Evaluating Forage Production and Ranching in Response to Regenerative Rotational Grazing on Dryland Pastures in Southwest Colorado.

Progress report for FW19-354

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Charles M.McAfee & CO. LLLP
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Chuck McAfee
Charles M.McAfee & CO. LLLP
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project will establish forage to support high-intensity short duration regenerative rotational grazing with cattle. A multi-species component of the project includes integrating meat goats into the grazing management plan to help utilize forage more effectively and encourage plant species diversity. A goal is to demonstrate that ecological health is improved on dryland pastures through regenerative grazing. No one has studied this in the southwestern region of Colorado and surrounding four corners region before. A better understanding of the role regenerative agriculture plays in this region is vitally important because it will result in major changes in how dryland is utilized while establishing farmer/rancher partnerships. Negative effects on agricultural communities occur as family farms and ranches are taken out of agricultural production (Brunson and Huntsinger, 2008). Socioeconomic effects will include increased employment, abundance of affordable meat, and effective succession of family agricultural operations. It’s essential that we produce the most food with the least resources as the world’s needs and demands continues to rise (World Watch, 2017).

The McAfee family homesteaded and began farming this land in 1915–dry beans, wheat, and alfalfa. Soil preparation, planting, cultivating, harvesting, and disking caused compaction and a plow pan. Nothing beyond crop residue was returned to the soil, reducing organic matter accumulation and nutrient cycling. This is no longer feasible. The soil is degraded through erosion, compaction and over-use.  Periodic drought is devastating for traditional dryland row-cropping. The land went into CRP in 2005 and is now in Grasslands CRP. Successes with native and non-native grasses and native shrubs demonstrate that these species are viable even in drought. Traditional cropping generally focuses on one ecosystem service to produce a commodity, while forage-based systems utilize many services, improving carbon sequestration, soil water holding capacity, wildlife habitat, etc. (Robertson and Swinton, 2005).

Pastures are divided into paddocks of approximately 100 acres. Grazing is managed using a regenerative approach of high intensity, short duration rotations utilizing a modest amount based on the growth curve. A deffered rotation system is in place allowing each set of paddocks (A, B,C paddocks) approximately 18 months of rest between grazing which is recommended in dryland range environments. Ecological monitoring includes measuring forage production, utilization, plant community composition changes, soil chemical and physical changes, and presence of key wildlife species. Outreach will be through SWCRC. As they report to their advisory committee and the public we will report with them, including field demonstrations.

 

Project Objectives:

Mission: The mission of the McAfees is to be exemplary stewards of the land that is entrusted to them through identification of best practices leading to improvements in soil health and increases in forage and beef production.
Specific Objectives:
1. Increase desirable soil physical properties, water absorption and retention, and carbon sequestration and storage over a three-year period beginning fall 2019.
2. Increase biomass production and ground cover by 20%, and increase species diversity over a three-year period beginning fall 2019.
3. Increase production of protein pounds per acre by increasing biomass production and introducing an additional meat production species by 25% annually.
4. Partner with SWCRC to establish and maintain an outreach program and technical assistance with statistical analysis of collected data, in place by June 2019.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Sarah Bangert - Technical Advisor (Researcher)
  • Sarah Bangert
  • Emily Lockard (Researcher)
  • Chuck McAfee - Producer
  • MB McAfee, PhD - Producer
  • Cara Meier - Technical Advisor (Researcher)
  • Cara Meier - Technical Advisor (Researcher)
  • Katie Russell, PhD (Researcher)
  • Norman Zwicker - Producer
  • Sheldonna Zwicker-Ives - Producer

Research

Materials and methods:

Following our experimental design using regenerative grazing techniques, 7 of the 19 paddocks were used during the grazing season of 2o20. In 2020 approximately 400 head of running age nanny goats were added to the livestock using McAfee farms during parts of the growing season. Early season grazing of both cattle and goats spanned from early April until mid June and late season grazing went from September through October. All paddocks were used for a period of time ensuring approximately 40% utilization collected through ocular methods. On/off dates and estimated head for 2019 are found in Grazing data all paddocks 2019.

