As we strive to keep chemicals out of our own diets, we believe our cows should be treated with the same respect. We know that everything that touches our land ultimately has either a positive or negative impact on quality of the soil, healthiness of our crops, and ultimately the well-being of our cattle. Many farm operations rely on broad applications of chemical pesticides and herbicides to manage plant and insect populations. While these methods can produce desired results quickly we believe the long-term drawbacks outweigh the short-term gains.
We believe in a more natural approach by fostering a large diversity of plant and insect life in our pastures and fields. Occasionally we are required by both state and federal authorities to effectively deal with the presence of noxious weeds on our property. In these situations we implement limited applications of herbicides by spot spraying targeted plants. This approach, combined with strategic pasture rotation helps keep our cattle out of harms way.
Healthy, fertile soil is the key to good plant population and quality forages. We choose to grow a variety of forage crops that are not only part of a balanced diet but are also balanced with regard to their impact on our ground. Poor selection of crops and their rotations can easily strip the soil of essential minerals and nutrients like nitrogen. Historically this type of nutrient loss has been dealt with by heavy applications of chemical fertilizers.
At The Cheek Ranch we work hard to limit the amount of chemical fertilizers that are applied to our ground. For example, nitrogen fixation nodules form on the root systems of cow pea plants and the long tap roots of icicle radishes aerate the ground, allowing for water to penetrate the soil. Therefore the peas and radishes not only feed our cows but also our ground and other grasses throughout the year.
After our crops have finished their work in the soil, they are cut and baled into large 5×6 round bales for winter feeding. Each year we feed over 1,300 bales to our cattle. Using our truck or a tractor, we unroll each bale, one by one, in long stripes across each pasture. While hay rings have their place, overrelying on them can mean neglacting the pasture ground. By unrolling each bale we not only feeds the cows, but we provide good ground cover for new plant growth that will come in the spring. Furthermore, the leftover hay that doesn’t get consumed breaks down over time and creates more biomass and organic matter in the soil. This in turn makes for a rich environment for bacteria and earthworms to do their part to make healthy soil. After the cattle eat the hay they leave manure across the entire field. In the spring we mechanically spread the manure out, creating fertilizer for all the plants to use. The photos below illustrate how much pasture coverage that we achive by unrolling hay throughout the winter.