August and Katelyn Horstmann characterize soil as “the solution under our feet,” further referring to it as “the basis of all life. Without it, we’re nothing.”
The youthful husband-and-wife team, who own Horstmann Cattle Company, describe themselves as “first-generation regenerative farmers on a third-generation family farm.” Their farmstead lies roughly 75 miles west of Ladue in Owensville and comprises roughly 1,000 acres, divided into more than 50 paddocks.
There, they practice regenerative agriculture, which August Horstmann distinguishes from two similar terms, renewable and sustainable agriculture: “The key difference between regenerative agriculture and sustainable agriculture is the intention. Regenerative agriculture aims to regenerate, or renew, the productivity and growth potential of whatever is being regenerated.
“When regenerating the soil, your plants become more nutrient-dense. More nutrient-dense plants make the animals consuming them healthier with more nutrients and flavor. Healthier meat leads to a healthier consumer.”
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In short, the Horstmanns focus on balance and old-school connectivity – the kind that long predated high-tech connectivity.
“Sustainable practices, by definition, seek to maintain the same, whereas regenerative practices recognize that natural systems are currently impacted,” Horstmann continues, mentioning the use of management techniques to restore and improve productivity. “Regenerative and sustainable actions can use essentially the same practices – the difference is the application and the management of those tools. We always say, ‘Why sustain our degraded soil when we can regenerate it?”
To do so, the Horstmanns employ such conservation practices as cover crops, reduced or no tillage, permanent seedings and intensive rotational grazing.
“With regenerative agriculture, nature is the template to emulate,” Horstmann continues. “Conventional farming aims to control, manipulate and dominate, and follows more of a prescription approach provided by the seed, feed and chemical companies.”
Horstmann then returns to “the basis of all life”: the soil. “When it comes to plants and forages, where in nature do you only see one type of plant growing – monocultures?” he asks rhetorically. “Short answer – you don’t.
“So why would we want to grow just one plant when nature’s template shows us we need a polyculture of diversity? Each plant brings different attributes to the table: short roots, long roots, bushes, grasses, flowers, trees, forbs, etcetera.”
Both figuratively and literally, the soil supports an enviably diverse spread at the Horstmanns’ farmstead. “We currently raise around 260 grass-fed cattle, 20 pastured pigs, 160 laying hens and 100 pasture-raised seasonal meat chickens,” Horstmann says.
The farmstead’s related meat-and-egg business, which delivers every Wednesday and every other Saturday to in-state customers within a 100-mile radius of Owensville, serves Ladue and the surrounding metro area, he relates: “We provide all of our nutrient-dense, pasture-raised proteins delivered straight to your door. All of our products are non-GMO, antibiotic-free and have no added hormones.”
The success of the farmstead hinges on considerable planning based on forage growth, time of year, herd location and weather/rainfall. The rotational grazing of the livestock alone involves complex and varying factors like the paddock-to-paddock logistics of temporary electric fences and netting. “Our cows graze 365 days a year,” Horstmann says.
Ultimately, he briefly discusses soil carbon sequestration (a topic very much at the top of the news because of global warming) before returning to the farmstead’s ecological foundations. “Restoring health to soil has compounding effects,” Horstmann says. “It makes the water purer, air cleaner and ecosystems more diverse.
“Scientists predict that Midwest agricultural soils have lost nearly one-third of their topsoil. Regenerative agriculture reverses these effects. Regenerative agriculture offers hope and abundance for future generations to thrive on this planet.”