By Pam Wavrin, PMRCAA Director of Ranch Operations
In mid-November, the rains fell heavily and the storms lasted long enough that the grey skies began erasing memories of the extreme heat and choking smoke of summer. Still, some memories of this summer are not so easily forgotten, like moving horses evacuated from Sisters-area homes to Pine Meadow Ranch, then back home and then back to the Ranch again; strategizing where employees could sleep if they were evacuated from their homes; and friends of the Foundation bringing trucks of skinny and hungry cattle from their home in drought-stricken eastern Oregon to live out their summer at PMR.
A few days after the storms, Scott Duggan, Associate Professor from OSU extension, and I donned our boots and headed out to the main pasture of Pine Meadow Ranch to take soil samples. He took core samples going down about 10 inches into the earth.
In several of the sections of the field, the soil below the first two inches was bone dry! Like the throat of the cartoon prospector crawling across the desert crying out hoarsely for water, the land was parched. All of the roots of the grasses were limited to those few inches that the water was able to penetrate.
The results of our soil tests didn’t have many surprises. Nutrient deficient. Low in organic material. And the dry soil just below the surface was stark evidence of the serious degree of compaction. Overall, a rough report card.
We have spent most of 2021 working on a plan to rejuvenate the soils in our pastures across the Ranch, which has over 200 acres in pastureland that have been overgrazed for several years with little to no additional organic material added.
As we started on this adventure to reinvest in the land, we had planned to give the pasture a year to rest. Unlike many farms and ranches in Central and Southern Oregon this year, we were able to irrigate this year. We did so mindfully and sparingly, reducing the time we ran the pivot by over 50% compared to previous summers. The goal was to keep the field green enough that it didn’t become a fire risk – and to let the land breathe.
However, our plans changed when we began hearing stories from fellow ranchers who were pulling their cattle off of land that would typically have been grazeable for at least two more months. They shared that they were in dire need of grazing grounds. To me, our green field looked barren. But compared to the drought-stricken land that our partners in eastern Oregon described as ‘walking over porcelain,’ our fields were a welcome oasis.
Now a few months later: the cows have returned to their wintering grounds near Post, OR and the first snows have made their way to Sisters.
I am working with our team planning for 2022. I’ve been looking at back at our summer – enjoying the successes and learning from the missteps. As with all things, we are constantly learning. We will take the results from the soil tests and use them as our basis. I am excited to see how different processes affect the health of our soil. All of us at Pine Meadow Ranch are anxious to continue our leap into – insert catch phrase here – regenerative ranching; land stewardship; holistic ranching; sustainable farming…
Whatever we call it, our goal is to work with partners near and far to create a system on the Ranch that will improve the health of our soil, mitigate excessive water use, and work with this land – all of which in turn will provide healthier forage to help us grow healthier stock, so this beautiful landscape can thrive.
Photo courtesy The Photo Treehouse