Ecological monitoring was preformed throughout the growing season of 2019 through soil sampling and monitoring and production and utilization was measured to get an accurate picture of carrying capacity and associated stocking rates.

Paddock-map-and-description

1. Increase desirable soil physical properties, water absorption and retention, and carbon sequestration and storage over a three-year period beginning fall 2019.
Soil Sampling and Analysis

Chemistry

No soil samples were extracted in 2020 for chemical analysis. With the arid landscape that the study is located in, yearly soil core samples are not necessary due to the time it takes to see detectable changes in soil chemistry in this environment. 

Bulk density

See above for 2020.

Soil samples to measure soil bulk density have been collected from each grazing paddock and from one-acre fenced control plots. The samples were collected using a stainless-steel circular cylinder of known volume. The cylinder was inserted into the soil so that the open top of the cylinder was in the same plane as the soil surface. Using a hand trowel, soil was removed from around the cylinder. The contents of the cylinder were emptied into a clean plastic bucket. This was repeated two times in the vicinity of the first sample location for a total of three samples with approximately a ten-foot separation between sample locations. The contents of the bucket for each collection area were homogenized and transferred to a paper bag and left open to dry. The bag and contents were weighed every few days and the dates and weights were recorded. When the weight changes between weighings fell within the readability specifications of the scale, 0.01gm, the samples were deemed to be dry. The volumes and final weights were used to calculate bulk density of each sample.

2. Increase biomass production and ground cover by 20%, and increase species diversity over a three-year period beginning fall 2019.
Plant Canopy Cover, Species Composition, and Production

Utilization/production cages were placed in a new location in all paddocks in the spring of 2020 to capture the growth of 2020. These were used to capture production and also calibrate visual utilization. After each graze period ocular utilization was taken of the key grazed species. At the end of the growing season the vegetation found within the cages was clipped, dried, and weighed to estimate annual production of 2020. Utilization and production of all paddocks can be observed in table 2. 

 In 2018 long-term trend studies were established and read using line-point intercept methods in paddocks A2, B2, C6, C7, and B4 pollinator patch. Long-term monitoring was not preformed in 2020 on trend studies established in 2018 and 2019 as no changes are expected in plant community composition and characteristics in less than three year periods. No new long-term trend studies were established in 2020.

 Photo points were also taken at all previously established photo point locations and/or long term trend study locations.  Photo’s were taken and stored on the Grass Snap.

3. Increase production of protein pounds per acre by increasing biomass production by 25% annually.
Animal handling and grazing rotation

The grazing rotation was originally scheduled to graze each paddock approximately every eighteen months, a deferred grazing rotation. The intention being to not graze the same ground at the same time each year, and also assure each paddock has adequate recovery time. The cattle are not allowed to stay in any paddock for more than 14 days, especially in growing season. We have continued with the basic deferred rotation,  however it has seemed logical to alter it based on current conditions,  such as allowing for longer/ shorter rest periods as dry or wet conditions prevail. We have begun to make it a more adaptable grazing approach, based more on conditions, monitoring and ocular estimation, rather than schedule. 
 
The cattle numbers have varied from 100 to 500. When there are fewer cattle temporary electric fence is utilized to increase herd density, especially in active growing seasons. We have integrated protein supplementation using alfalfa hay in the colder months, rather than lick tubs. The cattle are moved based on ocular estimation of forage left, aiming for 40-60% utilization, and animal performance.
 
Goats were added to the livestock herd in 2020. The number of head ranged from 400-500 adult animals with kids. This herd was actively herded on a daily basis throughout the paddocks scheduled for grazing in 2020. Goats covered areas dominated by grasses that were previously farmed and also shrub ecosystems that experienced less historic disturbance and cultivation. The addition of this herd will increase pounds of meat per acre produced on the farm and also have beneficial effects on the plant communities and soils of the farm by introducing a multi-species component to the grazing system. All observations thus far about the impact of the goats are anecdotal.  There are plans in the growing season of 2021 to use the goats to target the invasive annual grasses found throughout the property. primarily cheat grass (Bromus tectorum) and Bulbose bluegrass (Poa bulbosa). The goats will only remain on McAfee property during portions of the year usually amounting to no more than 2-3 months on the farm if possible.

