Archive for April, 2013

Pigs Preparing SilvopastureGolf courses and English parks can be very pleasing to the eye. John Barrow postulated that this is because humans evolved in the savannahs of Africa. When we see a grassy landscape with a few trees, our subconscious is thinking “good hunting grounds.” Increasingly, livestock farmers favor these sort of landscapes as well. But not because they look nice. The practice of combining trees with grazing livestock (called “silvopasture” in the ag business) can be a win-win-win. The trees are a valuable cash crop in their own right, plus they provide shade and shelter for the livestock. In hot weather, trees can even increase the growth of forage by shading it.

It is not clear how well this will work in our climate, but we are experimenting to find out. Peter Nash has selectively thinned a piece of his forested land. Our pigs pictured above are happily working on step two: preparing the soil for planting an organic pasture seed mix. It will be some time before we know if it will be possible to graze cattle here. If not, I’m thinking the golf course business looks a lot easier than farming anyway.

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Soybean chart Corn chart

The organic feed that we feed to our chickens is a significant part of our costs, so we have been searching for a way to control it. The price of commercial feed (mostly composed of corn and soy) has been on the rise for the past three years.

It sure would be great if we could grow our own feed grains. But the equipment required to do that is not available for hire in our area. Although chicken farms were once plentiful in New England, now they are mostly gone and so is the infrastructure for supporting them.

In fact, our kind of small-scale agriculture is so unusual in the United States that nobody here makes a combine harvester small enough to load on a trailer and drive from field to field (the way you have to in New England, where farm plots are relatively small and scattered). If we want to buy a small combine, our options are antiques or expensive imports.

Nobody knows whether grain prices will continue to rise. Many are predicting lower prices ahead. For now, we will keep buying from the feed store–at the mercy of the markets.

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