Mike’s journey into farming and conservation may not be what you expect, but he is a wealth of wisdom on this complex yet important topic of pasture management. While Mike manages a thousand-acre cattle farm, he breaks down the principles of pasture health to apply to the everyday homesteader. We talk about first identifying where the health of your pastures stands, how to take steps toward improvement, managing multiple species on the same acreage, and more. For anyone looking to cultivate thriving pastures on your homestead, you will find this conversation with Mike so valuable!
In this episode, we cover:
- Mike’s unique journey into farming
- How Kinloch Farms emphasizes conservation in their beef cattle operation
- First steps to take if you want to improve your soil health
- How to initiate new growth in your pasture
- What rotational grazing can look like on a small scale homestead
- Considerations for rotational grazing with multiple species
- Navigating mineral supplementation options for your ruminants
E30: All Things Pasture Health: Improving Soil, New Growth, Rotational Grazing | Mike Peterson of Kinloch Farm – Homesteaders of America
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Mike Peterson is a husband to his beautiful wife Molly, Dad to two rambunctious and confident boys, and is a steward of the land. After spending 7 years in Culinary Arts, including several years in fine dining and soon to be Michelin starred kitchens, he returned back to his roots to reinvigorate his love for the land. Mike has held several roles, including owning and operating a farm business with his wife, Molly, livestock director for a non profit in New York, and currently holds the title of Farm and Conservation Director at Kinloch Farm in The Plains, VA. Mike and the team at Kinloch utilize a multitude of tools to restore landscapes and promote biological function. They rely on observation and ecological feedback loops as the metric of their success. Wildlife habitat and subsequent populations, ground cover, soil health, forage species diversity, carbon sequestration, water retention, and water quality are a few of the metrics that Kinloch currently monitors.
Kinloch Farm adaptively grazes 1000 acres of pasture, both native warm season and cool season perennial, with 550 head of cattle and direct market Grassfed and Finished Beef through their Farm Store in The Plains. Along with their beef, Kinloch strives for whole animal utilization, so they also sell leather products from their hides, and a large selection of soaps, candles, and botanicals produced from their tallow.
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All Things Pasture Health: Improving Soil, New Growth, Rotational Grazing Transcript
Amy Fewell Welcome to the Homesteaders of America Podcast, where we encourage simple living, hard work, natural healthcare, real food, and building an agrarian society. If you’re pioneering your way through modern noise and conveniences, and you’re an advocate for living a more sustainable and quiet life, this podcast is for you. Welcome to this week’s podcast. I’m your host, Amy Fewell, and I’m the founder of the Homesteaders of America organization and annual events. If you’re not familiar with us, we are a resource for homesteading education and online support. And we even host a couple of in-person events each year with our biggest annual event happening right outside the nation’s capital here in Virginia every October. Check us out online at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. Follow us on all of our social media platforms and subscribe to our newsletter so that you can be the first to know about all things HOA (that’s short for Homesteaders of America). Don’t forget that we have an online membership that gives you access to thousands—yes, literally thousands—of hours worth of information and videos. It also gets you discount codes, an HOA decal sticker when you sign up, and access to event tickets before anyone else. All right. Let’s dive into this week’s episode.
Amy Fewell Welcome back to this week’s episode of the Homesteaders of America podcast. We have a super fun guest with us this week. I want to tell you a little bit about this guest first because I’m not sure that I’ve had very many local people on, and I kind of love that Mike Peterson from Kinloch Farm is local. I almost said Heritage Hollow Farm, and we’ll get into that in a second. But Mike is a farmer here in Virginia. He’s a husband to his beautiful wife, Molly, a dad to two rambunctious little boys, and they’re just wonderful. And he’s a steward of the land in some amazing ways. So, Mike, welcome to the Homesteaders of America podcast.
Mike Peterson Thank you so much, Amy. I’m glad to be on.
Amy Fewell Yeah. So why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about you? Because obviously you don’t necessarily have a huge following like some of our people do on here. So nobody knows you. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mike Peterson Well, maybe a good segue into that is I am an introvert, so maybe that’s intentional, I don’t know.