4. Partner with SWCRC to establish and maintain an outreach program and technical assistance with statistical analysis of collected data, in place by June 2019.

Producer Outreach:
The Project display and presentations were integrated into a field day conducted by SWCRC in August 2019. The display included photographs of various field components of the project, a paddock map showing grazing rotation, a statement of our vision, statement of project objectives, a summary of methods, and the physical tools that are being used to collect samples and gather data. Tools included a soil probe, scale, and soil density equipment. The project was in its very early stages, such that the presentations by participants consisted primarily of descriptions of goals, methods, and processes. No data were yet available. Presenters included the PI, one of the technical advisers, a local soils expert, and one of the producers/ranchers.

Research results and discussion:

Utilization, soil stability, and production data were collected during the growing season of 2020. Below are the results from the monitoring and procedures used in 2019 and 2020 per stated objectives. Figures, tables, and photographs are included from monitoring in 2019 and 2020 and can be viewed by clicking the appropriate links to media files. 

Paddock-map-and-description

1. Increase desirable soil physical properties, water absorption and retention, and carbon sequestration and storage over a three-year period beginning fall 2019.

Soil Sampling and Analysis

Soil chemical and physical property results from samples collected in 2019 can be observed in Soil Sample Chemical and Physical Property Results 2019. Soil stability results from data collected in 2020 can be observed in Soil Stabiity tests averages 2020.

2. Increase biomass production and ground cover by 20%, and increase species diversity over a three-year period beginning fall 2019.

Plant Canopy Cover, Species Composition, and Production

Ocular utilization estimates in 2020 averaged 36% across all paddocks and key species monitored. Total utilization ranged from 21-57%. Dry matter production varied widely from 479 lbs/acre to 1,737 lbs/acre, however the variance was not as extreme between paddocks as was observed in 2019. Average production across paddocks was 58% lower in 2020 than 2019. Production data from the 2019 and 2020 growing season and difference across years can be observed in Biomass Clippings . Photos from 2020 can be viewed in the media files. Average foliar cover, bare ground, and plant basal cover across all long term trend studies established and read in 2019 were 74%, 9%, and 12% respectively. Long-term trend data was not collected in 2020. Ground cover data and foliar cover by species across all long term trend studies plots established and read in 2019 can be observed  in Long Term Trend Study Results 2019.

3. Increase production of protein pounds per acre by increasing biomass production by 25% annually.
Animal handling and grazing rotation

 2018 due to drought cattle were almost entirely grazed on dryland- weaning weights avg 435 lb. 2019 cattle were alternated between dryland and irrigation, weaning weights avg 575 lbs. 2020 weaning weights avg 560 lbs. In 2019/2020 the cattle were winter grazed, with supplementary alfalfa until February 4th, returned for the month of May and returned again August 13th for the remainder of August. They were not grazed on McAfee’s again in 2020. There is stockpile in 2 pastures for early spring 2021. Actual stocking rates and on/off dates can be viewed at Grazing data 2020 for SARE report 0320.
 
The addition of goats in the 2020 growing season showed only anecdotal results. It was observed that grazing behavior favored browse where available, forbs, and grass seed heads. McAfee farms contributed to the production of 11,000 lbs of goats taken to market. 

4. Partner with SWCRC to establish and maintain an outreach program and technical assistance with statistical analysis of collected data, in place by June 2019.

Farmers, ranchers, and students who attended the SWCRC event in August 2019 had an opportunity to become familiar with the project via presentations, displays (photos, tools, charts), and individual discussion. 

