I have what might best be described as "Ancestral Memories" of family ranching.  My grandfather had approximately 16,000 acres - or about 25 square miles - of land in Western Kansas on which he ran a herd of about a thousand cows.  Apparently this was the largest piece of actual range land, unplowed and covered with Buffalo grass remaining in Kansas.  When I was really young I'd visit and be totally incapable of absorbing the enormity of that space, or the tasks of managing cattle. When I was a young adult, wet behind the ears and very much a kid from California I had this idea about natural or organic beef and I coulda, shoulda moved to Kansas and toughed it out to make that idea happen.  Instead I now have approximately 15 acres of pasture and a little herd of little cows.

Dexter Cattle hail from Ireland, and although they aren't hard to find they are considered a heritage breed.  Don't call them mini or dwarf - they are "short-legged" cows, but yeah, they're about half the weight of your classic Holstein cow.  This smaller size has benefits in terms of infrastructure and handling, but the smaller cow also has, quite literally, a smaller footprint.  This is critical in our rainy environment as the animals cause less damage to the soil structure and grass root systems.

The herd is almost entirely grass fed.  During the spring and summer they munch down greens from the pastures.  In the winter they get hay.  And scattered through the year they get treats in the form of high-quality bread scraps courtesy of the awesome Tabor Bread.  I'd love to say that they are "organic" but I'm not there yet.

The herd has two jobs.  First, they convert grass from a human indigestible food into human nutritious  milk and beef.  Wow, are they good at this job!  Second, grazing actually improves pastures.  It seems counter-intuitive, but think about it ... where did all that top soil in the Great Plains come from? (that is, before most of it was blown away or washed down the Mississippi).  Giants herds of buffalo roamed around, eating some grass, trampling what remained and leaving behind lovely piles of manure.  Repeated over time, you build up some seriously rich - and carbon dense - top soil.  My herd does the same thing, on a much smaller scale.

Even with eight head of cattle, its important to "play buffalo".  Sticking the cattle into a field and letting them hang there for a season sort of works... but it works better with pasture rotation.  Each day during the grazing season they get a small patch of grass to munch on, and then that patch will sit for 30 to 60 days to regrow.  Controlling access to the grass is critical as it gives the grass a chance to recuperate, grow more and maintain reserves in its roots.