Archive for the ‘small independent farms’ Category

In answer to questions about winter stockpile:

‘Stockpiled forage’ means mature plants left standing in the pasture and reserved for use after the growing season.  Note that we say ‘mature’ plants, not senescent or lignous.  We time our summer grazing to leave half the pasture acres untouched after their mid-summer grazing.  For this part of Ohio (east central, zone 6), that means that somewhere around the middle of July, or a bit later, whatever we graze over the next six to eight weeks is going to be taken out of the rotation for the rest of the growing year.  About half the farm will be grazed over this lste-summer period.  Then in Sept/Oct/Nov we graze the other half, leaving the earlier pastures to regrow.  We’ll probably make two rotations on the part we’re not stockpiling, depending on what the weather is doing.  In a perfect year — 2018 was pretty satisfactory — we’ll get some good rains and lots of regrowth, and the stockpiled pastures will be fully mature when the cold weather sets in.  Then come late November/early December we finish grazing the fall pastures and start around on the stockpile.

It probably goes without saying that we’ve stockpiled the pastures where we have the most frost-free water (spring-fed tanks).  We don’t like permanent lanes and the impact they get, but in the winter when there’s no snow on the ground we have to leave a temporary lane open back to water.  We use reels to build the lanes, and move them often to minimize the opportunity for back grazing.  Some of the bunch grasses (especially orchard grass) are going to be hit too hard if the cows get bored and start lounging back toward water, so we watch for this and shift the lane fence accordingly.  This method works well for us, and the improvement we’ve seen in our pasture composition and productivity over the last six years has been very satisfactory.

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The Sow’s Ear Farm and Pottery invites you to join us for a

Winter Cheese Workshop

January 19, 2019

(limit 6 attendees per workshop)

Raw Milk Cheese Craft

Raw milk — from Grass to Gouda

Spend a full day with Beth and Shawn, farmers and natural cheese makers of twenty years experience, on the farm and in the kitchen at the Sow’s Ear — where cows and milk are the foundation of the farm diet. Enjoy ten hours of small-group instruction, conversation, and hands-on experience making fresh and fermented milk foods from raw, all-grass derived Jersey milk.  Ours are simple, home-farm methods — no special tools, no finicking instructions, no purchased cultures — just fresh, raw milk, rennet, salt, and a thermometer.  Learn to preserve your own milk harvest, and take home dairy ferments to share with your family!


  • making and aging raw milk cheeses in the home dairy
  • milk production and handling
  • home dairy management
  • intensive grazing and bovine nutrition for the small farmer

Schedule (5:30am – 3:30pm)

  • meet and greet the cows – join us for the morning milking at 5:30am(-can’t face the early morning milking? Arrange to spend Friday night in our beautiful guest house and you can come along for the Friday late afternoon milking – 4:00pm. Then sleep in on Saturday and join us at breakfast time for a full day of cheese making!)
  • make natural-culture gouda, mozzarella, and cream cheeses; churn butter, and set yogurt
  • ten hours of instruction, hands-on, and conversation
  • two delicious farm-raised meals

Attendance: $125/person; $200/couple

(limit 6 attendees, for lots of hands-on and one-on-one)

guest house overnight stay (optional): $35/person, $50/couple

email us at shawnandbeth@att.net or call 740-537-5178 to reserve your place with a $50 deposit

Got Raw Milk? This workshop is designed to make you comfortable turning delicious, nutritious raw milk into food for today, tomorrow, and the whole year. No special tools or cultures – raw milk is the safest, most versatile food on the farm. Probiotic, rich in proteins and fats, milk gives us yesterday’s sunshine in today’s food — learn to store it and you feed the farm and the family year-round. When you eat all-grass dairy, yesterday’s sunlight is today’s dinner!


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Setting up fence with the Nov. 10 workshop — it takes some practice to hang up a reel!  We had a wonderful day regardless of the cold, damp weather.  Passive water systems, home dairying, intensive rotational grazing, and feeding farm animals from the produce of the farm.  Thanks to all who attended, we had a great time —

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Topping mangels in the field.  Topped roots are bagged in used feed sacks and go into the root cellar for a few weeks of aging, after which they are more easily digestible.  The tops will be fed out to the pigs over the next couple of weeks, providing a valuable element of green food in these late fall days.