Amy Fewell That’s true.
Mike Peterson So I’ve been, as you said, we’re here local in Virginia. My wife and I have been in and out of businesses. We owned our own business in Virginia for a while where we had a multi-species grazing operation in Rappahannock County. And that’s where we first came to know you and got introduced to you. Seems like lifetimes ago, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t all that long ago. At any rate, owned a business. From there, went up to a nonprofit in New York and was the director of a livestock program up there. All of that kind of came about because I got into farming through food, which is kind of an unconventional route to get there. I had a background in farming when I was younger. My grandparents owned a dairy in northern Illinois. So it’s one of those things, as a kid, you’re exposed to it and it’s fun and you have 20 cousins running around. It’s like, oh, this is fun. It’s a good way to live, but it’s not something as a career I ever thought about that I’d get into. But it wasn’t until I started to cook more that I got more involved in farming and agriculture and food from menu planning and sourcing perspective. So the more I was responsible for planning menus, the more I got to meet local producers and what they were growing and why they were growing it. And then I think with a lot of things in life that you’re passionate about, it’s just one of those things that snowballs and builds and continues to snowball. So it had this really cool organic effect to… The evolution of how we got back into farming. So jumped around a little bit there, but so into farming through culinary. And I’ve always kind of had that as a backbone in some of my farming philosophies is that in the end, we need to produce a delicious product that people can relate to and that people can consume. We can do everything right from a welfare and ecological and environmental perspective. But if what we’re producing tastes like cardboard, there isn’t a whole lot of a market for it. So I think that culinary component is important to it. So that’s always something in the back of my head that I try to relate to. And it’s been helpful for other wholesalers and restaurants as we grow this particular business and gain more accounts to be able to speak some of that language too. So after we were in New York for a couple of years and we decided that we needed to hurry back and get back to this area in Virginia and found a really great opportunity here at Kinloch.
Amy Fewell Yeah. That’s awesome. So tell us a little bit about Kinloch Farm. What is it? How many acres? What do you do there?
Mike Peterson Yeah. So it’s a family farm. It’s been in the family since the 1960s, so going on 64 years. It’s been owned and operated by the same family. I’ve been here for just over two years. So, relatively short period of time in the lifetime of the farm. It’s seen different iterations of what it does. They housed a registered Devon herd for quite a while. It was a commercial cow calf operation. It was an Angus seed stock operation. It wasn’t until two and a half years, or I guess three to four years ago, the family started to have some conversations about direction and business and perhaps steering away from seed stock and getting into producing direct market beef. And when I say seed stock, they’re selling bulls and heifers and cows and calves to other producers that are looking for these genetics that they were producing. So two and a half years ago is when I started, and I started out of probably six to seven months of conversations with the family and the office and some of the staff here about what they were looking for, what I was looking for, and how we could make a match for that. So what I do is I was looking for a situation to where I could have kind of a greater context of land management and not just the day-to-day of moving cows and direct marketing and raising beef, but to zoom out a little bit and to have a greater context of land management, ecosystem services, conservation practices, and how that all relates into beef production. So that’s a big cornerstone of what Kinloch is. The family has been… They were involved in the foundings of the Piedmont Environmental Council. There’s Virginia working landscapes they’ve been involved in for quite a long time. So just very deep roots of conservation in the area. So it’s been a guiding light as we develop this business and grow the business that all of our production practices are intertwined with conservation. So we have to be in a position to where we can say we can produce beef in an ecological manner that performs an ecosystem service. So we’re a little unique in that way, but I hope it doesn’t… You know, I hope in 15 years or ten years that isn’t unique, but that there’s more people that are understanding these concepts, that we can use cattle as a tool to transform ecosystems and increase grassland, bird habitat, and water retention, and carbon sequestration, and all these really cool things that you can use cattle to do. So what Kinloch does is utilize those tools within our land base to produce grass fed beef. We have about a thousand acres in pasture between cool season perennial and native warm season grass. We have another 200 in native meadows and savannas and another 30 acres in riparian areas. We do a lot of work with John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District for excluding cattle out of streams so they don’t have access to the stream banks and deposit a lot of manure, nitrogen, things like that in the fresh water. So they’re fenced out of those. Conservation becomes a cornerstone of all of our production and why we do what we do. We have just cattle, which coming from a multi-species background, is kind of a nice break to focus on just cattle and the impact that they can have on an ecosystem. So about 550 head on a thousand acres is what we currently have.