Discussion

Baseline ecological data were collected during the growing season of 2019, but no additional data waerecollected in 2020. No site-specific comparisons can yet be made to the conventional methods of dryland farming and ranching due to lack of earlier baseline data to compare with the 2019 monitoring results. However, results can be compared to NRCS ecological site description properties and forage production estimates found on Web Soil Survey.

In 2019 production exceeded production estimate capabilities by ecological/soil type on a normal year (Web Soil Survey) in all paddocks/soil types sampled with the exception of Gladel-Pulpit complex soil type. Gladel-Pulpit complex soil types support a forested area comprised of primarily pinyon/juniper and interspersed shrubs which is not a highly productive ecological type, however our samples showed grass and forb production was slightly lower than its potential at 405 lbs/acre compared to the estimated potential of 498 lbs/acre. Ocular observations comparing the site where the biomass sample was collected to another similar area that has not been grazed confirmed that there is less forage in this area of paddock A6. The highest production was found in A1 and A4 at 4,308 lbs/acre which exceeds the production potential of this soil type by several thousand pounds/acre. These paddocks were re-planted the most recently following CRP guidelines. In addition, a cover crop was grown in these paddock directly prior to planting and grazed at a high stock density resulting in immense hoof impact which helped to work the cover crop into the soil possibly increasing organic matter, but more likely ground cover. SOM results from soil testing are not higher than other paddocks with similar soil types. It is hypothesized that this animal impact helped to increase water infiltration and holding capacity assisting these paddocks to be highly productive. 

2020 painted a much different production picture than 2019. In 2020 average lbs/acre across all paddocks was significantly lower than the 2019 average and also lower than production estimate capabilities by soil type in a normal precipitation year according to Web Soil Survey by 83 lbs/acre. Southwestern Colorado and the associated study site experienced extreme drought conditions and high daily temperatures throughout the growing season of 2020. Average annual precipitation for the area from 2003-2017 is 14.25 in. The total annual precipitation received in 2020 was 5.4in which was 62% below average Precip Data . It is obvious that the climatic conditions reduced vigor and production of plants in 2020 explaining the deviation of dry matter produced in 2020 from previous averages. However, it can be observed that while the average lbs/acre of dry matter production was below production averages by soil type in a “normal” precipitation year, it is above average production by soil type for a drought year as experienced in 2020. This indicates that soil conditions are improving through water infiltration and retention capabilities. While this is still an anecdotal observation it is encouraging that we are on the right path in the face of many more drought years to come. 

Data collected in 2019 showed that soil physical and chemical properties are in line with comparisons using soil reports found on Web Soil Survey, rating slightly higher than the low range of soils, but below the potential for the soils found on the project. We hope to see an increase in soil organic matter in particular over the course of this project and beyond considering that SOM is one of the most influential factors in soil and plant health. We also hope to see an increase in aggregate stability and water infiltration and holding capacity. Water infiltration is directly related to ground cover, organic matter, and soil aggregation.

Monitoring during the season of 2019 showed a relatively low amount of bare ground with a decent accumulation of embedded litter and foliar cover helping to increase soil organic matter, water infiltration rates, and holding capacity, and reduction in erosion and soil loss. Plant basal cover was very low (9%) and we would like to see this increase over the course of the project.  We are currently hand broadcasting grass seed and drilling with hoof action in several paddocks to establish additional species and increase individual plant densities. As short duration, high intensity grazing practices continue to be implemented increases in vegetative production should be seen across all paddocks. This should also help recruitment of new plant individuals increasing plant basal cover. The wooded or “rough” areas of ground throughout the project area could be considered more “fragile” by nature and contain the major populations of native plant species throughout the property. Ocular observations of these areas showed more bare ground and undesirable plant species such as cheat grass (Bromus tectorum ) and annual forbs compared to ungrazed areas of similar soil types and vegetative communities. Moving forward it will be imperative that these areas are managed correctly to enhance native plant communities with special attention paid to soil surface cover and disturbance.   

