Sunday, April 8, 2018

"Man shall explore without ceasing
and the end of all his exploring
will be to come to where he started
and know the place for the first time"
T.S. Eliot (from my memory)

How much better could our farming be if we kept this poem in mind?

Monday, April 2, 2018


The idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with.  Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers.  After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.

Biomimcry Institute, posted at the Niagara Parks System

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


It is curious that those who are advancing veganism as a one size cure all for everything from obesity to climate change have not seen fit to talk to any farmers.  Now by "farmers" I do not mean commodity groups or political pressure groups or traditional farm groups.  I mean rather some of those farmers who would respond favorably to being called biodynamic or organic or grass farmers.  If an emissary from the intellectual capital of the world-New York and environs-were to make it into the great middle part of the country, she may find a satisfying number of people involved with the land who know that the Middle East is an area desertified by civilizations that fed the overwhelming majority of their people plant based diets. 
She might also find farmers that could tell her that in this time of complete compendiums of knowledge-ask Google-we know fewer than a tenth of the species that we think live in the soil, and even less what they do.  These farmers would know that most of what they know of the soil, they have learned from observation, not academic study.  They would be able to say that perennial agriculture such as pasture and hay crops is most beneficial to the soil, that some of this benefit could be mimicked by using cover crops in and between annual cash crops, that the soil needs animal impact.  Most of these farmers keep steadily in mind that bison, wolves and Indians built the hugely productive grasslands in the country's midsection. 
These farmers know that the best measure of soil health we have today is the percentage of organic matter, that this percentage drops with regular tillage and compaction but is built with perennial plants and grazing animals.  And they are beginning to understand that good grazing practice can build it faster than we previously thought.  People who understand increasing organic matter and its function know that it reduces erosion on land in use and it sequesters carbon. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

grazing land

I spent the morning and much of the afternoon tromping across 120 acres of possible rental land coming out of CRP.  I was trying to investigate the possibilities for a cow calf herd being maintained there.The whole experience was difficult in the snow melt and through the volunteer trees and brush, but there are some things to be happy about.  One of these, though, was not when I happened upon the southwest perimeter, a high steep knoll sloping down toward an occasional creek behind me.  We had already told the owner we would rent the land for grazing only, that it was not suitable for row cropping and to do so would be wrong.  Looking down from my perch on the knoll, across the property line, I could see the effect of corn cropping on inappropriate land.  There was a six foot drop off from the perimeter to the tilled corn field and the soil on the corn field was completely yellow in that location.  The topsoil that should have been there, and was there on my side, due to the CRP use, was gone on the other side, run to the bottom and the creek that drains it.  Perhaps five feet deep on the near side to a foot down to the yellow on the far side and a width of seventy five feet and more.  Tons and tons of valuable black soil, gone forever.  As a farmer, I was sick looking at it

This is on us, both us farmers who have forgotten how to be farmers and the politicians who aid and abet our view of ourselves as economic animals only, with no agriCULTURE anywhere to be found.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sunrise at Pastures A Plenty

We made an important change in our farrowing pens to compensate for sow behavior.  As you can see in the top photo, which shows two empty pens, sows are able to come up toward the black gate and visit with each other across our center alley.   This results in manure and urine being deposited too high in the pen and the slope toward the gutter-on the near side of the photos, but not visible-causes the entire pen, bedding and all to be constantly wet.  We found we needed to blind the pen so that the sow could not see the animals across the center alley, but would need to stand down in the gutter end of the pen in order to visit through the fence.  (This grate in the pen partition is partially visible in the lower photo) 
The materials used for blinding the pen were medium weight sheet steel welded on to the pipes of the pig creep gate and primed and painted.  We invested perhaps three hundred dollars plus time spent to make this changeover on all of our thirty strawed pens.
You will notice that the sow in the lower picture has given up on seeing her mate across the center alley and is concentrating her attention on the animals next to her.  To encourage this behavior, we do all our feeding from the outside alley, on the floor, as well as cleaning the pen, which of course must happen there.  We do distribute bedding from the center.
It is important to add that this is a good layout for farrowing as well, for the sow at farrowing wants to back into a cave like surrounding so that she may birth her pigs while keeping a watchful eye on the open area from which danger might approach, which is us, in this case, from her instinctive point of view.  That deposits her piglets up into the warm well strawed area.  This kind of understanding of pig behavior is important in layout of any new farrowing construction.  It is easier not to fight Mother Nature. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Using bedding

The use of straw or other carbon rich material such as corn stover has always been important to the way we farm here at Pastures A Plenty. Hogs, which are our main livestock business, have an ongoing need to seek and find, to play and manipulate their environment Straw or corn stalks is just what is needed to enrich the environment for them. Hog satisfaction makes for good thrifty production.
We also recognized early on that bedding mixed with the manure did much to modify the smell that accompanies livestock production. Carbon ties up and stabilizes the nitrogen compounds. It is an important adjustment we make to enable us to live with our work, which is critical when the work is more about animals than machines. This is an important principle of any practice of animal husbandry. Close association enables the respect between animal and human that fosters humane values in agriculture. Without it, farming fails into being just another industry. We on the farm can plan a picnic or barbecue at any time without fear that smells and commotion will ruin the event. Since we live right here, we can notice anything out of the ordinary that indicates something wrong with the pigs.

Note the pictures. You can see two phases of our manure handling. First, pretty much all of the residue from our corn crop is baled for bedding in big round bales. We use about 350 of these every year. This project can be a bit nerve wracking as a wet fall makes it difficult to get dry bedding. These bales are hauled to the livestock area and stacked for easy access during the coming winter. Generally six to seven of the bales are used every week for all phases of the hog production cycle, from mama sows to older growing animals. We add bedding regularly right on top the manure and soiled bedding, thus keeping the area clean. We clean the areas less frequently, depending on the particular facility and when we do, old trucks and trailers are used to haul the material to the field where it will be used and stockpile it. This helps us match manure application with crop needs and windows of opportunity to apply. And it allows the manure to compost.
Using hog manure as a solid material prevents us from the over application and runoff into creeks and rivers that is a concern with liquid or slurry manure systems. And the bedding helps make the product into something that the soil seems to recognize. The fact that the feces and urine is already mixed with carbon material that came from the field and has been composting and changing in that form essentially starts the process of incorporating the fertility into the field even before it is spread, we think. Now with the concerns about climate change, we need to know more about how these things work. Does this system return more carbon safely to the soil instead of burning it into the atmosphere? What is the effect of this kind of manure handling on the amount of methane production? We already are studying soil life for clues about how a healthy population of everything that belongs in the soil helps stabilize the climate. But we know less than we need to about the usefulness of manure handled as a solid material simply because the Universities and industry have assumed liquid and slurry systems to be the future and have neglected research in this important area. All this is changing fast, making our business and way of life pretty exciting.