For years, Shane New, of Holton, thought he needed a "clean," well-tilled field for his cattle to graze on. He also thought his crops needed to be well-tilled.
As for the cattle, he told a group of ranchers on Feb. 20 at the South Hutchinson Community Center, he grew hay and kept the animals separated from his crops on his farm – New Family Farms.
Then, one day, he became curious, and his curiosity, he told more than 60 producers at the Cheney Lake Watershed event, led him to change the way he farmed – drastically.
"We should not be sitting here broke," said New, who holds a degree from Kansas State University. "I’m starting to figure out how do I stop spending money. It’s almost like a game. Everybody was profiting off of me, and I wasn’t profiting. I was sick and tired of not putting any money in my 401K."
Eventually, New quit cold-turkey and sold his tilling equipment, put in more irrigation wells and pipes and started planting crops he never dreamed of planting 10 years earlier. Crops like rye and spring peas, white clover, oats and flax.
"This regenerative ag is a thinking man’s game," New said. "You’ve got to think of tomorrow. You’ve got to be adaptive. I don’t like being pigeon holed into any situation."
A few years ago, New decided to place his passion into his cattle. He paid attention to their habits – especially when they ate and defecated.
He began to understand the grains and grasses his herd liked to eat, so he provided them with a diverse Kansas mix. He changed their grazing time to midday – when the sun is strongest; this allowed them to ruminate in the evening. Each year, they became healthier and "tastier" – as did his fields.
"They know how to balance their diets if we just give them diversity," New said. "Two pounds a day of gains in yearlings costs me 60 cents an acre. We take our economic return on cattle. We have very little overhead on this operation."
A couple of years ago, New decided to diversify again. He added chickens, and last year, this Jackson County rancher started raising hogs.
"I’m taking something of no value and adding value to it," he said. "(There was) no risk and not much cost. We’re making 35% return on hog production."
By bringing in new enterprises, New increases the dollar value of his acreage. Along with selling beef, chickens, eggs and pork, he is continually benefiting his soil by having the healthy livestock graze the land. Each additional animal requires extra management, but they also bring in more income. This year, he brought in lambs to raise – he already has a buyer for the meat.
As for the pasture pork, New said, "They love everything else that nobody else (the other animals) likes to eat, and they taste pretty good."
UnderstandingAg saw New’s passion and expertise and hired him on. He is managing the field consultants for the General Mills regenerative mentorship pilot program in the Cheney Lake Watershed – in the Reno, Stafford, Kingman, Kiowa and Pratt County area.
Many ranchers and farmers came to learn about New’s practice. The packed room full of ranchers from south-central Kansas listened attentively as he told them cover crops can change the soil temperature by 40 degrees.
"I’m planting grasses and I have grass buffers," said Earl Struthers, from Milton in Sumner County. "It was worth the drive up here to learn more."
New explained how he moved his cattle from one field to the next without sacrificing the living roots in each grazing area.
Ben Colle, an agronomist from Nickerson, said he is always learning.
"I can take this information back to my farmers," said Colle, a crop consultant with Servi-Tech Laboratories, of Dodge City. "It’s good to see how you can increase the rotation and not sacrifice farm revenue."
Last year, New started honey production, and with not too many bees, he landed more than 70 pounds of the sweet nectar.
"I’m bringing new diversity in and around my landscape," New said. "We see grass frogs all the time where I never saw them before. It’s showing me how much hydration we have on our operation. It’s telling me something. And it didn’t cost me a dime."
New told the crowd not to change all at once, but he said they need to become economically viable.
"You start changing yourself and your landscape," New said. "You start building resiliency. That’s what is exciting."