This story is unavailable.

Antoine: Here’s the transcript of the film: Soil Carbon Cowboys © 2015 Carbon Nation

Title graphic #1

Carbon Nation Presents a Peter Byck film

Soil Carbon Cowboys

In collaboration with

Arizona State University and the World Bank

Directed, produced and filmed by Peter Byck

Edited and written by: Hal Honigsberg and Peter Byck

Music: Ben Sollee

Graphics: Mfactor

Executive producers: Sara and Evan Williams Foundation, Paula and Jim Crown, Don Budinger-Rodel Foundation

Graphic #2

“Carbon Nation presents a Peter Byck film”

Graphic #3

“In collaboration with Arizona State University and the World Bank”



“North Dakota. Mississippi. Saskatchewan. Home to hundreds of thousands of cows.”

#2 N. Dennis

“See, they’re all lookin’ at us now. They know there’s somebody different.”

#3 Narrator

“And a few bold ranchers, who got the guts to change when nature forced their hand.”

#4 G. Brown

“When my wife and I went through the four years of crop failure, you know, I’m sure I was not a pleasant man to be around, in that it was extremely high stress.”

#5 N. Dennis

“We got into financial problems and couldn’t make payments and the bank figured we should sell the land and keep doing what we were doing with the big machinery, it was less land, but we dug a hole faster.”

#6 G. Brown

“But my wife and I’ll tell you, best thing that could have happened to us because what it was, it forced us to start looking at the soil.”

Graphic #4

“Soil Carbon Cowboys”

Graphic #5

“Neil Dennis


Saskatchewan, Canada

14 inches yearly rainfall”

Graphic #6

“Gabe Brown


Bismarck, North Dakota

16 ½ inches yearly rainfall

“Gabe’s son Paul”

Graphic #7

“Allen Williams

PhD — Rancher

Starkville, Mississippi

45 inches yearly rainfall”

#7 Narrator “Since the 1800s, letting cattle roam freely for weeks and months was second nature.”

#8 A. Williams

“Well, this would be a very typical, conventionally grazed situation, in where they’re allowed to just keep returning back to the exact same area day after day to graze.”

#9 N. Dennis

“But then you start getting cows eating the same plant all the time and then they go after the best ones and that weakens the root system on those, so the poorer plants take over, so we’ve ended up with poorer and poorer pasture every year.”

#10 Narrator

“With their pastures dying, Neil’s wife insisted he take a class from someone teaching a new way to graze.”

#11 N. Dennis

“I soon found out that it was easier to go along than argue with her, so I went for the one day, but I didn’t want to be there, so from ’98 to 2004 I tried to prove him wrong and I didn’t have much luck. Everything started to turn around when I started doing things different, I got different results.”

#12 Narrator

“Results produced by grazing that regenerates the soil, equal parts art and science with a splash of history.”

#13 G. Brown

“Our prairie soils were formed by large herds of bison, elk, they would move, they’d graze an area, and keep moving, and they might not return to that area for a year, maybe two years.”

#14 Narrator

“To mimic this herd migration, they break up their ranches into small areas called paddocks.”

#15 N. Dennis

“I’m going out to set up a temporary fence and make a small paddock of one acre or less. So, I hang a batt-latch on the permanent post and twelve feet away I pound a temporary post and string my wire across and then I come back and put my step-in pigtails in and then I go put electricity in the fence and that’s it. I can put one up and down a quarter of a mile in eighteen minutes. I’ll put anywhere from, oh, 800 to 1,000 head on an acre or ½ an acre.”

#16 A. Williams “The cattle readily move into a new paddock because they always know they’re gonna get a fresh bite of grass and what happens is that, at higher stock densities, these cattle feel like things are a little competitive. They figure, ‘if I don’t get it, my neighbor’s gonna get it,’ so they go ahead grab and bite and grab and bite.”

#17 N. Dennis

“In two to two and a half hours it’ll be either eaten or tramped on the ground.”

#18 A. Williams

“We graze it and then we get the heck off of it.”

#19 N. Dennis

“It’s ate off pretty good, you’ll see some places are a bit shorter than others.”

#20 Narrator

“The magic is how long to stay off.”

#21 N. Dennis

“This is an 80 day recovery on this one right now and that’s where I think I need to be, instead of anything less.”

#22 A. Williams

“For several decades, we sorta pushed monocultures in pastures, you know, plant just Bermuda grass or just fescue — why? Because it was easy, you were managing for one species, you knew how to fertilize a monoculture, but when you manage a polyculture, a cocktail mix, then that’s something that, for today’s generation, is a little foreign.”

#23 N. Dennis

“I’ll take you down, show you that cocktail mix I threw in so we get a picture of it before cows eat it.

This here is ‘black medic,’ it’s a legume, and it puts down nitrogen.”

#24 G. Brown

“This species right here is called ‘hairy vetch,’ very high in protein, it’ll be over thirty percent protein.”

#25 N. Dennis

“I got sunflowers, corn.”

#26 G. Brown

“This plant here is called ‘Phacelia,’ that flower attracts the pollinators and we want the pollinators in our system.”

#27 A. Williams

“In many areas of the U.S. and in many areas globally we’re seeing a dearth of pollinator insects and we have found that, if we provide the habitat for pollinators they will return.”