Amy Fewell Wow. That’s amazing. So this is totally different than what you and Molly were doing before. You guys had this farm in Rappahannock County and you were growing pigs and cows and chickens and all of these things. You were basically, essentially a small Polyface. And to give you guys some context, like Rappahannock is a very small community. And so it was a really big deal when Mike and Molly would have their cows go from one field to the other and they’d stop traffic in the middle of the road and let animals go across. And so it’s really fun. I feel like you guys really set a tone here in this area for homesteaders and for farmers, it seems like forever ago, but like you said, it wasn’t that long ago. But it’s very inspirational because now you’re doing even bigger things. And so one of the reasons I brought you on today is because I do want to talk to you about soil and native grasses, and those are things that a lot of people are starting to get into learning about now. But what I think a lot of homesteaders and farmers are realizing is they really don’t understand anything about it at all. And so, I mean, I’m one of those people. When we moved here—I think I even talked to Molly about this a little bit—there were patches, like random patches in our front field that had moss growing in them, but they weren’t near any trees. They weren’t near any kind of wet area that you would think they were. And so that’s when I really realized I have no idea what I’m talking about or have any knowledge on when it comes to pasture. And how do we make pasture better? And where do people go to find that information? So for you guys who are listening, we actually brought Mike on as a speaker this year at HOA. So you can learn from Mike, too, in October if you come. But Mike, for people who are listening, let’s talk about the soil first. Basic soil. We can even start with just Virginia soil if you want. But how can people kind of figure out what their ground needs, what their pasture needs, maybe what are some signs that their pasture actually needs something? And how do they go about figuring that out?
Mike Peterson Sure. Great question. I like to take this approach of like not many of us really know much because I think if you approach this with a sense of humility, it’s like then you’re open to learning more every day. So I think everyone has different levels of experience and have been doing this with different perspectives for different periods of time. But to approach it with humility, it’s like, I hope to learn something new every day, and I hope I’m humbled. And by the time you figure out you think you got something, and then you’re thrown a curveball and you learn something all over again. So I think agriculture and farming and cattle farming is a really great way of humbling you and doing that to you. So from a soil perspective—and you touched on it a little bit when you were just talking about our time in Rappahannock—but I think about soil as it relates to community as well, because it has to start… It’s not something, if you’re trying to improve your soil, it’s not something you can do by yourself with one specific tool. If you’re trying to get entrenched into a community, it’s not something you can necessarily do by yourself and expect really quick, rapid results. It’s something that takes time and something that takes an organic kind of a regenerative cycle and regenerative approach to building community, building soil, and improving the quality of your soil. As a baseline to start, we like to use observation. So there are certain things that we can do whether we have cattle at different densities grazing for… you know, we could do 500,000 pounds an acre and put them on a 12 hour move, or we can have 50,000 pounds of cattle on an acre and they’re on a seven day move or something like that. So we can do different things to see how nature responds to it and see how the pasture reacts to it. And that’s all scalable, whether you have a quarter acre or whether you have 10,000 acres, you can do these things. I think to start off, the biggest thing for me that I’d recommend is a basic soil test. And that’s something that your extension agent can do. We have CFC here, but the local co-op can also do that for you so that you have a basic reading of what’s happening, kind of a chemical readout of what’s happening in the soil. One step up from that would be to have more of a biological soil test done. So that tells you how things within the soil are interacting with each other. And is nitrogen available, or is it being locked up by something else? So, Haney test is what that’s called. And that’s a really great tool to see how biologically active your soils are. Organic matter is important, pH is important. I think that the biggest thing with this, though, is just to be patient because if you have… Every three years we get soil tests done here, which for us, we’re not making hay, we’re not doing crops. It’s just a good cycle for us to be on because we’re not really large into amendments either. So every three years we can get an update of how our soils are doing, what changes we’ve seen after we’ve been doing different management strategies across the farm. So depending on who you work with, after you get your soil test back, you can get a recommendation or a readout back to say that this needs 2,000 pounds of chicken litter per acre and 1,500 pounds of lime per acre or whatever to address the pH values or nitrogen levels or whatever. But I think what’s important… And I rarely do anything with those, with the recommended inputs. It’s interesting to see that those are the quick fixes that are recommended, because if you put chicken litter down, it’s going to give you the quick boost of nitrogen that you need and your forage is going to explode. But I sort of equate poultry litter or any nitrogen application to steroids. It gives you a really quick boost of really good forage production. But then three to four years down the road it’s going to set you back, and then you’re consistently on that cycle of needing to rely on those crutches to give you productivity. And all of that is just kind of masking, you know, whether mismanagement or something else that’s not happening within your soil. So the long answer to your question is soil samples are a really great place to start, and it’s a good way to set the metric of how you’re performing and how your pastures are performing. Forage species analysis is also a really good one as well because that tells you what’s available to your livestock as they graze. So what the soil tells you isn’t necessarily what the animals are getting. So you can also have your forage tested to see what the nutrient readouts are in your forage.
