Tag Archives: sustainable farming
Winter is here. This year the pasture lasted through December 20th–an improvement over last year, when we were feeding nothing but hay two weeks before Thanksgiving. Our ambition is to have the cattle on pasture again by the first of March 2010, a full two months earlier than we started this year. We look to keep progressively chipping away at the duration of feeding only hay until we are grazing absolutely year-round, with hay as a backup in case of severe weather or unusually heavy snow cover. Most of our neighbors who run cattle here in Central Ohio feed hay from Thanksgiving through the end of April–four to five months of the year. Of course this means they spend nearly all of June and August making the hay.
My radicalization on year-round grazing came when an instructor at the mob grazing seminar I attended last February in State College PA, said, “I’m driving over here from the airport this morning, it’s a winter landscape, all snow-covered, and I see farmland, barns, fencing. But something seemed wrong. Finally I realized–there are no animals. Where are all the animals? They must be penned in somewhere, in barns and barnyards. Back home my cattle are still out on pasture, eating through the snow. Folks, you have got to believe me, this is wasteful and kind of nuts. Cattle are built to graze year-round and to face head-on all but the most extreme elements. I would love to fly in here ten years from now and see herds of healthy animals out and about no matter what time of year…”
I am reading a book by Andre Voisin, Grass Productivity, originally published in 1959, the year I was born. Voisin was experimenting with and documenting with incredible detail the “science” of what he called “rational grazing.” He was a real pioneer. Once again today, there are people pioneering mob grazing techniques (I am their student). Once again this is largely to the consternation and bewilderment of the mainstream ag community. I take it as a badge of honor that I am starting to freak out some of my neighbors (What is he doing now?!). It seems odd to me that I can find, in Voisin’s writings, half a century old, a cogent and persuasive presentation of the very same methods and principles that are considered “new” and “strange” today. It must have seemed just as odd to Voisin, who presents examples of texts in his book from as early as the eighteenth century, including this passage published in Scotland in 1777:
“To obtain this constant supply of fresh grass, let us suppose that a farmer who has any extent of pasture ground, should have it divided into fifteen or twenty divisions, nearly of equal value; and that, instead of allowing his beasts to roam indiscriminately through the whole at once, he collects the whole number of beasts that he intends to feed into one flock, and turns them all at once into one of these divisions; which, being quite fresh, and of a sufficient length for a full bite, would please their palate so much as to induce them to eat of it greedily, and fill their bellies before they thought of roaming about, and thus destroying it with their feet. And if the number of beasts were so great as to consume the best part of the grass of one of these enclosures in one day, they might be allowed to remain there no longer;–giving them a fresh park every morning, so as that the same delicious repast might be again repeated. And if there were just so many parks as there required days to make the grass of these fields advance to a proper length after being eaten bare down, the first field would be ready to receive them by the time they had gone over all the others; so that they might thus be carried round in a constant rotation.”
This excerpt, written 233 years ago, is an outstanding encapsulation of exactly what we are striving to accomplish Up the Lane. I am grateful to be anchored and guided by such tradition. And by the way, my theory is that, no matter how sound and sensible a practice rotational grazing is, it is likely to be “discovered” many more times in the centuries ahead. Why? For the simple fact that it requires the farmer to calm down and simply hang out with the cattle. To settle down into the role of shepherd. That is hardly a role that is in step with the modern and post-modern world we live in. Mostly folks seem to conclude, within a year or two, “OK, so now what?”
For all the romanticizing of the cowboy life as a macho action-adventure kind of thing (as if riding bulls were somehow a part of daily chores!), the truth is that being with cattle is much more akin to day care. Hardly glamorous, in other words. And for most people not something that can sustain their attention. I believe many folks who are into sustainable farming, livestock and vegetables either one, might not be in it for the long haul. It could be a kind of sabbatical for them, an interlude (still-life with pitch fork). I am all in myself. Hopefully I’ll get smarter as I weaken with age so I can do this for a long time. But I do so fully expecting to be forgotten and overlooked one day, so that someone else can “discover” the same things I have. Maybe these electronically posted words can be found then, like fossils, and interpreted.
Keep warm this winter.