Dryland Grazing and Water Systems for Grass-Fed, Grass-finished Cattle
An avid group of students, farmers and resource people came out to Cheryl and Tom Kammerzell’s Maple K Farms in Colfax. They travelled from around the region on a clear, warm September day to learn about this innovative farm’s practices with their herd of unique Scottish Highland cattle, grazing practices, and use of land. Cheryl and Tom greeted attendees in their restored barn and described the history and philosophy of Maple K Ranch. The land’s habitat has taught the Kammerzells many lessons, affecting their practices and choices. Additionally, with analysis of their bottom line, assessing many factors including life style choices, they chose a marketing niche that is sustainable for the family and farm.
In their history of accessing land and leasing, Tom said that leasing is a weak spot for a livestock operation. Their leased land’s pasture was “tore up” and in rough shape. Eventually, they bought the land they had been leasing. They worked to repair the riparian zones, managed cattle movement to eradicate herbaceous hemlock plants (the cows stomp on it), reduced weeds where vermin hide from coyotes. Reducing vermin populations reduced the amount of feces running into the creek. Tom said, “Testing the water gives you the data to make decisions, a good way to analyze so you know what to do.”
A significant goal is to the reduce the amount of feed that they have to bring feed to the cattle and to maximize the land’s potential. They changed rotation from an initial two paddocks to eight and plan for a total of 17 paddocks. The rotation leaves the cows no more than 2 weeks in a paddock. The cows know that moving will bring them to a fresh source of food, so they participate. The cattle also choose to drink from troughs, not the stream, and willingly burrow through snow to find feed in the winter. Highlanders browse rather than graze, and ‘will never run out of food,’ even eating thistle. Reed canary grass has been a good food source when it is managed well.
Tom has found many natural seeps on the land, monitored them in all seasons, and maximized on them. He has set up water collection tanks which are filled by these springs, and use a number of springs to water the herd, using gravity and planning. They keep Koi fish in the stock tank to mange insects and larvae populations in water.
In 2009 when their herd grew to 145 head the Kammerzells had a hard winter and a heavy work load. They had to make some decisions. They wanted on a quality of life and assessed data: weights born, weights weaned, on the rail, and market prices. They drew a line based on the data and chose to keep 20 momma cows. They raise each cow to 28 months and consider pricing for stock or for meat sales. They slaughter on the farm and sell direct to consumers twice a year. They have a waiting list for customers. They talked about how markets have changed, and now there is also a demand for bones, tongue, skulls and custom orders. They have optimized on the market changes.
The Kammerzell’s passion for their cows is evident, and the intention for sustainable and smart operations is clear. Maple K’s regeneration and management of the land, use of resources, and well-researched decisions is an example for others. In the past when visiting the Maple K operations, Jo Robinson author of Pasture Perfect said, “At most places cows have one bad day. At your place, they have one bad moment.”
Funding for this farm walk and other Tilth Producers educations programs are funded in part by the USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program.
Summary by Jacqueline Cramer
Farm Walk Booklet: HERE