Amy Fewell Okay. Good idea. I didn’t even think about that.
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Amy Fewell So let’s take our pasture for example. I’m going to give you a scenario which is a lot of people’s scenarios that I’m finding. If someone has, you know, say five acres, which is very common for a homesteader. And most of that five acres is open pasture, obviously. When we get into woods, I know we get into so many other different things, but if they have animals on it that are, you know, mostly like fescue. I know fescue is a big talk with cows, maybe not so much beef cows, but dairy cows and other ruminants. And someone is trying to maybe add some different grasses to that area. So one of the things I’ve heard is that you shouldn’t even think about planting grass seed of different types of native grasses yet until your soil gets under control because it won’t grow. Is that something that is true or how would people go about implementing growing new things in their pasture, especially on a smaller scale? Maybe not like a larger scale, but are there grasses they need to look out for that will choke out those native grasses? Is it even worth their time if they haven’t tested their soil yet? You know, we have a friend who did go to CFC, got their soil tested, and they made a recommendation for a certain seed mix for them. And that seed mix is doing great. But my question is always, well, would another seed mix have done just as good? Does it really matter? How does somebody kind of go about learning about that?
Mike Peterson Sure. CFC or your extension agent is a good place to start. There’s also another book, Native Forages of the Eastern U.S. is a good one. It’s a really easy guide both for identification and then what the forages are, where they thrive, why they thrive. Fescue is a tough one because it’s so prevalent and it grows really well, which is why it was introduced here because it’ll grow anywhere. I’m of the perspective that it’s here. There’s a place for it. It’s kind of found its niche within the ecosystem. We’ve sort of been developing cattle to thrive on that and adapt to it which is another thing for sourcing livestock, whether it’s sheep or goats or cattle or kind of any ruminant, they have to be somewhat adapted to fescue to be able to do well on the East Coast. I’m also a believer that if we allow the pasture enough time and if we can apply certain management principles to it, there’s also the potential for the native seed bank to be able to express itself, too. So some of that is involved with management. If you’re set stocked, if you have animals on it all the time, what’s in the native seed bank or what’s in the soil bank doesn’t necessarily have time to grow or necessarily have time to flourish. If we can manage our livestock—no matter the class of livestock—to be able to adaptively graze them through an acre or five acres or 5,000 acres, it doesn’t matter. But to be able to follow the concept of some periodic disruption. So you want to be able to sometimes disturb pastures, but not in the same order, and not for the same reason. You want to allow the pasture to rest, and then you want to graze it. Not at the same time, not at the same place, or not for the same reason every year. So to be a little bit periodic and creative within our management will really allow a lot of the native seed bank to grow and flourish. I know some people that aren’t using seed at all. They just manage their livestock in a way that allows for a highly diverse forage base to be able to grow and thrive, but they’re providing the soil and the pasture, the conditions for what it needs for those native seeds to be able to express itself. We do a little bit of both. So we rely on some native seed bank to flourish. We also introduce some native warm season species. Most of our seeds, we get through Ernst. They’re based here in the northeast. So it’s pretty well proven that the seed mixes and the seeds they provide do well here. We have about 100 acres of native warm seasons that we’ve planted, and those areas were identified for soil condition and topography and kind of where they fit within our overall system too. So, really, I think the king to all of this, though, is to have a highly diverse pasture mix. And you don’t necessarily need to have some warm season here or some cool season there, but really, interspersed within itself is the way to go.