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We are really excited about giving this whole-day workshop on holistic farming for the Organic Growers School and Living Web Farm in North Carolina; first, because the topic is so close to our hearts, and secondly because Appalachia is such a wonderful region for just this kind of farming, and has a history and culture built from this kind of farming.  The small, regenerative, independent farm fits naturally into our spring- and stream-fed hills, creek bottoms and valleys;  methods of permaculture and pastoralism let us become contributors to local health and abundance.  If you’re in the area, think about coming out to hear some great speakers and meet hundreds of holistic farmers!

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What are we farming for?  The question of where viability lies for the small farm is one that is hardly being addressed today, possibly because we don’t realize it’s a question.  Culturally, we have almost lost the knowledge that our needs can be met without passing through the medium of cash exchange.  The impulse that is moving many people (‘many’ — relative term; let’s say, rather:  big number; small percentage of total population) to want to shift our dependence from an industrial-mechanical model to a soil-plant-and-or-animal model does not necessarily deprogram our commerce-trained images of provision.   What that means, as we see it, and in plain language, is that often when people think they want to farm, they have two different images in their minds, and only a vague notion of how the two fit together – or whether they are even compatible.

Like this:  we say we want to farm, and with the word ‘farm’ come images into our minds of baby animals, and lettuce seedlings luminous in black soil, and blue sky and white clouds, and a basket full of brown eggs — you get the picture; while somewhere else in our minds — and with the presumption that there is a connection — we are checking off the box that keeps an eye on our bank balance and credit rating and Amazon Prime account.  We want a life other than the one we have now, one meshed into the natural world – that part is clear – but persistently, to our modern industrial minds, the necessities of that life, any life, come shrink-wrapped and with a UPC code.  That is, we buy them.  ‘I want to be a country person’ means, because we don’t know it can mean anything else, ‘I want to live in the country and do nature-things and identify myself as a nature-person, and pay my bills from that narrative.’  That consequent to our change of lifestyle some or many of our bills should go away, or how they should go away, seldom crosses our minds.


Don’t get us wrong.  Kudos to the guys who can import compost and water and seeds on an acre or two of land somewhere within an hour of a prosperous city, use those materials to grow excellent produce for direct-marketing to city plates, and make fifty thousand dollars or so a year thereby; we honor you.  You are doing a good thing and a meaningful one, and we’re glad someone is out there doing it.  May there be many more of these, and may petro-derived vegetables become a thing of the past.


But – and here is the nub of our thought – but – for the sake of clarity, and that we may all know what we are wishing for when we find ourselves with an irrepressible itch to get out of town and get our hands dirty, let’s acknowledge a distinction between building an imports/exports business around nutrients conversion – compost/soil amendments/seeds/pumped water into organic vegetables (milk, eggs, meat) for cash exchange — and building a life and a lifestyle around a place, ecology, and community of plants and animals and people.   Growing good food without chemicals in a healthy compost and receiving just remuneration for that congenial and exciting task, such that you can afford to pay your bills, including – and well do you deserve it –buying good organic meat, dairy and eggs from other folk with similar methods and values, is a great good.  It is not the same thing, however, as settling down in a place and becoming part of its living community such that that place and that community, complementary to your respectful, attentive cooperation and care, feed, warm, teach and make you at home there, thus meeting your most basic needs directly and so removing them from the realm of cash provision.    Because in the first instance you are still buying most of your necessities, so you need your organic growing to turn a tidy profit.  In the second instance, your plant/animal/human/soil community is supplying many, even most, of your needs, so your cash requirements go down, and can be satisfied with an expenditure of less time.  There’s farming, and there’s farming.



Which is not to say that there is not some state that combines the two:  growing your own food and also supplying your need for cash from farm activities.  A mature, ecologically whole farm can, usually does, generate nutrients beyond what is necessary for abundance on the farm, and it is these nutrients that have traditionally supplied export.  But if from the outset we fail to see the distinction between these two things which are both called ‘farming’, we may easily end up chasing one half of the picture and wondering why the other is getting away from us.

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Here’s some of what we do on winter evenings:

long, slow projects;

warm, timely work;

and alternate ways of playing in the mud.

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