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September 06, 2017

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Buffalo Composting 101

By, Colton Jones

Anyone who’s traveled across the Great Plains has seen the vast spaces housing various forms of energy that make up native plants and fauna. Here, plants and organisms have endured hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and developed their own way to utilize the prairie’s sole source of energy, the sun.

Prairie Pasture

Some members of the prairie’s ecosystem convert energy directly from the sun for their own survival, and many primary consumers such as bison have evolved to depend upon these producers; secondary consumers such as wolves depend upon the primary consumers…and so forth, until a food web has formed.

Sun on Buffalo

About 10% of the sun’s energy makes it into earth’s atmosphere; the rest is reflected back into space. And within this 10%, a percentage of energy is lost between every interaction occurring in the food web. There’s nothing we can do about the 90% that’s “lost,” but we can do something about the rest. And that’s important, because that 10% supplies all of the ecosystems in the world.

Disturbed Prairie Land

Disruptions in energy exchange in any ecosystem could have detrimental effects on members of its communities. For decades, industrial agriculture has manipulated the flow of energy as it travels through the Great Plains ecosystem. The result is a decrease in biodiversity, and depleted soils. For years, the Cheyenne River Ranch was a victim of this disruption. In some areas it still shows in the form invasive plants such as Cheatgrass (a grass that arrived on ships from Eurasia in the mid-to-late 1800s), and bare spots that present nothing but exposed soil.

Bison composte pit

For over a decade, the Cheyenne River Ranch and other producers in alliance with Wild Idea Buffalo Co. have been working to help our little piece of prairie to again capture the energy it once enjoyed in an undisturbed state. We do this with regenerative grazing practices, pasture monitoring, and on-ranch composting.

Bison Composte

For the last two years, the offal (what’s left over after we’ve field-dressed a carcass) from the bison harvested on the Cheyenne River Ranch has been composted and dispersed via a manure spreader. This is done in disturbed areas that show low productivity and decreased diversity from years of farming. In other words, energy that would normally be removed from the ecosystem in the industrialized meat paradigm is now being retained within the system. This energy is utilized by producers such as grasses and forbs to increase their spread and ability to capture energy from the sun.  

Recovered Prairie

Many areas of the ranch are far from being in an original state, but progress is evident to a trained eye: We’ve seen an overall increase in ground cover and plant life. In turn, erosion and water evaporation have decreased, and overall bio-diversity has increased.    

The process is slow and requires long-term planning and patience, but the reward comes in viewing long-lost residents such as Western wheatgrass, grasshopper sparrows, pronghorn sheep, and sharp-tailed grouse all in a display of symbiosis.


Comments

Anne Clare

September 06, 2017

I composted for YEARS when I had my house. Now I live in a condo and I miss it!!
Keep up the good work that you do!!

Lucy

September 06, 2017

Wow, this is fantastic!

Cecilia Rivas Schuermann

September 06, 2017

Thank you for the education. I particularly like how you express the sunshine in energy times and how the buffalo helps to restore this energy. Wonderful cycle!

Nancy

September 06, 2017

EXCELLENT!! Very good! :D Keep up the good work, it looks like you’re already getting good definite results, just from the photos! :)

But — what about the intestines (sausage skins)? The liver (yum!)? Etc.? Obviously, the other … stuff (like, what was in the intestines at the time …) could easily be plowed under, and blood and bone meal are excellent fertilizers, but it would be a shame to lose out on some of the still usable “giblets,” shall we say! :)

Also: does the Cheyenne River Ranch have a way of dealing with the hide/leather? There are several businesses out there, I’m sure, who’d be more than happy to have an arrangement to receive those! :)

Nancy
Wildlife Biologist

pat

September 06, 2017

Yes, Nature bats first. Thank you, once again,

Pat

Linda Clark

September 06, 2017

Love this piece! I don’t garden so much now but when I did, I think compost was my favorite product. Any time we can improve the soil, we do the whole web a huge favor. Check out www.bio4climate.org to see many examples of others doing their best to improve soil worldwide. Lots of great videos, especially the ones on the Carbon Cowboys.

Kenneth James & Leslie Terry

September 06, 2017

Leslie’s restoring an old ground driven Manure spreader like yours for her horse property to spread composted stall bedding (wood shavings manure and urine} . They work great and in this case are a coopretive effort between two neighboring farms.
Restoring and reusing older equipment is also good ecology!
And funds saved are good for other projects.

Eirik Heikes

September 06, 2017

Noteworthy work. Good use of resources and intellect.

Dan Page

September 06, 2017

A right cheap way to restore pastureland, too! Seems like the spreader would get all gummed up with buffalo goody, but I’m retired from ranching so don’t know the topic firsthand.

Jacques

September 17, 2017

You are showing that disturbing an ecosystem is so easy compared to the time it takes to get it back. Forget quater financial reports and expected short term return on investment.

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