Amy Fewell Yeah. We actually bought some native seed mix. It’s still sitting in my house. I should have planted it in the fall, but I didn’t get around to it. And so we actually bought it based on Molly’s recommendation, asking you through Molly what to get. And we ordered from them, and they were great. They did a great job at getting stuff out to us. So that brings me to the next question. So you’ve done this on multiple scales. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what rotational grazing looks like on your 1,000 acre Kinloch Farm versus maybe a five acre homestead here in Virginia?
Mike Peterson I think the great thing about it is that it’s applicable at any size. So just different logistics that we’re working with and the different kinds of materials that you need. I think some of the biggest considerations are fence and water. And with rotational grazing, too, you want to make sure that you have everything the animal needs within the fencing you provide, so there’s no motivation for them to go out and look for something somewhere else at the neighbors’ or across the street or anything. So you can set it up a few different ways. If you have a central watering system, you can do pie wedges off of that. So if you have a five acre pasture, you can do five one acre sections. You could do ten half acre sections. But if you have a perimeter fence, you can use portable polywire with a solar electric charger. Some setups you wouldn’t even have to move the water tank. You can just rotate that portable wire around the water. The biggest thing is that you are A) that you’re giving the animals what they need in any given day. So we’re not limiting them. But we can use them as a tool when needed. But that we’re also designing this rotational grazing system to account for seasonal fluctuations or different climatic conditions. They have shade that they need or they have windbreaks or shelter from snow, you know, what have you. But they have what they need inside of the acreage that you’ve provided them with. The biggest thing is that it’s set up so they have… Whether it’s a one day move or a three day move or whatever the duration is, it doesn’t matter, but that you’re also back fencing them off of the area where they grazed. Grass starts to grow within three to five days, depending on the species, so you really don’t want to leave them in one spot for more than three days unless you’re doing it for a reason. Unless you want to intentionally over graze or intentionally set fescue back to prepare for a seeding. Ideally, you’re keeping them in one spot for no more than three to four days, moving them into the next section and then letting that area rest. If you do a three day move in five sections, you’re already at—if I’m doing my quick math right—15 days of rest before you would get back to the next section. On our scale, we’re looking for anywhere from 60 to 90 days of rest. We have a five acre paddock for 180 cow/calf pairs as an example. But it’s the same concept. That group can be on a 24 hour move in five acres. They don’t have access back to that five acres when we move them again. And on a five acre homestead, if you’re doing one acre sections, it’s not huge, gigantic moves a long distance. You’re taking up the polywire a little bit, putting them in the next section, putting the back fence up behind them, and then they have a brand new section. So we found that serves a whole lot of benefits from nutrition and pasture health, but also for animal health and well-being. They don’t have access back to their manure and urine and other things that they’ve deposited for the 24 hours. It helps with fly control and parasite resistance. And there’s a whole host of benefits that it has aside from just pasture health.
Amy Fewell Yeah. I know one of the things that a lot of people are researching right now is having multiple species in a section of rotational grazing at one time, so like sheep and cows is a common one. Can you talk a little bit about that? Is that something that you guys do and whether you do or not, what are the benefits of multi-species grazing together?