The addition of a goat herd to McAfee Farms shows promise in helping achieve several goals. By adding another species that is able to utilize other forage types that the cattle do not prefer we will increase pounds of animal produced/acre. It is expected that the goats difference in forage preference from the cattle will create a more even utilization of available forage and in theory push the plant species community into a more evenly diverse state over time. It has also been shown that highly concentrated animal impact for short durations of time can improve soil health through the addition of organic matter, nutrients from urine and feces, and hoof impact. Finally the goats show more of a preference for undesirable species such as cheatgrass, thistle, bulbos bluegrass, etc than cattle, and if managed properly have the ability to target these species reducing their overall abundance on the property. There has been no concrete data collected yet on the effects of the goats towards these outcomes as they are a new addition to the plan. However anecdotal observation does support these theories. During the early spring of 2020 the herder did observe a preference for the reproductive parts of the annual grasses and through grazing can help reduce seed production and the associated seed bank. Lessons learned; cow condition is the best indicator of when cattle need moved, early protein supplementation is more effective than trying to play catch up, cattle consume much more old dry low quality forage when protein requirements are being met, cattle need to be moved to greener pastures elsewhere when the grass dries out in order for nursing calves to continue gaining. I think that would improve had I not tried to keep cattle on dryland as long in the hot dry part of summer, and moved cattle more often.

Plans For 2021:

Monitoring will continue as described in the material and methods sections. Basal gap intercept and GRI methods were not completed in 2019 or 2020 but will be preformed where appropriate in the 2021 grazing season as trend studies established in 2018 are re-read. Additional soil physical characteristics will be measured in 2021. High intensity, short duration grazing methods will continue to be refined and recorded. Impacts specific to the goats will be monitored. Additional infrastructure with an emphasis on water developments will be implemented during 2021 to help increase even utilization of paddocks. Soil chemistry and bulk density will be monitored post-grazing to begin to track any measurable changes that occur. Additionally, we will test for water infiltration rates and for soil stability

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
5 A summer intern at the CSU Research Station (SWCRC), who was headed for college in the fall of 2019, was introduced to the project data collection process. This included collecting and identifying soil samples for analysis, mapping the sample sites, re-locating grazing exclosure cages, collecting and identifying biomass samples to obtain production data.

Participation Summary

50 Farmers
6 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Producer Outreach:
The on-site educational experiences for the student intern consisted of gathering soil samples using the tools and established methods and processes, marking them for later identification, and mapping the collection sites using Avenza Maps. The intern also helped with the physical task of re-locating exclosure cages.

We will expand the relationship with SWCRC to become a component of their reports to their advisory committee and the general public. The SWCRC advisory committee is a group of local community members involved in various aspects of agriculture and community engagement. The advisory committee meets semi-annually to discuss the research direction of SWCRC. Projects under the direction of SWCRC staff take place at the research center and on local farms through collaborations with local producers, NRCS, Extension, campus faculty and other research entities.

In addition to the advisory committee meetings, SWCRC holds annual field day tours and workshops that attract attendees from the Four Corners region. This project will be reported at field day tours and demonstrations, advisory committee meetings and other workshops as appropriate. Results will be in the annual SWCRC research report. Attendees at SWCRC outreach activities will be asked to respond to the WSARE survey tool. Additionally, the results of this research will be compiled to produce a technical handout (factsheet) for regional producers to reference for their land management plans.

The local CSU Extension researchers will also use data collected on the McAfee project to further technical knowledge, in conjunction with studies being performed at the extension property, pertaining to a multitude of environmental factors present in the unique ecosystem of southwestern Colorado. Photos, videos, and results will be shared on SWCRC and Extension social media outlets including Facebook and Instagram.

Field Day Tours: Summer 2019, 2020, 2021 Location: SWCRC, On-Farm Tours.
Advisory Committee Meetings: Winter 2019, 2020, 2021 Location: SWCRC.

