Not For Sale
The NRCS helps a South Carolina cattleman conserve and preserve his farm.
By Becky Mills | Photos By Jeff Amberg
If you want to see a cattleman get wound up, ask 83-year-old Boyd Smith why he’s still making long-range improvements on his farm. “Do you see a For Sale sign on this farm? If you’re going to quit improving, you might as well quit. I spend my money today to preserve the soil and water tomorrow,” says the Newberry, S.C., producer.
Boyd and his wife, Betty, started work on their farm, which he describes as having been nothing but woods, in 1962. Now, the 150-acre cattle farm is a model for natural resource conservation, proved by a sign that is on the farm, one labeling Smith as the Newberry Soil & Water Conservation District Conservationist of the Year for 2007.
Water Troughs And Heavy-Use Areas
Twelve concrete water troughs, installed from 2004 to 2007, take star billing. With technical help and cost-share funds from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Smith installed underground pipe and the 125-gallon troughs, as well as heavy-use areas around the troughs. The 20- x 20-foot heavy-use areas, made up of filter cloth and 3 to 4 inches of gravel, keep cattle from forming mud holes.
While his 70 Angus cross cows still do have access to his three fishponds, Boyd says, “They will go to the water troughs before the ponds. The water is cleaner, fresher and healthier for them.”
The Smiths’ son, Hugh, who is an NRCS district conservationist, says it is also healthier for the people and animals downstream when cattle stay out of ponds and creeks. “It helps keep fecal coliform bacteria out of the surface water. We are at the headwaters of a big recreational lake, and we are being ambassadors for agriculture by keeping the water clean.”
Hugh also says it is better for the ponds. “You stop the erosion on the banks of ponds and streams when cattle don’t go in them. Ponds are a major expense to build. You don’t want the cows to tear them down.”
More Troughs, Better Pastures
Because the troughs are scattered over Smith’s four pastures and bull lot, it also means the cattle don’t have nearly as far to go for water. Boyd estimates they don’t have to walk over 500 feet to drink.
“That aids dramatically in pasture management,” says Auburn University Animal Scientist Frank Owsley. He says if cattle have to travel a long distance for water, they’ll only graze around the water source, dumping manure and urine in a smaller area, overgrazing that area, and letting the rest of the pasture go underutilized.
“If you are doing a good job of managing your pastures, you’re doing a good job of managing the environment,” says Owsley.
How No-Till Helps
Since he does have water available, Boyd says he can rotate his 20- to 35-acre Bermuda grass pastures as often as needed. It also allows him to set aside pastures to no-till in the fall for winter grazing and/or hay production.
If he is no-tilling for grazing only, he drills in wheat and ryegrass. If he is planning to use the forage for both grazing and hay production, he plants oats, Marshall ryegrass and arrowleaf clover.
“We graze it until the first of March and then move the cows off so we can cut hay,” says Boyd. “It makes fine hay.”
The actual no-tilling is one of the few chores Boyd, Betty and Hugh have custom done. They also have the actual baling of hay custom done, although he and Hugh cut it and rake it.
In addition to providing grazing and hay, Boyd says the no-till crop serves another purpose. “Over-seeding keeps the soil from washing in the winter.”
Other Conservation Projects
While the water lines, troughs and surrounding heavy-use areas were built in partnership with the NRCS, they are by no means the only conservation projects Boyd has tackled. Most of his gates have heavy-use areas under them made up of filter cloth and 6 inches of gravel.
“I don’t like mud holes,” says the veteran cattleman. “I don’t want to get stuck.” The heavy-use areas also keep Betty out of the mud when she opens and closes gates for him on their trips through the pastures.
There is also the hay barn with a gravel floor that extends out one end. “A hay barn will pay for itself in 3 years,” says Boyd. The gravel outside is to store extra hay when needed so the part of the rolls next to the ground doesn’t rot.
He also maintained heavy-use areas under and around his hay rings for years. “We put 6 inches of gravel on them every year, 25 tons, until 2 years ago. Now we unroll hay,” he explains.
“We roll it out for 60 to 70 feet,” he adds. “The mamas and babies will come up and eat it and clean it up.”
Better Than You Found It
Since there is no For Sale sign on the farm, Boyd has more projects on his to-do list. Number one is fencing the cattle out of the ponds.
“We’ll let them in for a day or two at a time to keep the grass down, then move them out,” says Hugh.
“If the cost-share money is available from the NRCS, I’ll do it,” says Boyd. And if the money isn’t available, bet on him doing it anyway.
“You are supposed to leave the soil better than you found it,” he states. “You are also supposed to preserve the water. It is a precious element. If you don’t, you are a pretty poor person.”