Mike Peterson I’m a big fan of that. And if you think about the historical context of that, there were always large ruminants or herbivores that would come through the Great Plains first. We’ve heard stories of bison roaming the Great Plains, and then it was followed by smaller species and smaller species, and then birds and poultry and other things would come in behind them, which is similar to… You brought up Polyface earlier. But a farm like that with a multi-species operation can have larger animals with poultry followed behind them coming through last for nitrogen. And then they scratch through the manure and spread out the manure and things like that, too. I’m a big fan of multi-species, and I’ve been at farms that we graze sheep and cattle together. I’ve done together. I’ve done leader/follower to where the cows go first and then the sheep come in behind them. In the end, I was a big fan of them grazing together. A consideration was mineral access because usually cattle mineral is higher in copper and sheep don’t have as high of a tolerance to copper as cattle do. I hadn’t found an issue with that. This is not veterinary advice, but the free choice salt and mineral that we use didn’t have the high copper levels that are toxic to sheep, so I never had an issue with that. And sheep are very trainable to polywire as well. I’ve been in systems where you can use two strands of polywire. I’ve been in systems where they have to use netting, and netting is kind of a pain in the butt to use at any kind of a scale. I think we’re probably somewhat familiar with that. But where I can avoid netting, I will.
Amy Fewell Yeah. Same.
Mike Peterson Training sheep to polywire was big. When cattle and sheep are together, if you’re grazing them together with rotational grazing, I mentioned the benefits for parasite resistance and things like that, too. They’re really good dead-end hosts for parasites. So the pH levels in each of the sheep’s rumen and a cow’s rumen is different, so they’re dead-end parasite hosts for each other. There’s more of an effect on that if you’re doing a leader/follower. So cattle go first, then the sheep would come in behind them, essentially consume the larvae of the parasites that the cows have deposited, dead ending them in the sheep’s gut, and vice versa for the cow and the sheep. So they’re very cohabitive, and they’re very cohesive, and they’re that way for a reason. There’s a reason it just works in nature because they were designed to live together within the same ecosystem. We don’t do that here at Kinloch. We just have cattle here. But I’m not blind to the effect that multiple species could have a positive outcome here on the ecosystem, on the pasture and then from a marketing perspective too.
Amy Fewell Yeah, yeah. When we had sheep, we kind of did the same thing. We only had one cow. Like y’all don’t think we had multiple ones. But our cow really loved our sheep. And we just loved having them together, too, just for the community aspect of sheep and cows together. It was super cute to see them.
Mike Peterson And a couple more benefits, too, while I’m thinking of it. We had labor is another big one. Labor is a big one for any rotational grazing system. It has to be efficient. It has to be easy and I think easily translatable. So whether it’s I’m asking an intern to go out to do it or seven-year-old son, it has to be something simple that someone can do. So it’s a system that’s easily designed, that can save time, and is easily translated. We also saw benefits of keeping them together for predator control as well. For sheep, you know, there’s a lot of coyotes out in this area. And we’ve seen that the cows, especially cows with calves, are naturally protective of their calves. So they did a really great job of keeping the coyotes out of the pasture. Sheep are very susceptible to coyote attacks and kills and things like that. So that was another barrier of protection for us is keeping them together.
Amy Fewell Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That’s one of the reasons we liked having the cows with the sheep, too, is we have massive… I mean, you know from really living in Rappahannock, some of them are massive, those coyotes. And so, it was nice to have them. Okay. Going back to native grass seed, you posted—I guess it was maybe in the fall—you posted a video on social media of just this super tall, lush grass. Virginia had gone through a drought, but this grass was just beautiful and green and cows were grazing on it. I wonder if you might talk to that a little bit, because I really enjoyed seeing that in your caption you had with it about how to maintain property well.
Mike Peterson Yeah. Wasn’t that cool? Yeah. It was. We went through… There was a pretty significant drought here this summer and into fall. And I think if I remember, that poster, that location, it was a 20 acre field with… It was Indian grass, big blue, and little blue were the three species that we had planted in there. And it was the only thing green on the farm. And we were moving a group of 30 head that were… We keep a smaller group of finishing stock or the animals that are closest to harvest and a smaller group, and we’re essentially just keeping the best grass in front of them to try to keep positive weight gain on them, and this fall was a really hard time to do that because everything had browned out, essentially. And we were very short on rain, which is what they say on the East Coast, you can be into a drought in a week and out of a drought in a week, which is kind of the situation we found ourselves in.
Amy Fewell Yeah, yeah. Didn’t we see that happen? Yeah. For real.
