effort to revitalize the land and improve wildlife habitat.

I have spent the last several years working off the farm to advance my knowledge of production agriculture and am in the process of transitioning back to the farm and ranch. Every position of employment has contributed to my overall understanding of natural resource management. I have also earned a M.S. and am working towards a Ph. D. in Range Science which helps me to not only design experiments, but also interpret and integrate research from multiple disciplines. I currently operate with both sheep and cattle and manage 720 acres of crop and hayland. I have previously worked with NRCS and USFWS to build soil health by managing some of the land as a cover crop for pollinators which will ultimately be converted to a perennial system.

Summary:

This project addresses resource concerns of land that was conventionally farmed and depleted. Though bale grazing has created environmental and economic benefits, water management continues to be a challenge. To accelerate the benefits of bale grazing, it was chosen to implement and demonstrate a practice that transforms water management.

Keyline design was developed in the 1950s to address dwindling water supplies and soil erosion. The central idea from a water perspective is to capture water at the highest elevation and comb it out towards the ridges. The Keyline cultivator is a narrow tyne plow that loosens the sub-soil without inversion, transporting organic matter, from bale grazing and manure deposits, deeper into the soil. Water, air and organic matter feed microbiota which promotes carbon sequestration.

Stored carbon is essential to agriculture and society, though CO2 is regarded as a greenhouse gas and a waste. Historic and conventional practices limit carbon sequestration, but with proper management, the ecosystem can store more carbon than man-made infrastructure. Carbon storage benefits society and creates opportunities in the marketplace. We hope the combined effect of bale grazing and Keyline cultivation is storing carbon deeper into the soil profile, while accelerating healing and increasing forage production.

Project Objectives:
  1. Evaluate the usefulness of bale grazing and Keyline cultivation to improve carbon sequestration and increase market opportunities for producers.
  2. Improve water management and reduce runoff through Keyline pattern cultivation.
  3. Monitor the impact of bale grazing and Keyline cultivation to improve forage production.
  4. Share findings to improve understanding of the carbon cycle and to demonstrate a producer-led means of carbon storage.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Kevin Sedivec (Educator)
  • Robin Salverson (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:

Multi-species bale grazing and keyline cultivation was planned to occur across 160 acres of land that had been historically mismanaged to a point of soil depletion. Bale grazing is a winter-feeding strategy that provides both environmental and economic benefits. Keyline cultivation is a subsoil method that uses the concept of Keyline geometry. It is meant to penetrate the subsoil, to a depth of 2" below existing rooting depth without inverting the soil. The objective is to direct the shallow overland flow, which results from rainfall or spring runoff, to remain evenly spread (e.g. hillsides and ridges) and not follow its natural flow path to concentrate in the valley. Through water movement, hoof action, light harrowing and other natural processes, it is hopeful that manure and residue from bale grazing will be deposited into Keylines. As a result, organic matter will fall into contact with the subsoil and evapotranspiration of nutrients will be reduced due to shading and cooler temperatures. Through this management, microbial populations will be provided with water, food and air which promotes carbon sequestration. 

To get the project started, we met with extension educators and project collaborators during the spring of 2022. Through this meeting, a timeline was developed and plans were made for the team to meet again in the spring of 2023. Throughout the project period, project coordinators will make arrangements with team members to coordinate on project activities and/or outreach efforts. As data is collected, follow-up meetings may be organized to review and interpret information. 

Baseline soil samples were collected during the spring of 2022 to assess soil nutrient and microbial activity (Haney Soil Test) prior to bale grazing and Keyline cultivation. Soil samples will be collected on an annual basis to monitor change over time. Samples will also be collected at varying depths and distances from the Keyline to monitor the scale of impact.

Compositing soil samples for submission to testing laboratory.
Compositing soil samples for submission to testing laboratory.

During the summer of 2022, hay was harvested on the project site and across other hayland acres. Forage production was monitored within the project area and averaged 2,700 lbs/acre. Forage production will continue to be monitored and comparisons will be made to other management strategies.

Mowing hay to use within the bale grazing project.
Mowing hay to use within the bale grazing project.