#28 N. Dennis

“ ‘K, these are ‘sow thistles,’ they’re a weed, but if you eat them when they’re just flowering or in the bud, early bud stage, they’re higher protein than what the alfalfa is.”

#29 A. Williams

“My philosophy now is this: If livestock eat it and it provides nutrition to those livestock, it’s not a weed it’s a forage.”

#30 N. Dennis

“Some guys might get the spray can out, they want to spray every weed there is.”

#31 A. Williams

“And the truth is, if I went in here and sprayed a herbicide to take care of these small amount of weeds that we have, I would also be taking care of my red clover, white clover and all my other legumes in there and getting rid of those and we’re savin’ money. You know, we’re not having to buy herbicide, we’re not havin’ to employ machinery, you know, tractors and equipment to put it out as well.”

#32 G. Brown

“Why do I want to go out and spend thousands upon thousands of dollars every year on synthetic fertilizer when I can grow these crops for just the cost of the seed, they’ll make the nitrogen for me and then my livestock will come around and eat these plants and convert it to dollars for me to sell. So I’m getting all my fertilizer basically for a profit because I’m making money off of these crops.”

#33 A. Williams

“You know, these plants are just, almost goin’ nuts, so to speak, with photo-synthetic activity once we take the cattle off and that is allowing these plants, as they are rapidly re-growing to capture carbon out of the air and put it back into the soil.”

#34 Narrator

“Because of over-grazing, over-use of chemicals and erosion, the amount of carbon in our soils is dangerously low.”

#35 G. Brown

“I think our whole world revolves around the carbon in the soil because it’s those carbon molecules that feed soil life and it’s those microorganisms that feed all the plants that nourish all the animals that feed civilization.”

#36 Narrator

“Many have thought restoring large amounts of carbon to soil would take centuries, these folks only need a decade and maybe less.”

#37 G. Brown

“Last month we did soil test on our operation and what we found is that we’ve over-tripled the amount of organic matter, in other words, the amount of carbon, stored in our soils.”

Graphic #8

“Gabe’s farm one day after 13” rain”

#38 Narrator

“Carbon-rich soils soak up heavy rainfall.”

Graphic #9

“Neighbor’s farm months after 13” rain”

#39 Narrator

“Carbon-depleted soils, don’t”

#40 N. Dennis

“When there was quite a bit of rain, the water would run down the hill and there would be water laying in the bottom of that slough and now I get better water infiltration, that doesn’t happen to me anymore.”

#41 G. Brown

“In 1993 we could only infiltrate one half inch of rainfall per hour. Now we can infiltrate over eight inches of rainfall per hour. Think of the ramifications of that. I tell people, ‘it’s not how much moisture and rainfall you get, it’s how much can your soils hold.’”

#42 Narrator

“Because carbon-rich soils hold onto water, they help the ranchers weather droughts.”

#43 G. Brown

“This was seeded eight weeks ago and it’s only seen 38/100 an inch of rainfall, yet look how healthy it is.”

#44 A. Williams

“The way that we graze these cattle and run these cattle and with the health of the soil and the plants that they’re feeding on, they stay healthy, they don’t get sick, they don’t need to be treated.”

#45 N. Dennis

“I used to carry a crossbow, three big bottles of medicine for treating them and now, out of the 850 head here, I’ve only treated less than 20 this year.”

#46 A. Williams

“This particular farm here is about a thousand acres in size and in terms of day-to-day activity, building paddocks for the week, moving cattle, you’re looking at the person that does that on a day-to-day basis.”

#47 N. Dennis

“I’ve got more spare time on my hands than I know what to do with. I do a lot of thinking of how to do all of these things easier. If I was to start this when I was your age, you know what would have happened? I would have had fifteen kids by now ’cause I spent so much time in the house.”

#48 A. Williams

“You know, this is always the best part of my day. I guess one of the reasons I’m content is because you clearly see they’re content, they’re happy.”

#49 N. Dennis

“We’re still here after 10 or 15 years and we wouldn’t have been if we had kept doin’ what we were. I’d have been flipping hamburgers somewhere.”

#50 G. Brown

“It’s extremely low stress because we’re working with nature, instead of against her.”

#51 N. Dennis

“My mother didn’t think much of it when I first started it, she was pretty upset seein’ all the weeds, now she’s braggin’ to her friends about what I’m doin’.”

Graphic #10

“Over the last 200 years, our soils have lost more than half their carbon.”

Graphic #11

“These ranchers’ soils are thriving — sucking down tons of carbon from the air, and getting it back in the ground, where it used to be.”

Graphic #12

“To really find out what’s happening on these ranches, the scientists on our ASU-SoilCarbon Nation research team will measure a bunch of stuff…

Graphic #13

“How much carbon is stored in these healthy soils, and for how long? How much methane do the cows burp vs. how much methane do the soil microbes eat? How much rainwater soaks into healthy soils?”

Graphic #14

“Do these soil ranchers make more money than their neighbors? And if enough ranchers regenerated their soils, could they slow down climate change?”

Graphic #15

“For more info:”

Graphic #16

“to be continued…”

Graphic #17

“©2014 Earth School Educational Foundation, Inc.”

Like what you read? Give Carbon Nation a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.