Outreach within the producer community will also happen in a passive fashion through word of mouth and networking. In a producer community these avenues of education are priceless. Many producers are unable due to time and management constraints to seek education and assistance from organizations. Talk amongst producers can be extremely effective in the adoption of new processes. Having the engagement of producers that are well known and revered within the local community, such as Zwicker and Zwicker-Ives, is very important.

Other Local Outreach and Education:
This project also provides an educational setting for K-12 students, members of the community, and continued education students. Local schools and organizations (i.e. Montezuma Land Conservancy, regional AmeriCorps Members, Fort Lewis College, and Southwest Open School) are working with students to provide experiential learning opportunities. This research will be included in field trips and provide a setting to learn about grazing and range management, and offer a platform to preform undergraduate thesis projects. Students will be engaged in data collection and assessment activities. Additional invaluable education and networking will be available to the students by simply interacting with producers and scientist to gain knowledge of career opportunities, experience of what it is to be an agricultural producer, and their importance to environmental, economic, and social success. They will be invited and encouraged to make presentations of their work and learning.

Lastly, we will coordinate with regenerative management groups such as Holistic Management International (HMI), Southwest Grasslands Alliance (SWGLA), and the Quivira Coalition to host workshops and link information about the success of regenerative grazing techniques in the four corners region.

Educational Outreach 2020 report

The pandemic has caused a hold on all field days and other gatherings in which we expected to participate. This may open up in 2021.

This past year has been very different from what we planned in our proposal at the outset. Our emphasis became, and will continue to be, on word of mouth and networking, youth and education, and working with Colorado State University Southwest Colorado Research Center (SWCRC).

Word of mouth and networking

Our livestock operations, infrastructure development, and data gathering are all easily visible from roads that are adjacent to the property. Projects this year have included the introduction of goats to the livestock mix for diversity, and construction of livestock watering facilities. People drive by, note the activity, and often stop to learn about our projects. Some of the people have land that is coming out of CRP and they are interested in finding alternatives to row-cropping, and they inquire about our work.

Youth and education

We brought on a full-time high school intern, Leila Watkins, in the summer of 2020. She worked directly with Cattle-Rancher Zwicker and Technical Advisor/Goat-Rancher Bangert. She learned about livestock management, horsemanship, livestock watering, branding, hot-wire and four-strand fence construction and maintenance, some soil monitoring. She became more and more independent throughout the summer. She will return this summer 2021. We expect to bring on a second intern this summer and Leila will take a lead role with that person.

We coordinate with Montezuma Land Conservancy (MLC) for youth programming. MLC owns a farm near us where they bring youth for summer internships and we are in discussions to coordinate efforts where appropriate. This will likely include visits by their youth programs which will include local, Telluride, and Ute Mountain Ute youth. Our interns can visit the MLC farm to learn about smaller operations and irrigation systems.

CSU SWCRC

We are in regular contact with Russell and Lockard at SWCRC regarding methodology for gathering and interpreting data. They have recently provided and discussed with us information and frameworks relating to drought planning. We will be involved with them in the event that field day tours and advisory committee meetings resume in 2021. SWCRC maintains social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook. We will coordinate with SWCRC to post photographs and stories on those accounts when appropriate. We have informed them that our land can be available to SWCRC to be a component of their studies where appropriate. 

Learning Outcomes

3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • Knowledge was gained around the current ecological health of the project area through biologic monitoring.

  • Herding techniques were practiced and implemented to evenly utilize paddocks and increase herd health.

  • Knowledge was gained pertaining to supplementation type for peak animal performance in dryland conditions as well as using supplements to improve even paddock utilization.

