Photos: Connor McGuffin, ranch crew member, amid winter wheat, arctic peas, daikon radishes (left).
Aerial view revealed our crops thriving in winter (top right).
Cows arrived and we had to pivot (bottom right).
A Journey in Resilience: The Accidental Hay Crop
By Pam Wavrin, PMRCAA Director of Ranch Operations
Resilience is a word that gets tossed around a lot in ranching these days. Late last August, as part of our goal to improve our soil, we planted 30 acres of winter wheat, arctic peas and daikon radishes. Our objective was to cover the soil, reduce weeds and provide early spring grazing for cattle, which would fertilize the field and turn the green manure into brown manure.
The radishes led the charge, growing into lush green tops with delicious and large radishes below. The wheat grew steadily throughout the winter, and the peas were protected from the coldest weather by the radishes and wheat. After going through a few freeze and thaw cycles, the radishes decomposed into the soil.
The cold spring held the wheat and peas to modest growth, and our cattleman friend estimated that it would provide excellent forage for about 40 cow/calf pairs for almost a month. Based on that, we created a rotational grazing plan integrated with a plan to plant a variety of cover crops and forage into the existing pasture grasses in the adjacent field.
Rain continued, but as the soil warmed up, the crops began shooting up dramatically — too rich for the cattle that were arriving in mid-May — so the cows were loaded into the main pasture instead. With the cows there, out went the plan of seeding into the main pasture this spring, and our fencing dividing that 120 acres into rotational sections remained incomplete.
From Plan A, we took a quick pivot to Plan G. The cows were moved from the 120-acre main pasture to a five-acre parcel. They mowed that down quickly for us while we completed the fence. Then we moved them back to the large pasture and seeded a mix of 10 cover crops into the 5 acres. We were able to secure the help of a friend of the ranch to cut and bale the wheat and peas for us. The hay will provide winter feed for the cows.
With changes in weather patterns and extreme weather events and serious concerns about water, we talk a lot at the ranch about building resilience — resilience in our soil, crops and fauna, so that we can steward this land through the changes and fluctuations. What this spring brought was a reminder that we too need to remain resilient and keep our mind open to the options that present themselves as other options are taken away.
Photo below: Camera-shy selfie: Pam Wavrin with cover crops.