Charles and Lynn Blankenship
Grundy County, Tennessee
Charles and Lynn Blankenship moved to Altamont, Tennessee, about four years ago and purchased a 230-acre farm – 100 acres of which are pasture – to raise Red Angus and Sim Angus cattle. Their property is dotted with caves and streams, making it great for hiking and enjoying the beauty of the landscape.
Charles first became interested in grazing ecology reading “Stockman Grass Farmer” and other books on intensive grazing management systems. He studied the differences between intensive grazing and continuous grazing and received guidance from Dewitt Simerly, NRCS district conservationist for Grundy County, and Gregg Brann, NRCS state grazing specialist and soil health specialist for Tennessee. Together, they began comparing notes with Jim Malooley, another Soil Health Champion, and in no time, Charles began high stocking in small paddocks over short durations.
The Blankenships currently have 20 cows, with plans to cull to 17, a calf crop of 22 with some twins, and 17 yearlings. They’ve accomplished 100% conception rates the last few years, which Charles credits to his grazing system, good minerals, and good quality hay.
The Blankenships rotate the herd between 14 permanent paddocks everyday during the grazing season and move them to sacrificed pastures during the winter time (two to three months), which are repaired with seeding. During average rainfall and when grass is growing rapidly, they try to move the herd through all the pastures in thirty days; and after that, they graze in one-acre paddocks up to 50-60 days at a time, moving them on to new paddocks once the grass reaches approximately 12 inches in height and again when it gets down to about 6 inches.
In addition to their beef herd, they graze a few sheep, three hogs, and range chickens for eggs. Charles and Lynn buy all of their hay for the winter, and utilize all their grass for grazing. They also grow an organic garden – about 1/10th of an acre in size – where they graze chickens in the fall after harvest and control weeds with straw mulch, hay, and black plastic. They use the chicken manure with hay as a compost, which soil tests confirm is meeting the crops’ nutrient needs.
In 2016, their average soil organic matter (SOM) was 4% – much higher than most native forest in the area at 3%, and local farms at 1.5%. Charles credits the farm laying idle in grass (Kentucky-31 fescue) and weeds many years prior to them buying the farm, improving the pastures with clover (and some orchard grass and timothy), and intensive grazing for the high SOM levels.
Their nutrient management is based on annual soil testing. Charles uses composite samples per 15 acres and sends them to the University Soil Test Laboratory. They apply 60-0-60 pounds of fertilizer on pastures and maintain a pH range of 6.2 to 6.7. They have not limed since buying the farm in 2013 and have a goal to phase-out fertilizer use on their pastures.
When Charles and Lynn began their current management system, their goals were to increase available water holding capacity and increase water infiltration in their shallow soils. They’ve since installed livestock exclusion practices to keep them out of streams, ponds, and other fragile landscapes and are in the process of installing permanent Ritchie Water tanks with float valves. They also graze their pastures to reduce blackberries and broom sedge.
Charles is very enthusiastic about his current management system and says the main reason other farmers haven’t tried it yet because they see daily herd movement as time consuming. To that, he says: it takes less than one hour to rotate livestock each afternoon.