Extra Answers to Conference Q’s

Calvin Gavelin


Question #1 Do you have some online tools for mission statements?

Our Answer: The internet wasn’t used at either the 1 day workshop that Calvin attended in 2019 or the 4 day workshop we attended in 2020. Ralph Corcoran asked us to put simple points that we wanted to accomplish and from those points we developed our own goal or mission statement. We each did individual statements which were shared to the group. It was pretty cool to hear that Marla’s mission statement and mine were quite similar.

Question #2 How do you get non HM family members involved?

Our answer: Calvin answering, I guess when I attended the 1 day workshop in 2019, I really didn’t know what Holistic Management was all about. I went to that session because a friend said he was going, and as Marla puts it, I like going to meetings. It was 2 towns away from us and I signed in for it. What I learned that day was more than I ever expected. We had always rotationally grazed our pastures and used maximum amounts of inputs. The day began after introductions, a self assessment of our current operation and a grazing plan was developed from our personal data. Going into that course blind, but to come out with a plan was amazing. But I didn’t know how to discuss it with Marla. I basically didn’t share anything of that day except the energy I left with and my brain never stopped thinking. That year I had started lots of discussions with Marla about Holistic Management concepts but couldn’t get the courage to talk them thru.

If any knows me personally, I’m the character type that has to do something to prove  it is possible. I quietly changed my grazing or my pasture that were already divided into smaller parcels. The one take home point that I have realized from the course is small blocks add grazing efficiencies and productive opportunities. In conventional farming small fields are thought to be inefficient as the machinery size grew. I now have started looking at my fields to break them into small crop opportunities. I followed what we put on paper that day, only to notice the change in our grass. I seeded a cover crop which no one was locally and took a chance.

What I noticed after a while was by moving our pastures more regularly, it allowed my girls exposure to the animals more regularly, the herd quietened done even more and they loved their time in the pastures. What I noticed about the cover crop was thru diversity it produced biomass like nothing else. It allows me to have back up forage or pasture available in an emergency situation.

All year long I kept trying what I was taught during that course. When I was contacted about a full Holistic Management session coming to our local town, I signed both of us up. I still couldn’t explain it properly and felt seeing is believing.

Marla and me attended that first day as 2 individuals from our our farm. Little did I know Marla loved the course from the get go. She took to the course as I sat back and watched. When we reviewed the information section that I took the year before she was also excited. Our initial goals for our operation that we individually made actually were very similar.

During the course and afterwards we discussed what I had altered on our operation this past year but this time it was easy. The whole Holistic management was a great success for our operation, family and most of all us as a couple.

As for getting my mom on side who is apart of the operation. The discussions came easier after seeing the operation improve using the Holistic approach. I guess what I learned since is there is no one way to do anything. My friends who are like family since I have no immediate family members have started to ask questions and some are even talking about experimenting on their own operations.

In conclusion, I would say for our operation, the Holistic management style has got my family involved very positively. Our girls ask to constantly go checks cows, move them and explore. The mood in our house has also shifted from the daily mad scramble to more thinking and dealing with issues. We have began to see all things around us differently. Personally, I seem to handle stress way better and can now see different plans to improve our family operation. But I’m the first to say we have just started, it takes time and money. Every year we accomplish more of what we initially scratched onto paper that day as our initial individual goals. Proudly looking back, it was one of our families best investments. Today Marla and me are a better team and closer than ever before as we move towards our goals.

Question #3 Gavelin farms, how did you guys go about marketing your beef so it helped you reach your goals?

Firstly, I would say that taking this course allowed us the method to observe and discuss the situation that we were in, having Covid 19 cancel the sale of our first liner load of market ready steers in July of 2020 with more finishing weekly. Marla and me discussed options and she led us to the idea of selling beef to consumers directly. By doing so we accomplished our first goal of making our operation more stable because we are no longer reliant on a few packing facilities bids. This past week I attend meetings that discussed the topic of current large scale packing plants are making up to $500 profit margins on cattle.

We immediately booked animals into our local abattoir to find a solution to those steers aging out or envisioning them dying while on feed waiting to be slaughtered. Those sales allowed our farm the opportunity to fed society a healthy, affordable product by eliminating the profit margins lost to third parties.

