The Art & Science of Grass, Soil & Cattle
Rediscovering Natural Philosophy
Long ago, what we now call science was known as “Natural Philosophy.” Natural Philosophy sought to understand both the causes and effects of nature and the full physical universe. Back then they had to measure what they could and guess the rest. Over time, more was measured and less had to be guessed. But as we dug deeper into the mysteries of the natural world, scientists became more narrowly specialized. Unintentionally, science often lost or just forgot context for the wholeness of natural systems.
In our view, further progress in science requires that we relearn how the pieces of nature actually fit together. The library of information in our field of nature involving cows, grass and soil is still growing. Below you will find just a few of the key bits and pieces that will give you a sense for the new Natural Philosophy basis of our direction:
For those who just want a quick and easy overview including some science, check out some of our favorite short videos:
"Soil Carbon Cowboys" - The film that started it all from our good friend Peter Byck.
"Soil Carbon Curious" - Setting out on a quest to understand the science (including a cameo by Russ).
"Luckiest Places on Earth" - A glimpse into the gathering of some early scientific data in some pastures in Canada.
"A Fence & An Owner" - Audubon Certified Rancher Nancy Ranney talks about the difference that better grazing has made on her ranch in New Mexico.
"A Regenerative Secret" - A quick profile of our own Allen Williams explaining how this all works in practice.
"Eddy Covariance: Measuring an Ecosystem's Breath" - Might be interesting to the geeks in the crowd seeking to understand how we can measure “the ins and outs of CO2” in any ecosystem in real time. This is the instrument in the picture at the top of the page.
For those who have the time and want to curl up with a full book:
For those that like deep details, here’s a set of select scientific papers that are a good place to start:
Michel, Nicole L., et al. "Metrics for conservation success: Using the “Bird‐Friendliness Index” to evaluate grassland and aridland bird community resilience across the Northern Great Plains ecosystem." Diversity and Distributions 26.12 (2020): 1687-1702.
A new metric for quantifying birds and bird habitat demonstrates that Conservation Ranching is bringing back grassland birds.
Stanton, R. L., C. A. Morrissey, and R. G. Clark. "Analysis of trends and agricultural drivers of farmland bird declines in North America: a review." Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 254 (2018): 244-254.
Industrial agriculture's use of pesticides and its effects on habitat loss have been devastating to birds. Grazing is NOT the problem (but may be a solution?).
Teague, W. R., et al. "Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie." Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 141.3-4 (2011): 310-322.
THE foundational paper documenting changes in vegetation, soil carbon, water infiltration and microbiology as a function of grazing systems.
Mosier, S., et al. "Adaptive multi-paddock grazing enhances soil carbon and nitrogen stocks and stabilization through mineral association in southeastern U.S. grazing lands." Journal of Environmental Management 288 (2021): 112409
Documents the higher presence and stability of soil organic carbon and nitrogen under Adaptive Multipaddock Grazing on 5 pairs of adjacent ranches in the southeastern US.
Demonstrates that a change to “multi-paddock” grazing leads to a net greenhouse gas equivalent sink in most scenarios and a breakeven in the worst.
Using data from Teague (2011), models how better grazing can have large positive impact on water infiltration and runoff.
Does the math to show that at scale, changes to grazing (and no-till cropping) can turn agriculture into a very large net carbon sink.
Millions of years ago, in the age since dinosaurs, co-evolution of grazers and grasslands appears to have cooled the planet a few times already.
A deep dive into the magical relationship between roots, fungi and bacteria within soil that leads to net accumulation of carbon-rich organic matter.
Fascinating technology to measure the carbon going in and out of a pasture everyday to more deeply understand greenhouse gas dynamics. Documents case of active pasture sink.
McAfee, Alison J., et al. "Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platelet n-3 PUFA in healthy consumers." British Journal of Nutrition 105.1 (2011): 80-89.
An experimental study of how just 3 servings per week of grassfed beef and lamb actually caused measurable differences in blood lipid markers.
A forward-looking synthesis of what we do and don’t know about healthy meat (and dairy) and how the magic of real, whole food likely lies in many dimensions that we still don’t fully understand.
Sometimes we share new and interesting science and information on social media. So if you want to stay up to date, please follow us on...