Archive for the ‘Farming Philosophy’ Category

Mud Season

With the amount of rain we are receiving, it is not hard to see why in New England we call it mud season. The ground is no longer frozen, but the grass is not yet growing. It is very easy for cattle to make a muddy mess. It is especially bad for us, because we get flooding from the Merrimack River and because our soil was heavily tilled during its years as a vegetable farm.

In past mud seasons, I have used the common strategy of “sacrificing” one pasture. That is, I fed the animals hay in a single pasture for a month or two—allowing it to become a muddy mess and allowing the rest of the fields to grow back. This year, I am trying something different. I have scattered bales of hay over a large area, and I am moving the animals quickly to keep the soil from getting too damaged. This year we will reseed behind the cattle. In the future, we hope to build up a strong enough base of sod that will hold up under heavy hooves.

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E.coli still remains prominent in the news and recalls of product seem to be happening all too often. What is being done to remedy this?

An article written in the NY Times last December, After Delays, Vaccine to Counter Bad Beef Is Being Tested , describes how the meat industry is testing a new cattle vaccination to help make cattle  immune to a dangerous form of the E. coli bacteria that is resistant to the acidity of the human stomach.  I believe that by vaccinating the cattle, we are only treating the symptoms and not the cause.

Research conducted by Cornell University, Cattle diets could control E. coli danger , shows that cattle fed a grain based diet promote the growth of harmful acid resistant E. coli, and that just feeding cattle hay for five days before butchering, will “dramatically reduce” these forms of E.coli.

Imagine if the cattle ate just grass or hay and did not stand knee deep in their own feces.

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Cows have a natural ability to find the right forage they need to stay healthy. The only problem is that they need certain minerals that just aren’t present in my soil. For example, no species of plant will give them the iodine they need if iodine is not present in the soil. So I have just built a free-choice mineral feeding trough. I filled it with 16 different minerals and let the cows at it. They gobbled up the iodine by the way, and did not touch the sulphur or phosphate (our well water has sulphur in it and our soil is high in phosphate).

Eventually, the minerals they eat will be returned to the soil in their manure, returning balance to the soil and reducing (or eliminating) the need to supplement with the trough.

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I posted earlier about visiting Greg Judy’s farm. Greg’s pastures are so dense, he claims that his cattle will graze even through two feet of snow.

Recently, I was excited to see a bit of snow-grazing on my own place. I have a small amount of stockpiled pasture where the forage was pretty thick before the snow came. When I gave the cows access to this spot with a normal day’s ration of dry hay and high-moisture hay, they bypassed the hay and went straight for the grass through the snow. It was a nice validation that I’m on the right track with Greg’s holistic grazing management concept.

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I just unloaded the last of the hay we’ll need for the winter. This is certified organic hay from Kori Stay of Richville, New York. Not great for our carbon footprint this year, but considering all factors including price and quality, Kori has the best product for us. Eventually, our management system should improve our own pastures enough to let us graze directly through most of the winter, reducing our costs, our use of hay and of fossil fuels.

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Yes, we are farming nerds. Omar and I just attended a grazing class in Missouri taught by master graziers Greg Judy and Ian Mitchell Innes.

For our fellow nerds: the question is how to get the most profit out of an acre of pasture. The Management Intensive Grazing (or “MIG”) school of thought is to graze just when the grass is about to mature. Since grass grows quickly in the spring (more…)

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