Surveying equipment and flags were used to designate placement of Keyline cultivation as indicated on the map. Lines were successfully cultivated in the fall of 2022. Following moisture events, observations were/will be made both above and below the Keyline cultivated areas to note any changes in sheet or rill erosion. Soil moisture and compaction will be measured at varying depths and distances from the Keyline to monitor the scale of impact. Observations will continue to be made throughout the project period. 

Flags marking surveyed line for Keyline cultivation.
Flags marking surveyed line for Keyline cultivation.
Surveying
Surveying

Keyline Ploughing/Cultivation

Keyline Ploughing/Cultivation
Keyline cultivation

video-c51e1377-70a4-44dd-bd7c-dfb7881e9521-1671215286

video-e2014552-59ad-480a-b9f4-a1c4756a2047-1671215290

Additional hay was hauled to the project area in fall of 2022 to support approximately 300 cows, 40 sheep and 15 ewe lambs. Portable windbreak panels were set up to provide wind protection to multiple species. Bales were distributed and temporary fences for bale grazing rotations were installed during the early winter months. Cows were ultrasounded and conception rates will be tracked throughout the project period to demonstrate that nutritional needs are being met. Livestock body condition will be scored before, during, and after bale grazing to monitor relative fatness. Supplemental feed will be made available to sheep to maintain adequate nutrition.

Stockpiled hay to use within the bale grazing project.
Stockpiled hay to use within the bale grazing project.
Bales distributed and temporary fence installed for use within the bale grazing project area.
Bales distributed and temporary fence installed for use within the bale grazing project area.

Prior to bale grazing, cows had an average body condition score of 5 which means that they had a good overall appearance. On palpation, fat cover over ribs feels spongy, and areas on either side of tail head have palpable fat cover. Sheep body condition was scored at 3 which means that vertical processes are smooth and rounded. The bone is only felt with pressure. The horizontal processes are also smooth and well covered; hard pressure is required with the fingers to find the ends. The loin muscle is full and with a moderate fat cover. Multi-species bale grazing began on December 12, 2022 and body condition scores will be measured again both during and after bale grazing. 

Bale grazing

Multi-species bale grazing during winter of 2022.
Multi-species bale grazing during winter of 2022.

 

Research results and discussion:

Baseline soil samples were collected during the spring of 2022 to assess soil nutrient and microbial activity (Haney Soil Test) prior to bale grazing and Keyline cultivation. Soil samples will be collected on an annual basis to monitor changes over time. Samples will be collected at varying depths and distances from the Keyline to monitor the scale of impact. Data collected in spring of 2023 will allow us to monitor changes in response to project activities after one year. If a short-term project extension is granted, we would be able to complete and report on the impact of two entire seasons of bale grazing and Keyline cultivation. The project could be completed without an extension, but it would provide a more thorough assessment.

