Spring has come just in time to save our dispositions!  The young apple tree on the bank of the root cellar has broken out in bloom, the cows are out on good green grass at last, and the heifer calf that got herself stuck in a hot fence and was laid up in the nurse pen has found a new interest and is out with the ewes and lambs.  IMG_5155

— and the peas and carrots we put out in hope back in February are reaching for the sun!IMG_5156

See you in Asheville — #MENF !

We took a trial run down to Asheville for a workshop on bionutrients by Dan Kittredge at Living Web Farms.  It was wonderful, and the little city of Asheville is one of the most beautifully situated we have ever seen, very much at home in its mountains.  We’re looking forward to going back in two weeks to speak at the Mother Earth News Fair, May 6-7, on rotational grazing and regenerating abused land.  Hope to see you there — #MENF!babybull1These are season-appropriate topics, we think, as we move animals over the gorgeous new green grass and marvel at how much the land has improved since we first began intensively grazing what was then some much-eroded, compacted, weed- and briar-infested rock and clay hillside.   Delphinium, our five-year-old Jersey-Ayershire cross, calved last week, a lovely little red bull, so now we have milk for cheese making — just in time, too, as there are only two more seven-pound goudas left from the fall cheese-making last year.


Known around here under the euphemism ‘poo-brew’.  Mix it up in a 55 gallon barrel:  cow manure, cow urine (we catch it in a bucket when someone forgets where she is and pees in the milking parlor), a couple of handfuls of dirt from an undisturbed site like maybe the woodlot, or under a bush, plus some jaggery (raw sugar) and bean flour.  Recommended proportions vary widely.  Top the barrel up with water and stir once a day for up to a week.  The smell is more than intense!  We used this on and under the winter squash lasts summer.  Beautiful large crop, despite the fact that the soil in that bed was mostly clay.

We post this to say that we have had, we think, excellent success substituting whey (a gallon or two) for the jaggery and bean flour — still contains sugar and protein, but tons of probiotics, too.

jobs for chickens

chickens in low tunnel   Thirteen mixed hens, mostly Rhode Island Reds, are all that is left of the flock of two years ago, the year the coyotes were so bold in daytime raids.  We keep them separate from the Buckeyes which have replaced them, mostly using the Reds to groom pastures or till green manures into the big garden plots, but they have laid decently for us on their diet of mixed fermented grains, meat scraps, and greens, with a little dairy waste thrown in.

This winter they have been housed in one of the tall chicken tractors (there’s a picture  somewhere, but all I can find is this one of hens in a low tunnel), plastic covered, and furnished with two nesting boxes — these last have been mostly extraneous, but one fertile hen has continued to make her offering every day.  We park the tractor in the home garden, where it just straddles two 30 inch beds and the path between them; in two days the chickens have ripped out all the chickweed we are so prone to in winter.  Then we move them forward.  It’ll be weeks before they’ve cleaned all the beds we need done.  We could just let them out to forage the whole garden during the day, since that plot is tightly fenced, but the high tunnel full of spinach is in there, too, and with the warm weather we’ve been having the tunnel has had to be left open, and wouldn’t the hens have a hayday in there if they could.  Better to keep them penned (the chickens don’t agree) and keep their impact concentrated where it does the most good.

We were asked recently about regenerative techniques for land adjacent to an auto shop which appeared to be laden with automotive chemicals.  So far corn, sunflowers and brassicas are coming to the top of the list in our research.

Just a note:  if we were growing these plants on contaminated soil, we would probably cut and compost them initially, certainly we would not graze them with meat or dairy animals, since heavy metals tend to get concentrated in muscle and milk —

grass actuarials

Calculating winter forage is an exercise in sliding scales.  While the number of animals may be static, their size or stage of gestation is not.  Calves are getting bigger, both on the ground and in utero, so their forage requirements are going up.  If the weather is very cold, everyone has to burn more calories to stay warm, so paddocks have to be larger;  conversely, if it’s warm and wet the food value of the standing grass is going down, meaning larger paddocks still.  Standing grass quality is going to go down in February anyway, whatever the temperatures, so there will have to be some supplementation — hay — if we want the lactating cows to keep their production up; but as the same cows reach the last two months before their calving dates they are dried off, moving them back down in caloric needs, as well as moving them off the better-quality pastures out front and putting them out back with the dry cows on the rougher pastures.

Keeping up with these variations isn’t just difficult — it’s impossible.  Does that make grazing calculations hopeless?  Not at all.  On a day-to-day basis we can gauge how much pasture to allow by experience seasoned with a good dose of intuition.  On a whole-season basis we haven’t got it figured out yet, and maybe never will, meaning we can’t know how much hay we’ll need in a given winter until the winter is over.  So we fill the barns in summer and scope out sources we can tap for late winter hay in case we reach March/April with more cows than forage.

In any case, we’ll be glad of every mouth we have out there when the grass comes on in May.

logo   Thanks to PASA for a great conference last weekend!  Gabe Brown and Janisse Ray keynoted, philosophical and practical voices urging and encouraging all of us toward diverse ecologies and simple lifestyles, toward greater food independence and intensified community interdependence.

One thought that comes to our minds is that the sustainable agriculture community of the future may — perhaps should — come to include in large proportion a class of farmer that once made up most of the human race, and today is hardly on our organic maps.  We mean the family farmer, the man, woman or couple who stewards a few acres very well, grows his own and his family’s food with some over for extended family, community and charity, and also plies a trade or avocation.  Not just one or the other, farming or avocation, will make up his entire occupation and living, but both or either, simultaneously or cyclically.

A glance at the map of the U.S. in particular, or the world in general, will inform inquiry that,  indeed, much of the habitable portion of the planet is too far from a civic center for direct-market (farm to consumer) sales to make up an entire income anyway.  Is that land to remain in the hands of ‘conventional’ (and destructive) agriculture?  or is it to return entirely to grazing lands, for large herds which will have to be shipped long distances to market?  If areas far distant from concentrated populations of people with money to spend on responsibly, sustainably grown food, are to be regenerated and restored to deep fertility, these will have to be farmed intimately by careful stewards, at least for the foreseeable future, without the farmer deriving a full living from cash crop sales. Who then is to farm them?

Our visits to PASA and other excellent ag events suggest to us that there is an army of interested, informed and avid farmers of many ages eager to take up the challenge.  It is an issue we think is going to need great deal more attention over the next few years.