Project Outcomes

2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
Project outcomes:

This projects affect to agricultural sustainability remains primarily tied to the project itself and the participants of the project. Long term effects of the project are expected to be more wide reaching across local agriculture communities. In small rural agricultural communities new ideas can take many years to take hold and implementation of these new practices can take even longer. It would be unrealistic to expect much change in the practices and beliefs around regenerative agriculture within such a short period of time, i.e. the inception of this SARE project. Education and outreach has been primarily through extension services which are often times not used to their potential and new practices are seldom more than a pipe dream with most never actually being implemented on the ground in a large production setting. There is however some acceptance and implementation of these ideas within the community and it is our hope that through coffee shop talk and anecdotal observations by members of the community of the McAfee property, more producers will be encouraged to try what we are doing. One demographic that may be more susceptible to learn from these practices is the youth of our community as they are more open to new concepts and can learn these practices with a fresh mind.

The participants of the project as well as the environment and wildlife have seen benefits of implementing regenerative practices through increases in ecosystem services. It is too early to tell, with concrete data, if these practices have had a positive impacts on soil properties, but anecdotal observations do suggest there will be increases in soil health. Adding an additional “out of the box” species in the form of meat goats to the project will have substantial impacts on economic, environmental, and social benefits for farmers by introducing another possible enterprise for farmers and ranchers as well as an additional regenerative tool for land management. As “traditional” agriculture, beef production and commodity crop production in particular, loses it’s strong hold due to environmental changes and ecosystem service depletion, it will be essential that farmers and ranchers think outside the box regarding the species, both floral and faunal, they produce. Small ruminants such as sheep and goats have been lost from most agricultural operations throughout the four corners area. This is unfortunate and not well understood considering that small ruminants are highly productive in our ecosystem types and have a strong market advantage as ethnic communities continue to grow in the United States. In fact demand for goat meat far exceeds the supply with upwards of 90% of our goat meat being imported. Goat meat is the number one red meat worldwide so it is time for the United States to get on board as it is one of the most efficient animal proteins to produce especially in ecosystems often dominated by plant communities other than extensive grasslands. 

 

Success stories:

Success stories during the 2020 season showed in the knowledge gained by all parties involved about the impacts of adding goats to the grazing plan. While all ecological observations are anecdotal there was a lot learned about management of a small ruminant herd and how they fit into the logistics of everyday life on McAfee Farms. 

The intern, Leila Watkins, had a full summer of learning about many aspects of agriculture. This is a great success as it has lead her to a better understanding of what it takes to run an agricultural operation and what sustainable/regenerative agriculture is and and why we do things the way we do. We believe that this internship also helped to grow her passion and clarify life goals she is trying to achieve as she moves forward in agriculture. 

We also believe that through observation of what’s going on at McAfee Farms by the community, including adding a goat herd, people are starting to “think” about why we are doing what we are doing. Coffee shop talk has been mentioned as a way to get “out of the box” ideas out to rural communities whether they are of the mindset of “that will never work here” or otherwise. Just simply the observation that we are trying some out of the box ideas, will stir the local knowledge pot just enough to perhaps start people thinking down the path of trying something new and implementing regenerative practices and/or additional enterprises to their operations. This is going to become ever more important as we experience more severe and frequent droughts. 

Recommendations:

Education was primarily presented to other professionals and groups that are either not actually producers in production agriculture or are small scale hobby type producers. It is believed that if outreach within the traditional producer circles could be achieved there will be more positive changes experienced within the community. It is very easy for people not working at a large scale of production to believe in these methods and theories but real influential change will not be achieved until these practices are accepted and implemented at large scale operations. Sheldonna and Sarah will bring this to the production community through word of mouth, coffee shop talk, and also the creation of a local production scale producer group that will discuss business planning and regenerative trials and errors. 

To have a more complete set of ecological baseline data as well as a more comprehensive annual monitoring plan the Grazing Response Index and Gap Intercept methods should be implemented in the future. This is an ongoing effort.

The addition of herding of livestock practiced in 2019 with cattle and the implementation of goats should prove to greatly improve land health. These techniques have the potential to increase the positive outcomes of high intensity, short duration grazing such as even utilization, increases in animal performance, soil health increase, etc. This along with continued intensive management techniques utilizing electric fence paddocks, additional water developments, and strategic supplement placement are working well to help achieve the stated objectives of the project. 

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.