January 18, 2022

From the Pastures: A positive outlook

Hello from Graze-N-Grow. It sure is nice to have cooler mornings lately. I feel a little more energized to do those jobs that involve a lot of sweat than when it’s 90-plus degrees out. Our pastures have been staying green, unlike some years in August.

Our county made the news a couple weeks ago with five tornadoes spotted one evening. No injuries reported, but building and crop damage in some areas. Here at home we escaped that, but also escaped the rains that accompanied the storm.

I think we are living in a garden spot this year so far as crops and pastures are looking great, at least the pastures that always have residuals. There are some in our area that could be enhanced with a putting green since it’s been grazed to the ground. We can all probably find evidences of that extreme over-grazing in every county.

Over the last 15 years or so I’ve had many mentors regarding grazing management and livestock care which goes hand in hand. Ruth and I will be going to Virginia next month to listen to several of them at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Among them are Jim Gerrish from Idaho, Dr. Allen Williams from Mississippi, Ray Archuleta and Greg Judy from Missouri, not to mention Joel himself.

Since Ruth and I have been more homebound for a couple years now we are excited to join this group of like-minded trainers and direct marketers and we expect it to be a world class learning experience. I don’t think I have been more optimistic about farming and healthy, local food production since I started this career 50 years ago. There is so much to be learned that I wished I would have started down this path much earlier.

Since we had such interest in bred ewes last winter we decided to breed again a portion of our ewes for January lambing to meet that need and breed the remainder for us to keep and lamb on pasture next May. Since we’ve also put some of our pasture ground back into organic row crops we’ve reduced our grazing acres for the sheep and cattle and would like to do more winter grazing to reduce hay feeding.

So, a smaller flock with reduced feed costs, not to mention winter labor efforts fits my more sedentary lifestyle these last few years. Along with that we will be castrating all the male lambs and will forget about servicing the ethnic holiday market that we’ve been a part of for the last 15 years. It will be July 10 next year and requires a six-month minimum age making it too much of a high input winter feeding program for us. Putting the male lambs back with the flock also makes it much easier to manage pasture rotation.

Markets for lamb continues to be on the positive side of the supply-and-demand situation and a growing demand for our other meats gives us encouragement for the future. All commodities share similar outlooks making this a great time to be in agriculture. I hope we can all focus on these positives instead of all the negatives of this past year. Happy trails.

Jim Draper

Jim Draper

Sheffield, Ill.