Date Recorded Sample ID 1 Sample ID 2 Beginning Depth Ending Depth 1:1 Soil pH WDRF Buffer 1:1 Soluble Salt Excess Lime Organic Matter CO2-C H2O Total N H2O Organic N H2O Total Organic C H3A Nitrate H3A Ammonium H3A Inorganic Nitrogen H3A Total Phosphorus H3A Inorganic Phosphorus H3A Organic Phosphorus H3A ICAP Potassium H3A ICAP Calcium H3A ICAP Aluminum H3A ICAP Iron H3A ICAP Sulfur H3A ICAP Zinc H3A ICAP Manganese H3A ICAP Copper H3A ICAP Magnesium H3A ICAP Sodium % MAC Organic C:N Organic N:Inorganic N Organic N Release Organic N Reserve Organic P Release Organic P Reserve Soil Health Calculation Available N Available P Available K Nutrient Value Traditional N Haney Test N Lbs N Difference N savings Past Crop Crop 1 YG 1 P205 Rec
6/6/2022 BASELINE Keyline & Bale Gz -WEST 0 6 7.2 7.2 0.18 NONE 3.2 61 18.1 12.4 131 3.6 5.8 9.4 9 4.2 4.5 300 574 149 68 6.3 0.46 6.5 0.14 199 22 46.5 10.6 1.3 12.4 0 4.5 < 0.1 9.96 39.1 20.1 360.4 213.05 6.5 39.1 32.6 20.87 Alfalfa (1/2 Stand) Grass + Alfalfa T/A 1.5 45
6/6/2022 BASELINE Keyline & Bale Gz -WEST 6 24 8.2 7.2 0.3 HIGH 1.7 16.5 9.4 6.1 82 3 5.3 8.3 1 0.5 0.8 30 2226 57 10 25.8 0.11 0.5 0.13 505 71 20.1 13.4 0.7 4.9 1.2 0.5 0.3 3.9 71.4 2.2 35.9 64.48 16.3 71.4 55.1 35.24 Alfalfa (1/2 Stand)    
6/6/2022 BASELINE Keyline & Bale Gz -EAST N 0 6 7.3 7.2 0.19 NONE 3.3 49.6 15.8 11.7 139 2.7 1.7 4.4 5 2 3.1 135 744 164 34 5.8 0.14 3 0.08 270 17 35.8 11.8 2.7 11.7 0 3.1 < 0.1 8.91 29 11.6 161.6 103.9 4.8 29 24.2 15.48 Alfalfa (1/2 Stand) Grass + Alfalfa T/A 1.5 55
6/6/2022 BASELINE Keyline & Bale Gz -EAST N 6 24 8.5 7.2 0.15 HIGH 2.2 12.3 5 3.6 62 0.3 0.2 0.5 1 0.6 0.6 43 3146 34 5 19.2 0.01 0.2 0.05 519 20 19.9 17.2 7.3 2.9 0.7 0.3 0.2 2.83 18.2 2.1 52.1 38.49 1.8 18.2 16.4 10.49 Alfalfa (1/2 Stand)    
6/6/2022 BASELINE Keyline & Bale Gz -EAST S 0 6 7.3 7.2 0.28 NONE 3.5 74.6 23.2 14.7 133 7.1 2.1 9.2 6 2 3.5 129 963 123 31 9.7 0.23 4.5 0.06 295 16 56 9.1 1.6 14.7 0 3.5 < 0.1 11.6 43 12.7 154.5 109.73 12.8 43 30.2 19.32 Alfalfa (1/2 Stand) Grass + Alfalfa T/A 1.5 55
6/6/2022 BASELINE Keyline & Bale Gz -EAST S 6 24 7.7 7.2 0.8 HIGH 2.7 25.1 5.7 3.3 53 1.5 0.4 2 2 1 1.2 42 2850 43 7 163.5 0.03 0.3 0.06 591 29 46.9 16.4 1.6 3.3 0 1.2 < 0.1 3.91 28.3 5.2 50.9 45.58 8.3 28.3 20 12.82 Alfalfa (1/2 Stand)    

Following moisture events, observations were/will be made both above and below the Keyline cultivated areas to note any changes in sheet or rill erosion. The Keylines were very successful at capturing runoff and slowing down or disrupting sheet and rill erosion. It will be interesting to see how the Keylines function once bale grazing has occurred through these areas. It is hopeful that Keylines will capture organic matter and manure while slowing down or disrupting water runoff.

Keylines
Keyline cultivation capturing water runoff.

A soil probe will be used to monitor moisture at a depth up to 24" from the base of the Keyline to determine contribution to subsoil moisture. A soil penetrometer will be used to monitor compaction up to 30" in the project area. Soil moisture and compaction will be measured at varying depths and distances from the Keyline to monitor the scale of impact following bale grazing in spring of 2023. Measurements will be repeated in Year 2 of the project if a no-cost, short-term extension is granted. 

Soil moisture meter
Soil moisture meter
Soil penetrometer
Soil penetrometer

Baseline forage production within the project area was determined by clipping and averaged 2,700 lbs/acre in 2022. Forage production will continue to be monitored and comparisons will be made to other management strategies following one year of project implementation.

Prior to bale grazing during the winter of 2022/2023, cows had an average body condition score of 5 which means that they had a good overall appearance. On palpation, fat cover over ribs feels spongy and areas on either side of tail head have palpable fat cover. Sheep body condition was scored at 3 which means that vertical processes are smooth and rounded. The bone is only felt with pressure. The horizontal processes are also smooth and well covered; hard pressure is required with the fingers to find the ends. The loin muscle is full and with a moderate fat cover. Multi-species bale grazing began on December 12, 2022 and body condition scores will be measured again both during and after bale grazing. 