Mike Peterson But those things are so resilient because their roots are so, so deep. And it’s beneficial for nutrient absorption, for the minerals that are available to the cattle, and also for drought resilience. Those root systems can be four to seven feet deep depending on the species of grass that it is. But it does take time for those to establish. So going back to the patience thing, you have to be patient when you’re establishing those and not be too aggressive in grazing them too soon. They operate off of a different timeline of when they’re productive and when you can graze them and when you shouldn’t graze them. We have a couple of pure stands of those, so they’re not fields that we can feed hay on, or we don’t overwinter on those because they’re really, really good from May through September. Outside of that window, we stay off of them. We leave some standing for wildlife habitat, some seed for migrating birds that are coming through in the winter— a different food source than we would have in our cool season pastures. But those warm seasons were a lifesaver for us this fall for that group in particular to keep some positive weight gain on them. We also took a group of 150 stockers through 200 acres of our meadows, which hadn’t really been grazed before, but it’s a composition of native warm seasons and forbs and wildflowers and things like that. So we saw multiple benefits from having three different distinct grazing ecosystems here from cool season to pure stand of native warm season to a native meadow savanna concept.
Amy Fewell Yeah, that’s really neat. I bet it’s incredible to see the difference in all that. And it’s like I’m sitting here listening to you talk because you know about all this stuff, right? Like it’s been your life. And it is really interesting to be so intimate with nature and how that grass is growing and when it’s best to graze it. And those are things that I know a lot of homesteaders and farmers really want to learn. So I’m excited. I’m listening to you talk. I’m excited about you talking in October at the conference, because I know you’re going to get a lot of questions from people. Okay, a few more questions and I’ll let you go because I know you’re busy. The first thing is you’ve talked about minerals a little bit, whether it’s getting their minerals and nutrients from the grass or what’s in the soil, or having loose minerals available. For just the average, everyday person, I know obviously a soil test will help and the forage test will help, but what are just some common things that people should have on hand for their livestock, especially ruminants in regard to like mineral, whether it’s loose mineral or whatever you tend to recommend?
Mike Peterson I’m a minimalist, and I say that after having done robust mineral programs and things that we didn’t need because that was kind of the hot topic or the thing that people were doing as something to try. So I’ve tried the cafeteria programs where you put out the 20 individual minerals in a sled and the animal goes through and self-selects. I’ve done that. I’ve done the basic co-op mixed mineral. What we’ve settled on now… And this direction that I really like is something we just started a year ago. So I think that’s the whole humility thing and constant evolution is that once you have new data or new science or a new product, explore it and see if it’s the right fit for your operation and talk to people that are using it, and then try it because you know you’re not going to hit a home run if you don’t take a swing. So sometimes you just need to try something new. We’re using just salt currently, so we’re using Sea-90 as our only salt supplement. I don’t get into crazy mixed minerals and custom mineral mixes for different classes of livestock. So salt is essential to complete a lot of functions for livestock, whether it’s a cow or a sheep or a goat. It can be toxic to pigs, so don’t give pigs too much salt. But you know, Sea-90 with a little bit of kelp goes a long way. And that’s what we’ve settled on now. So I like the free choice. So they can lick it. The blocks can sometimes be… You know, they don’t get enough of what they need. They just sit there and lick the block for a long period of time. They can be more weather resistant, but the uptake and the absorption can be a little bit slower. And I think if I were a cow—similar to the mineral sled—I’d get bored of needing to go through to pick 20 different minerals. I’d get bored of sitting there licking a block when there’s delicious grass to go eat. So the loose mineral is a win for us. We keep it covered to keep the elements out. You don’t have to. I know other people that don’t. And Sea-90 with a little bit of kelp is what we’ve settled on right now. There’s also a project that we’re going to get into this spring is a Sea-90 saltwater brine. So that’s essentially just putting Sea-90 into a Rubbermaid stock trough. And essentially it’s a saltwater brine. So the mineral uptake of that brine is supposed to be greater than it is if they were just to ingest the salt on their own. So another project we’re going to try the spring.
