June 2017
Howle's Hints

Before You Have a Cow, Read This


“He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows.” Isaiah 30:23 (NIV)



You can order the book, “Before You Have a Cow,” from www.joyce-farms.com.

June is a great time to see Isaiah 30:23 coming to fruition on farms all across the South. After last year’s incredible drought in Alabama, it’s refreshing to see all the warm-season growth. There are a few things you can do to not only preserve but also improve your property for grazing animals this summer.

One of the best resources I have found in years for building soils comes from a book, "Before You Have a Cow," written by Dr. Allen Williams and co-authored by Teddy Gentry, member of the world’s best country music group, Alabama. The book gives tips on how to make money in the cattle business without going bankrupt through the expenses of fertilizer, herbicides and supplemental feeding.


Healthy Soil

According to Williams, who holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in animal science from Clemson University and a Ph.D. in genetics and reproductive physiology from Louisiana State University, what’s going on beneath the soil surface is what’s most important.

"If you have healthy soils with microbial populations, you will also have living organisms such as a variety of insects, dung beetles and earthworms," Williams said. "An acre of this soil can contain up to 4 tons of living organisms in the top 8 inches."


Close Enough to Perfect but No High Cotton

In the book, Gentry recounts his first royalty check from RCA Records in 1980 for $61,000.

"I asked my wife Linda what I should do with the money, and she said, ‘Why don’t you buy your grandfather’s farm?’"

Gentry bought the 60-acre cotton farm for $1,000 an acre with the dream of raising cattle. After years of research and study, Gentry, in the fall of 1988, started to plan the beginnings of the South Poll breed of cattle that have been bred to be hearty, have longevity and fatten efficiently on grass alone.

"My grandfather’s old cotton farm was worn out in 1980 when I started growing grass, but through organic and natural practices, over a 25-year period, it has healthy soil with plenty of earthworms, dung beetles and microbial action."


Getting Started With High Density Grazing Techniques

John Lyons, of Piedmont, uses the mob grazing technique and says polyrope is the easiest electric fence wire to use.


Williams has consulted with thousands of producers across the United States, Canada and Mexico, and many of his clients have been able to dramatically reduce the amount of fertilizer and herbicide applied. Many of them have sold their haying equipment, opting to buy a few bales just for emergencies such as drought or snowfall.

So how is it done? In a nutshell, Williams’ philosophy involves the use of intensive, mob grazing techniques. He begins with a soil test to determine the microbial content of the soil. Once the forage is high enough to be grazed, the process begins. First, the cattle will graze through high-stock density, aka mob grazing. This puts a lot of animals on a small area for a short period of time with long rest periods between grazing.

The mob grazing results in clipping the top portions of the forage, and the cattle will stomp down the remaining forage adding manure and urine as they go. This lays down a layer of nutrient-rich fertilizer, and the stomped-down thatch keeps moisture in the soil, allowing root systems to go deeper. This thatch layer does many things. It begins to stimulate organic matter beneath the surface, and the moisture and manure begins to bring in the dung beetles and earthworms that drill and work the manure into the soil. During periods of drought or extreme cold, this layer of protection also allows the grass continued growth.


No Weeds – Good Seeds

According to Williams, there’s no such thing as a weed. The cattle train themselves to eat the weeds that often have high levels of nutrients, and the mob grazing virtually eliminates the need for herbicide.

"I even have photos of cattle with thistle in their mouth, once they’ve started eating all the growth present in the paddocks," he said. "You will also see native seeds that haven’t been around for years begin to germinate once the soil health is restored to a higher, organic level."

The cattle are often left in the small paddocks for no more than a day before being moved to the next paddock. The more paddocks you have or the more you can subdivide the grazing during the growing season, the better off soil and grass-growth health will be. Williams recommends a 50/50 philosophy on grazing.

"Graze 50 percent and leave 50 percent when you rotate the cattle," he added. "This gives you adequate nutrition for each animal while achieving a good trample with the forages so you lay down a solid layer of ground litter. This ground litter becomes new, organic matter."


Low Cost


Dr. Allen Williams, co-author of  “Before You Have a Cow.”

The best part of this soil and grass management technique for cattle is the low capital investment.

"All it really takes is an initial investment of fence chargers, electric polywire, polywire reels, T-posts, insulators and some tread-in posts," Williams said. "I put a single stand of polywire about 30-32 inches off the ground."

Your local Quality Co-op is the best source for purchasing your electric fence supplies. John Lyons from Piedmont has been using these practices for years with his South Poll cattle, and he has watched his soil’s organic health increase. Lyons has to feed very little hay in the winter because he is able to stockpile a lot of his pastureland through mob grazing.


To order the book, "Before You Have a Cow," call 336-766-9900 or visit www.joyce-farms.com. You can also type "Before You Have a Cow" in a Google search bar and find ways to order this book.


John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.