Monday, May 16, 2016

How Cattle Ranching Can Positively Affect Carbon Absorption

by Courtney White

...On the other hand, for cattle ranchers like Tom and Mimi Sidwell, it’s not necessary to bring up the topic at all. That’s because healing the carbon cycle is what they do for a living. Whether it improves you-know-what isn’t on their minds.

In 2004, the Sidwells bought the 7,000-acre JX Ranch south of Tucumcari, New Mexico, and set about doing what they know best: earning a profit by restoring the land to health and stewarding it sustainably.

As with many ranches in the arid Southwest, the JX had been hard used over the decades. Poor land and water management had caused the grass cover to diminish in quantity and quality, exposing soil to the erosive effects of wind, rain, and sunlight, which also diminished the organic content of the soil significantly, especially its carbon...

Enter the Sidwells. With thirty years of experience in managing land, they saw the deteriorated condition of the JX not as a liability but as an opportunity. Tom began by dividing the entire ranch into sixteen pastures, up from the original five, using solar-powered electric fencing. After installing a water system to feed all sixteen pastures, he picked cattle that could do well in dry country, grouped them into one herd, and set about carefully rotating them through the pastures — never grazing a single pasture for more than seven to ten days in order to give the land plenty of recovery time. Next he began clearing out the juniper and mesquite trees on the ranch with a bulldozer, which allowed native grasses to come back.

As grass returned — a result of the animals’ hooves breaking up the capped topsoil and allowing seed-to-soil contact — Tom lengthened the period of rest between pulses of cattle grazing in each pasture from 60 days to 105 days across the whole ranch. More rest meant more grass, which meant Tom could graze more cattle — to stimulate more grass production. In fact, Tom increased the overall livestock capacity of the JX by 25 percent in only six years, significantly impacting the ranch’s bottom line. The typical stocking rate in this part of New Mexico is one cow to 50 acres. The Sidwells have brought it down to one to 36 acres, and hope to get it down to one to 30 acres some day. Ultimately, Tom hopes to have the ranch divided into twenty-three pastures. The reason for his optimism is simple: the native grasses are coming back, even in dry years. Over the past ten years, the JX has seen an increase in diversity of grass species, including cool-season grasses (which grow primarily in the spring and fall), and a decrease in the amount of bare soil across the ranch. Simultaneously, there has been an increase in the pounds of meat per acre produced on the ranch.

...In 2009, the Sidwells converted their beef business from a conventional feedlot-based system to an entirely grass-fed, direct-marketed operation. Grass-fed means the animals have spent their entire lives on grass — which is what nature intended for them — and no time in stinky feedlots, eating corn and other assorted industrial by-products. Grass-fed beef consumes less fossil fuel in its production and distribution, especially if the customers are only a short drive away from the farm, ranch, or processing facility. It also has another benefit: profitability. As an added-value food, grass-fed meat sells for as much as 50 percent more than conventional meat — if customers are willing to pay the higher premiums, which in the Sidwells’ case they are. And this extra profit, even on a smaller herd, has allowed the Sidwells to make it through the dry times financially.

What the Sidwells have done on the JX is reassemble the carbon landscape. They have reconnected soil, water, plants, sunlight, food, and profit in a way that is both healing and sustainable. They did it by reviving the carbon cycle as a life-giving element on their ranch and by returning to nature’s principles of herbivory, ecological disturbance, soil formation, microbial action, and good food. In the process, they improved the resilience of the land and their business for whatever shock or surprise the future may have in store.

Tom Sidwell is President-elect of the NM Cattle Growers


Anonymous said...

Good stuff as you always post..............except that I am not sure "we".........ranchers.........or 'original environmentalists" or whatever you want to term us.........should be using the left's language and terms..........regardless of how successful the left has been in framing issues.

tom sidwell said...

Thanks Anonymous. You take a risk when you open up for an interview because the interviewer will edit or interpret what you say, or what they think you said, to fit their own biasness and agenda; it doesn't matter if its left or right. Courtneys' heart is in the right place; he has done a lot to narrow the gap between moderate environmentalists and ranchers, although I may not agree with everything he says. "Stinky feedlots" "carbon sequestration" "you-know-what"(global warming), are his terms and not mine. Climate change has been going on for millions of years and will continue for millions of years with or without us. That is the least of my concerns.
In our Constitutional Republic, we have freedom of choice whether it is to eat feedlot-fed beef or grass-fed beef, manage land holistically or traditionally, be a proponent of climate change or deny anthropogenic climate change(in spite of 15 attorneys general who want to prosecute me for denying), left vs. right language, etc. In a combat situation you pick up the enemies' material and use it against him so he can pay for his own destruction. In the near future I will have "facts" based on measurements and high resolution photography/satellite imagery and I will use these facts, using left language if necessary, to destroy their myths about livestock grazing.

Frank DuBois said...

Why just the other day Tom told me he had “reassembled the carbon landscape” on his place. Lol

Besides, one of my favorite things in life is to use left wing rhetoric to defend right wing ideas. It drives them crazy.

tom sidwell said...

That's right!!
We were talking about going down to the local pub and getting a shot of whiskey that has been well-aged in oak barrels and naturally that leads to discussion of the carbon landscape...