Cover Cropping

It seems to happen every year about this time, I end up getting so caught up in the ranch work that I neglect my blogging duties! I think it’s about time that I get another post up here for my wonderful readers 🙂 So here goes a long overdo blog post.
Today I’m going to talk to you about cover crops!
Just this last week Jordan, Danielle, and I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Gabe Brown who is one of the leading examples in cover cropping! We learned so much about how we can further improve our own system.
Some of you may be wondering what a cover crop is, which by definition is a crop that is grown to protect and enrich the soil. Over the past 5 to 10 years cover cropping has become increasingly more popular.
The first way we’ve applied cover crops to our system was by following a small grain crop with a mixture of turnips, radishes, peas, clover, sunflowers, millet, etc. When we are lucky we get a good shot of rain to get the cover crop off to a great start. Come fall when we turn the cattle out onto these crops and let them graze it in strips. We will give them access to grassland and also give them some dried hay so that they can balance their own diets. Here’s a picture of one of our cover crop fields before we turned the cows out.
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At the field day Gabe Brown was saying that contrary to popular belief, plants don’t “compete” with each other. They actually work together creating a healthy environment so that all the plants can thrive.
Diversity is key to healthy soil biology. Here is a great picture to show the variety of our crop.
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The science behind how beneficial cover crops are could make for a very long blog post, so I will just talk about some of the basic reason why we use them in our operation.
One of the best advantages of these cover crops is how they protect the soil from the weather and help increase the ability to infiltrate water. When it rains on land that is bare the water runs off the top and peals back layers of top soil; wind is also a huge cause of land erosion. By having a living root in the ground as long as possible the land is able to stay hidden from the wind and by keeping the soil aggregates (soil particles that are bound together) in tact they create pours for the water to soak in, utilizing rainfall much more efficiently.
Here is another example of how we have used cover crops.
After my dad planted his organic oats crop this spring he floated on some clover so that it would grow together. The oats took off faster than the clover and as they grew the oats started to block the sun out from the clover causing the clover to sit dormant in a sense. As soon as the oats were harvested and the sun wasn’t being blocked then the clover began to grow again. This sets the field up for having sufficient ground cover for protection and is also great for grazing our cattle.
Here’s a picture showing the field as my dad was harvesting the oats.
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We still have a lot to learn about cover crops and how we can better incorporate them with our system, but I would say that we are off to a great start!
Thanks for stopping by!
(If you are interested in learning more about cover crops check out Gabe Brown. Here’s a link to a great video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKjX3UdVDFU.)

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