Apache, Okla., no-tiller Alan Mindemann has never owned any cattle in the 22 years he’s been farming and has his reasons for it.
“In our country, the conventional wisdom when I started, and still is now, is that you have to have cattle to carry the farming because the farming will never carry itself. And what I figured out growing up on the farm and helping my Dad is that the cattle kept the crops from ever making anything,” he says.
“All the emphasis was on cattle and cattle forced bad decisions on cropland in a lot of instances. If you want to be a cowboy, grow forages and be a cowboy. There’s nothing wrong with that. But trying to do both just didn’t work. And I haven’t had any cattle since.”
But today it’s not stopping him from at least experimenting with some grazing. He’s been working with Oklahoma State University Extension, which received some funding through an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant to organize studies on converting farms from conventional tillage to no-till and rotating livestock and cash crops.
On a new farm Mindemann acquired, they’ve studied the use of year-round grazing forages for 2 years, followed by cash crops with the goal to improve soil biological activity.
Mindemann said the 90-acre farm he’s using for the study was in “horrible shape” when he began farming it, as it was eroded and had terraces on much it, with nothing but wheat and cattle raised on it for about 100 years.
“The first thing we wanted to do was keep the water on the field and keep it from leaving. And to do that, we had to increase infiltration rates and get the ground covered with residue,” he says.
He invested a lot of money applying fertilizer and lime to make it productive, “mostly because the family was willing to work with me on the rent and length of the lease. And they were tired of seeing their land abused and they wanted it built up.”
Mindemann is now moving in a different direction. At the end of this year he’ll be renting out 350 acres of grassland and cropland to a cover crop seed salesman who’s moved to his area and wants to farm.
Mindemann envisions a rotational grazing system on grass and forages with commercial cows that Mindemann will own, but his partner will manage, utilizing some fields that are smaller and hard to farm.