Starting from scratch is the theme of our 14th Soil Heath Hero in our series in Tennessee. This series features Jim Malooley and his wife Deanna. Jim was an engineer by trade and is a son of a dentist from Indiana. Deanna had some farming in her roots from Arkansas. They moved from the state of Washington almost three years ago. They bought 25 sheep the first day that they arrived and immediately they became farmers. Jim contacted Matt Feno, NRCS District Conservationist, McMinnville, Tennessee, about terminating the entire farm of endophyte infected Kentucky-31 fescue. Matt seeing the potential in Jim called in Area Resource Conservationist, Andy Neal and State Grazing Specialist and Soil Health Specialist, Greg Brann to assist with a grazing plan. The original grazing plan was four pages. NRCS developed a conservation plan to meet all of Jim's objectives and did not have to kill the existing fescue. The plan conserved all of the benefits previously achieved by growing fescue, but also met the nutrition of the proposed sheep and cattle. Jim and Deanna were on their way. They also became close friends with Greg and share grazing experiences on a regular basis.
Their farm consists of 206.8 acres, 160 acres in pasture, and 41.1 acres in forest, with remaining acres in buildings and small fenced lots. The farm is relatively flat. When Jim and Deanna were selecting a farm, they wanted a farm with mild winters, and the capability of the most forage production possible. These reasons factored in them selecting Tennessee and Warren County where they would become farmers. The soils are predominantly Waynesboro and Guthrie silt loam and are predominantly flat with a few fields ranging 0-12% slope.
Jim and Deanna's operation focuses on freezer grass-fed beef and lamb. They also use some traditional markets such as selling some selected rams. Their operation currently consists of 60 brood cows and 300 ewes. They carry their lambs for a year and sell wethers at 110 pounds. They use their ewe lambs for replacements. The breeds are Katahdin for ewes and Texel for rams. Jim and Deanna lamb in the spring between middle of March to mid-May. They also keep 2-3 goats for weed control, and also keep 5-6 dogs with the flock for protection from predators. Jim and Deanna currently have 40 calves to their 60 cows with some of the cows coming from heifer calves as replacements. They calve in the fall, September - November. The breeds of cattle consist of Red and Black Angus. The three bulls are Red Angus, Sim Angus, and South Poll. Jim uses minerals and sea salt custom blend along with their prescribed grazing for nutrition.
Soil tests from 2012 show soils in general were in good health as a base line. Soil organic matter ranged from 2.8 to 3.5 on several fields with several being 3.0 to 3.3. Phosphorus (P) was low to medium on most fields, and potassium (K) low on most with two in very low category to one in medium category. The pH ranged from 6.0 on several fields to 6.3 on two fields to 6.9 on one field. Lime recommendation was 0-1500 pounds per acre.
Soil tests in 2013 showed pH of 6.6 on most fields with one 6.5 and one 6.4. No lime was called for in 2013. Phosphorus was medium in all fields except one where it was low. Potassium was higher in the low category but still low on three fields and medium on the remaining one. The Soil organic matter (SOM) was 3.3% on one field, 3.4% on one field with the rest between 3.8 - 3.9% SOM. Soil test results are showing favorable increases due to management.
In 2015, Jim took a Haney Soil Health test which considers biological natural processes and gives credit to organic matter derived nitrogen (N) and phosphorus. It also provides a soil health calculation by measuring biological respiration and water extractable carbon and nitrogen and carbon to nitrogen ratio. This is the available carbon (about 80 times less than total carbon) for food to microbes. When carbon and nitrogen ratio is around 20 or less then nitrogen is available from decomposing carbon. The test also calculates nutrients savings from biologically available N and P. Two fields showed $196 and $148 available due to increasing SOM. When carbon is available and increasing, soil health scores of 7 and above are encouraging. Above 14 is very good. The two fields measured 27 and 18 which are excellent. Jim is increasing his SOM with his grazing management. His nutrients are more available saving him $150 -200 dollars per acre in nutrients. Soil on the farm has excellent structure with many earthworms and signs of other biological life. Soil health is excellent and improving each year.
When Matt Feno, Greg Brann, and Andy Neal wrote the conservation plan and grazing plan, the foundation was permanent fenced fields and water access. The permanent fields ranged from 13.9 acres to 21.1 acres. All fields have installed pipeline with quick connect couplers. A new well and pumping plant provide water to pipelines. Portable 50 gallon tanks are used to assure water to livestock in all paddocks. Poly wire is used (two strands) to divide smaller temporary paddocks. Paddocks are adjusted by season and size of herd, usually about three acres. Live stock is moved daily with a general rule never to leave grazing in same area more than three days. In winter about 30,000 pounds are grazing at one time where peak season will increase to 90,000 pounds of livestock.
