Local farms reducing erosion & improving water quality
Ernie Major and John McCown are two of our local farmers that installed grassed waterways to reduce erosion and improve water quality on their cropland. This practice is used to address ephemeral erosion, which is rills that form from intensive rain events on cropland where there is little residue and enough slope that will cause areas of concentrated flows. The result will cause erosion there by depositing sediment in near by streams along with nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium that are tied to the sediment deposits being deposited into the streams. Producers today just as those in the past cannot afford to lose the valuable topsoil that is so important in producing their crops. If the ephemeral erosion is not addressed, it will lead to gullies that only get larger as time goes by making them impossible to cross with farm equipment and massive erosion. Grassed waterways are constructed graded channels that are seeded to grass or other suitable vegetation. The vegetation slows the water and the grassed waterway conveys the water to a stable outlet at a non-erosive velocity. Grass or permanent vegetation established in waterways protects the soil from concentrated flows. This conservation practice is used often on cropland in conjunction with other conservation practices such as terraces, diversions and one of the most important no-till planting.
This is our 2nd year of growing crops (4th season) and we are learning new things every season. The high tunnel gives us the ability to plant early, and harvest later in the year. Because of the limited space (ours is a 30' x 100' Zimmerman High Tunnel), we plant and harvest crops that can give us the most income. Tomatoes have been the winner each year, but find peppers, collards/kale, and head lettuce are a close second. For those who would like to venture out into a high tunnel, I would say before you do, PLAN, PLAN, and PLAN before you do. Understand the need, concept, crop, diseases, and how to maintain soil health before you get too deep into it. We reached out to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (who we are members of) who helped us with our farm plan, and every aspect of building the high tunnel, selecting & growing your crop, pest management, and marketing/sales. Don't expect to be successful in your first year. It takes a while to identify your crop, your market, and find a way to keep the bad bugs out. We are a strong believer in growing organically/naturally and that in itself will be your biggest challenge.
Eddie Martin is a retired NRCS engineer that operates a sheep and beef cattle operation in Anderson County. Eddie has used NRCS conservation programs to better his operation while conserving soil and water resources. He took the time to give us insight into his operation and his passion for farming. Please read below to see how NRCS has helped him put conservation practices on the ground.
I know I am an oddball to like sheep. But I am not enough of an oddball to have sheep that are hard to keep alive or manage. We have the family history of beef cattle and that has become a herd of registered Angus cattle that are resistant to KY31 fescue by selection and breeding. The sheep follow along those lines with an extra: they do not require worming. These sheep are hair sheep, St. Croix Hair Sheep to be exact, and with the hair, they do not ever need to be sheared. Both the cattle and sheep are what I call “trouble-free” as I like to maintain my status as a lazy man!
The mix of sheep and cattle in Anderson County or anywhere is a “not all eggs in one basket” deal from the business side of things. There are extra benefits such as greater forage utilization and weed control. The sheep eat “sheep stuff” such as weeds, some grass, legumes but like all sheep, they balance their grazing intake from bite to bite. The beauty of the sheep in a mix with cattle is that these sheep also eat “goat stuff” such as briers, tree sprouts, privet, and such. For example, where the breeding rams are kept in one pasture all or most of the year: there is no obvious dog fennel or horse nettle. It is there but not above the managed grazing height of the fescue mix. And the thistles and spiny pigweeds get a pruning along the way, too. The funniest thing to learn was what a noise was when I rotate ewes and lambs in the summertime. They would go into the new pasture and, even as I am sort of hard of hearing, I heard a “pop-pop-pop-pop …” noise. So I try to figure it out. I learned from watching that the first pass of grazing was a consumption of every little green fruit on the horse nettle plants. Sheep do not eliminate horse nettle but they greatly control it.
There are issues. Cattle need a decent mineral with adequate copper to deal with KY31 fescue. Very little copper in sheep minerals is the maximum as copper toxicity (as in “dead”) is a real deal in sheep. Sheep are more prone to predator issues due to size. We have had guard donkeys in with cows and sheep for a long time due to that issue. Just as teenagers sometimes seem to be thoughtless, have some desire to wander, or are dealing with things unknown to them, weaned sheep up to the age of 12 months or so can have little understanding of the value to stay with their buddies. That’s just a free tidbit in the overall management of sheep.
Sheep are not “little cows”. I learned that early on. They like to come and do not do as well when driven. If you see folks using dogs on sheep, the sheep are moved towards the person by the dog(s). But train the sheep, rattle a grain of corn in a bucket and they will be right there with you. Handling facilities are also different. Try working sheep a time or two without adequate facilities and you will learn to dread that part of management. That is true with cattle, too. But sheep facilities can be makeshift and not a heavy as decent cattle pens and chutes.
Sheep are doing things about 2 times faster than cattle: averaging more than 1 lambs at birth, a shorter gestation, quicker weaning, earlier maturity, and this is the thing to especially note: no compensatory gains. Miss again today and it is gone for a sheep. Miss again for a calf and it can make it up in the future. I never expected as Daddy used to say, to “try to starve a profit out of a cow”. You can double down on that saying with a sheep.
I can’t stop without one dumb joke, or maybe two: How many sheep do we have? I don’t know – every time I try to count them I fall asleep! This is a discussion of animals but it all starts with the soil and the plants that the soil will grow. Soil, water, and our resources: they are the foundation. I wouldn’t pull the wool over your eyes about that. I can’t as we only have the hair sheep!