Our herd by using Holistic methods have reduced winter feeding costs. While doing so we have heard nothing but great comments on the quality and taste of our product. Our goal of helping our area become more stable was accomplished since we used local industries around us. For example we only background a part of our herd on farm. The rest of our animals are fed to finish at a custom feedlot just under an hour away. The animals are slaughtered up the road from that feedlot locally. Any spin off money created from our operation that we spend is all locally spent dollars. The equation some economist use is every dollar spent in agriculture is rotated 7 times. If this is true all money spent for the life of every animal slaughtered locally, has stayed within an hour of our local trade region.

Lastly what marketing our own beef has revealed is it takes team work. I may be out doing the grunt work but Marla does marketing and public relations. Our team now includes the local feedlot and abattoir. Every customer is now our new friends. We now have the ability to help so many more people hands on. Some customers have also reached out during this time and have asked about what we changed in our operation. I guess looking back in my Holistic Management workshops, when my presenter, Ralph Corcoran, said you probably will become Holistic Management educators I initially doubted him that day, but I have learned to roll with it and share what we’ve learnt so far.

Question #4 What were the cover crops mixes that we used?

The first cover crop mix that we used in 2019 was a creation of seeds that I had left over in our shed. The first Holistic course showed diversity paid. I guess some people would say I cheaped out compared to what I could of used. At that course, the friend that I sat beside talked about what he had used on his operation. He had extra seed so I bought seed oats and hairy vetch from him. I researched to find what inoculant to use on the hairy vetch. The local chemical retail had no clue so I spent many ours researching the topic of hairy vetch and its ability to produce Nitrogen.

Our blend consisted of Barley, Oats, Spring Wheat, Peas, Lentils, Hairy Vetch and tillage radish planted on Fall Rye stubble. I was excited to try this mixture even though it wasn’t very diversified as far as warm and cool season plants. It grew poorly until it got 100% hailed on July 12. The weed pressure ramped up and we chose to spray the crop to clean up the stand. We used Butril M, and through our research we knew that hairy vetch would survive. The resulting crop was left to Oats, Barley, Spring Wheat and Hairy Vetch with vegetative volunteer stand of Fall Rye. We swathed graze that 120 acres of cover crop yielded for us 30,000 days of grazing for our 200 head operation.

Below are 3 photos: First is Marla standing in the cover crop on Oct, 2019 only days prior to a foot dump of snow. Secondly is my hat sitting on the swath to show the volume of the swath. Lastly is the cows starting their third month of continuously swath grazing this field taken January 2020 while we headed to the Holistic Management course.

The crazy thing was the mono-culture crops we planted at the same time and experienced the environmental conditions didn’t produce the biomass.

Our other cover crop that we seeded was an Oats, Tillage Radish, Hairy Vetch under seeded to Alfalfa, Crested Wheat and Smooth Brome. We cut this for green feed and averaged over 3 bales an acre while leaving 16 inches tall stubble to provide snow catch. We did a quick fall graze on the lush regrowth of oats which helped our regenerative pasture rotation plan. By leaving that snow catch we created an environment to allow the hairy vetch to over winter and the tillage radish to decompose releasing nitrogen to the new hay stand. That new hay and hairy vetch stand produced an impressive amount of hay.

Going forward, we plan now to annually incorporate cover crops into our rotation. I believe it is making positive changes to our soils. With reducing our reliance on inputs our farm has maintained yields and profitability. Our goal is to try to keep a living root in our soils as long as possible. The year 2020 for our operation was super dry but it revealed the first cover crop that I mentioned left biomass that I had to combine in the spring prior to planting to allow us to seed thru. When we seeded into that field covered with all the armor we had moist seeding conditions and resulting lower evaporation moisture loss. I had several farmers tell me to either burn the liter or pro-til it, because the straw was useless. I’m glad that I never listened because it is now all decomposed.

Question #5 Has anyone ever did any testing for their soil or other measures?

My answer is not yet, but soon. We have always soil tested on a semi-regular basis to be told that when our levels are high and it’s calling for reduced inputs that there’s an issue with the test. We are hoping this spring to try different soil test methods. By the cover cropping that I have so far used on our farm, it looks like we have started to make change. Our 3 year rotation between cereals, legumes and oil seeds have added the ability to break disease cycles etc, however we still annually only have been planting mono culture crops. We are working hard to add mixtures of other species while growing these cash crops.