Pastures began as Kentucky-31 fescue. Pasture fields total 160 acres. Jim and Deanna are dividing the pasture in 100 acres of existing fescue, 40 in rotation with annuals seeded in existing fescue, and 20 acres in Eastern Gamagrass, to be seeded April of 2016. The annuals are providing much more diversity and additional growth in fall and early spring.
With livestock moved on a daily basis, Jim can utilize fescue for stockpiling, as well as seeding annuals for increased production. Also through prescribed grazing, Jim and Deanna can promote summer growth of existing Dallisgrass, seeded crabgrass, and existing bermudagrass in Kentucky-31 pastures. Jim and Deanna annually seed 1/3 of farm by frost-seeding 4 pounds of Red Clover and 2 pounds of White Clover per acre. They graze fescue fairly closely and then over seed clover in mid to late February.
Generally all pastures are rested 30-45 days between grazing. They turn livestock into pastures at approximately 12 inches in height and remove livestock at 4 inches, and graze closer to 2 inches in winter. The large amount of sheep per paddock and large amount of cattle in another paddock are moved in and off in a day promote uniform manure distribution. With very active soil biology, manure patties are decomposed quickly. Nutrients are well distributed as shown in Haney Soil Health soil test. Additional nutrients are added by fertilizer applied by soil test results.
I asked Jim what would be the amount of hay in a more conventional setting. He told me 400 (800 pounds/bale) bales. Hay is fed September 15 to Thanksgiving in a sacrifice paddock. After Thanksgiving, no hay through mid-February. Hay is then fed in mid-February until March 1. They use approximately 200 bales annually about half of what a conventional grazing farm would use. The savings on this is 200 bales at $40.00 per bale delivered ($8,000). No hay is harvested on the farm providing nutrient savings. Greg Brann estimates that $30.00 of nutrients are removed when 1,000 pounds of bale of hay is harvested. Land that would have been cut for hay is grazed.
Field 3 of approximately 15 acres was grazed closely and then seeded to sorghum-sudex, lespedeza, and pearl millet for warm season increased production. In fall of 2014, 10 species were seeded and grazed. In 2015, 45 acres were seeded to annuals in grazed fescue, September 7. The species in 2015 were increased from 2014 from 10 species to 14 species. Seeding rates per acre were 30 pounds of Cereal Rye, 20 pounds of triticale, 2 pounds annual rye grass, 2 pounds of red clover, 2 pounds of crimson clover, 4 pounds of Austrian winter peas, 4 pound of hairy vetch, one pound of forage radish, 1 pound of rape, 0.5 pound chicory, and 5.5 pounds of perennial rye grass.
The annuals and especially the brassicas provide immediate growth and forage in fall. The grasses and legumes will provide early spring growth. The diversity of plants, brassicas, legumes, and grasses all benefit soil biology and soil aggregation. Brassicas break up surface compaction and shallow compaction. Legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen through symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria. One must inoculate annually specific inoculation for legumes. Grass provides fibrous roots adding carbon to soil and scavenges nitrogen in fall to cycle when the annual dies. The soil had excellent granular structure. It was easy to dig into. There were many earthworms in every shovel full. Soil surface was fairly dark all showing anecdotal increases in SOM. The multiple manure patties due to the intense grazing are adding both organic material and nutrients every cycle of grazing. Earthworms were found in numerous amounts under decaying manure.
Jim and Deanna are active in utilizing conservation program assistance from the Soil Conservation District and local NRCS. They have utilized Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Tennessee Department of Agriculture financial assistance for fencing and water source installation (pipe line and quick connects). They have fenced off land by Collins River to improve water quality through U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency. They have signed up for enhancements, through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) of Legumes for nitrogen, soil health/cover crops, intensive grazing, and Haney Soil Health nutrient testing.
Jim and Deanna are improving their already healthy soils by properly resting after grazing to 4 inches. Rested grass is rotated daily with no paddock grazed more than three days. Nutrients are increased by intensive grazing leaving well distributed manure patties and fields are fertilized according to soil test results. Active soil biology quickly decomposes manure. Gamagrass, crabgrass, Dallisgrass, and bermudagrass provide balanced grazing in summer time months. Inter seeded winter annuals add diversity and extra forage for fall and early spring grazing. Approximately 90,000 pounds of Sheep and Cattle animal units are grazing during peak season. Hay usage is approximately half of typical livestock operations. Even though Jim and Deanna did not come from direct farming backgrounds, they have surrounded themselves around people who can assist them in a system that improves soil health and produce high amounts of livestock.