For more information on body condition scores of beef cattle:<https://beef.unl.edu/learning/condition1a.shtml>

For more information on body condition scores of sheep: <https://extension.sdstate.edu/sites/default/files/2021-07/MC-02221.pdf>

In general, the project has just gotten underway and a lot more information will be available following one year of bale grazing and Keyline cultivation. In the meantime, we look forward to observing the response of Keylines to moisture runoff and will track time and money spent to implement bale grazing and Keyline cultivation versus other management strategies. We also plan to conduct a self assessment each spring to evaluate one's own satisfaction with the project.

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

20 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
2 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days
3 Other educational activities: 2 podcasts and 1 TV episode

Participation Summary:

2500 Farmers participated
20 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Throughout the project period, we participated in and led a number of outreach activities to share about the project and what we are learning. Activities include but are not limited to social media, field day handouts, newsletter articles, conference presentations, mail box tours, podcasts, TV interviews and numerous consultations. While conducting many of these activities, we share about the project and personally encourage people to participate in the mail box tour and/or give us a call to visit or schedule an in-person tour. 

The project will be documented through various social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Photos, videos and data results will be shared throughout duration of the project period in hopes of providing an educational experience to others. While some producers directly approach us about what we are doing, many of them want to quietly observe and drive by the project area. We hope that social media platforms will provide anonymous viewing for those that are apprehensive about approaching us directly. We anticipate that social media posts will be viewed by 1000+ people per post. However, we are always open to and excited about visiting with local and regional producers.

Hoppe

In the spring of 2022, Drew and I were interviewed by NDSU Extension Educators for the Agriculture Applied podcast. Extension educators visit with producers and NDSU Extension Specialists about innovative ideas and reflect on generational changes which can help to create a better tomorrow.

https://anchor.fm/agriculture-applied/episodes/Bale-Grazing--Ft--Erin-and-Drew-Gaugler-e1hipc3/a-a7q5e2r 

During the fall of 2022, a field day handout was developed and shared at Grant County Ag Day. We also gave a short talk about the Farmer Rancher SARE program and provided testimonial about our project.  Approximately 150 people participated in the program.

SARE booth

We also wrote and published an article through the North Dakota State University Central Grasslands Research Extension Center Newsletter which goes out to 1000+ producers in the region. Karl Hoppe, the North Dakota State Coordinator for SARE, toured the project area during the fall of 2022 and wrote a story that was published by North Dakota State University. At the time of Karl's visit, a film crew associated with PBS and America's Heartland came to capture footage that will be used in promotional materials for SARE. The episode is projected to air during February of 2023.

Drew Gaugler is surrounded by dark green, tall grass that grew where a bale was grazed last year.

https://www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/ag-hub/impact-stories/bale-grazing-next-year

Sheep
Film crew capturing footage of the sheep.
Interview
Film crew interviewing Drew.
Project area.
Film crew getting organized to capture footage of project area.

Karl Hoppe also published an article in the Jamestown Sun which highlighted our SARE grant and encouraged other producers to apply to the Farmer Rancher grant program by December 1, 2022.

https://www.jamestownsun.com/business/sare-farmer-rancher-grant-proposals-due-dec-1

In January of 2023 and 2024, we are scheduled to talk about our project(s) at the Northern Plains Food and Farming Conference. We will share about the project(s) and what we have learned so far. We will also network and learn from others while in attendance.

The Lemmon Farm and Home Show will take place in March of 2023 and we have plans to update our field day handouts and share materials at the tradeshow. We will have a SARE booth and will encourage attendees to consider the various grant opportunities. 

During the fall of 2023, a project update will be published through the North Dakota State University Central Grassland Research Extension Center Newsletter. We will also develop a driving/walking tour of the project area that is available year round. A mail box will be on-site with information about the project. At any outreach events, we will promote and encourage producers to participate in the mailbox tour. In the past, we have found this to be one of the most successful outreach activities and we are excited to see how it continues.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.