Field Futures: Carbon Negative Cattle Farming

Landscape Architecture UG4 Studio / Spring 2022 / Forbes Lipschitz

Carbon Negative Cattle Farming 
Muyao Zhou

The Midwest contains more than 127 million acres of agricultural land, 75% of which grows corn and soybeans.

In Ohio, most livestock farms are located on hills in the southeast portion of the state. As a result of the expansion of farmland, Ohio is facing a serious deforestation issue. Most farms transformed forests that absorb greenhouse gases into agricultural fields that emit greenhouse gases.

Those greenhouse gases will have a significant impact on the environment, which may result in climate shocks, flooding, drought, extreme heat, or extreme frost. Greenhouse gas emissions can even result in ecological damage, like soil erosion and decreasing biodiversity in wild animals and plants.

This project provides solutions through three primary and different aspects: reducing the impact of climate shocks, managing grazing strategies, and using several agroforestry practices.

Managing Stormwater to Prevent Climate Shocks

An effective way to deal with climate shocks is by managing stormwater.

  • Contour planting involves aligning plant rows and tillage lines at right angles for the normal flow of runoff.
  • Moving soil to a higher area and planting trees to block runoff. Covering lower areas with organic materials like crop remains allows the soil to hold more water.
  • Planting trees and shrubs in the valley to gather stormwater.
  • Converting a steep slope into a series of steps with horizontal, or nearly horizontal, ledges and vertical walls of stone.
  • Most practices attempt to slow down stormwater to allow the soil to absorb more stormwater and prevent flooding, and by retaining stormwater in the soil to prevent drought.

Managing Grazing Strategies

Rotational grazing is a great way to manage a livestock farm. Rotational grazing divides the farm into several paddocks. This technique allows pastures to have rest time to regrow and avoids overgrazing.

Agroforestry

Several agroforestry strategies are utilized.

  • Alley planting: plant one row of shrubs or trees and then one row of pasture or crops.
  • Odor control buffer: plant a mix of seed grass or trees on the edge of the farm to control the smell from livestock.
  • Windbreak: plant trees that provide shelter from the wind, which also works as a living fence for paddocks.

Trees on the farm can produce fruit, timber, and maple syrup. Trees can also help to control microclimate and soil nutrition, and prevent soil erosion. Some specific types of pasture might have a higher yield despite sharing soil and sunlight with trees.

Pastures are formed with several different types of grasses: sod-forming grasses, bunch grasses, and legumes. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages in regrowth potential, winter hardiness, ease of establishment, drought tolerance, flooding tolerance, and species persistence. Based on these factors, farmers can create different mixes of seeds that can adapt to different conditions.

Experimental Farm

The site of the experimental farm is located in Coshocton County near a large floodplain. Stormwater from around this site might result in flooding.

There are eight different mixed-seed pastures within the experimental farm. The farm is divided into several paddocks based on the pasture type.

Inside the paddocks, farmers use portable fences to keep cattle within a small area for limited grazing that rotates from day to day. More than 200 cattle can graze on this farm, while a conventional farm can graze only 100 cattle. The grazing period lasts up to 8 months, and cattle can stay in the winter shelter and be fed with hay from alley planting. Different seed mixes can also provide a yield during extreme weather.

Windbreaks are used to separate different areas and divide paddocks. Near the public road, there is an odor control buffer that blocks the smell from the farm. A sugar maple forest functions to introduce livestock into a forestry system. Cattle can graze within this area to remove grass or plants farmers don't want. Natural ponds on the site can be used as water sources. Farmers can use a pump and pipe system to transport water to the paddock. Preventing cattle from gathering near natural ponds can reduce the risk of several diseases.

More than 5,000 trees grow on this farm, increasing the canopy cover rate to at least 50%. More than 125 tons of Carbon Dioxide will be absorbed by this farm. The experimental farm can provide a wide variety of yields that can increase a farmer's income. A complex income composition can reduce the impact of market price tremors. The supply chain will be improved, and more tree nursery and meat processing industries will be established -- creating more jobs and contributing to overall economic growth.

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