Amy Fewell So that’s the Baja salt, right? It’s Sea-90. Is that what it is?
Mike Peterson Similar. Yep.
Amy Fewell Yeah okay. All right. So one of the things that I would… Y’all, they’re not even a sponsor or anything, but I do want to talk about that for just a second because they came to conference last year, and they’ve sponsored a couple of our conferences. I don’t even know if they’re a sponsor this year or not, but we brought home a lot of that salt. And the one thing that I noticed, not all salt is made the same at all. We’ve tried mineral salts in the past, and the one thing that I noticed about this salt was it looked moist, like it looked wet. And generally, that’s one of the telltale signs of a true mineral salt is that it has a more moist looking feature to it. If you’ve never really compared mineral salt, you’re like, I don’t even know what you’re talking about. But we have. We compared a lot of mineral salt. And so, especially like magnesium and things, they hold on to that moisture. So I thought that was really interesting to compare those salts. I don’t know if that’s why you went with them or not, but we’ve really enjoyed even just the table salt that they have for people using that and implementing that in different ways here.
Mike Peterson Baja is kind of the human side of their business, right?
Amy Fewell Yeah, it is.
Mike Peterson And then Sea-90 is the livestock. Yeah. Yeah. And I know there’s plenty of folks that are doing foliar applications with Sea-90 and vegetable gardens on pasture. So there’s a lot of good data and science about the positives of using this, whether it’s through the cow or directly onto your garden or directly onto your pasture.
Amy Fewell Yeah. Super cool. Yeah, we’ll look into that more. Maybe we’ll do a podcast about that too. Okay. Mike, do you have anything else you want to share today with our group of people or any tidbits of wisdom? You don’t have to, but I always leave it open at the end if somebody has something they want to share.
Mike Peterson You know, I think I touched on it earlier, but for me, in my wise old age of 40, so take that into context too.
Amy Fewell Oh my goodness, whatever.
Mike Peterson You know, I think and farming and agriculture—and no matter the scale, because that’s completely 100% true—it’s to approach this with humility. We don’t really know anything. We’re at the mercy of nature every second of every day. We can come into this with the best of intentions, with integrity, and being authentic, and knowing what we want to do and why we want to do it, as I said, being intentional with our work and putting a plan into action and seeing that go through and then manage off of feedback. So you’re constantly managing off of what you’re seeing and deviating and changing. And I think it’s so important as producers that we are adaptive to that. We’re not prescriptive in anything that we’re doing. We’re responding to Mother Nature, who is very dynamic. We’re responding to animals that need different things all the time. And they’ll come down with ailments and other things that we have to respond to. But in the end, I think it’s just important that we approach our all of our work with humility and a deep appreciation for respect of the animal, of nature, and the greater community that we’re involved in.
Amy Fewell Yeah, I think that’s great. And I actually was having that conversation with someone earlier today and how… You know, they asked me the question. I was doing a podcast earlier for someone else’s podcast and they said, “What’s your biggest thing that you tell homesteaders?” And I said, “The biggest thing is just to remember you’re going to fail. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing this for one year or 30 years. You’re always learning something new, and something’s always changing, or the animal is different than the animal you had before.” And so it is a really great way to keep us humble and keep us learning and just kind of remembering our place. Right? So I agree.
Mike Peterson If you’re not failing, you’re not trying.
Amy Fewell Exactly.
Mike Peterson So you’ve got to try, and you have to be okay with failing because that’s just an opportunity to learn.
Amy Fewell Yeah, absolutely. All right. Well, thank you for joining us on this week’s episode of the Homesteaders of America podcast, Mike. We really appreciate it.
Mike Peterson Thanks, Amy.
Amy Fewell Hey, thanks for taking the time to listen to this week’s Homesteaders of America episode. We really enjoyed having you here. We welcome questions and you can find the transcript and all the show notes below or on our Homesteaders of America blog post that we have up for this podcast episode. Don’t forget to join us online with a membership or just to read blog posts and find out more information about our events at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. We also have a YouTube channel and follow us on all of our social media accounts to find out more about homesteading during this time in American history. All right, have a great day and happy homesteading.