My hippy friends out east told me not to invest in the "infertile soils in the Mountain West."
I wanted to pass on the program that is working for us, and may be an arrow in the quiver for others who may struggle with poor fertility, high inputs on high PH, sodic, salty soils which are irrigatable.
We have been here 10 years. Its been easy to problem solve as locals are quick to tell us what won't work here....
In the pros column, we have 300 days sunlight, ample irrigation water, long dry winters for dormant season grazing, freedom, and low land costs.
In the cons column, we have a lack of local demand for farm products, and really poor soil. In 100 years of farming, most farms do not have more than .5 % organic matter and PH around 8.
We sold our hay equipment, stopped inverting the soil, and invested in fencing and seed , tractor and no till seeder and no till subsoiler.
Basically from the minute the ground thaws, to after it freezes, we want something with fantastic forage quality growing. Also, a mix of forages that will not hurt any species grazing, but also build fertility into the soil. We graze every 60 days last year with sheep, very short, to control weeds. We overgraze, so that we eliminate competition for the next 60 day "crop" to grow. The goal is to leave as many annual roots in the soil as possible each year, while deepening the root system of our cool season grass base.
Finally, in 2015, some quantifiable data.
Dig a shovel of dirt, and lots of worms where there was none. Our stocking rate, 450 head of sheep on 80 irrigated acres, I fed 40 ton of hay in 365 days. So my ewe cost per year is $61.00. Now, by honing the flushing and breeding portion of our program, we can get weaned lamb ratios up for fantastic "lbs of lamb per acre" numbers, which is more indicitave of profitability....
Aug calving jersey cross cow bred to a black bull. Black calf made 650 lbs carcass weight, 1180 lbs total live weight, in 13 months, forage fed only.
Best part is the "regenerative ag" story.
My organic matter here has risen from .5 to 4.2 percent, sodium down from 1200 ppm to 200 ppm. Salts in half. Ph down from 8.2 to 7.8. Cation exchange capacity now up to 34%, from 20%!
With only 220 ewes bred last year, and keeping ewe lambs, we are not yet profitable, I spent a couple hundred days a year out of the county doing contruction to justify all this.
But the model is fantastic. USDA and UWYO are quantifying our data to allow lendable models for small acreage owners in the future.
When we get our blue clay soils a little farther along, I am confident draft power will become the most profitable way for us to farm. Until then, custom no till seeding and Yeomans plowing justifies the tractor for our own farm use.... Just wanted to give a positive soil fertility story for the "infertile Mountain West"