Holistic Management Beyond the Pasture

I recently wrote an article (Pigs, Pride, & Permaculture) on the recent re-evaluation of our farm endeavors. Basically, we had become overwhelmed by trying to do too much. On top of that, my wife and two daughters were injured in a farm accident which, thankfully, was not serious.

The culmination of these events made us stop and really think about what and why we are doing what we are doing. I explained how we are using Permaculture as a general lens to evaluate our goals. I hinted at our using Holistic Management, but I didn’t really go into it in that article.

I had an overwhelmingly positive response from that article, and I am so appreciative of that. But I did have one reader ask a probing question. We are planning a Holistic Management course in November, and this reader asked why, if we are feeling so overwhelmed, are we still planning on running a 3-day course?

I thought this was a great question, and I wanted to dive into this a bit more. Let me start with the paragraph I use to describe Holistic Management:

Holistic Management is a systems-thinking approach to managing resources. It is a process of decision-making and planning that gives people the insights and management tools needed to understand nature: resulting in better, more informed decisions that balance key social, environmental, and financial considerations. In the context of the ecological restoration, managers implement Holistic Planned Grazing to properly manage livestock and improve pasture and grazing lands.

This may seem like a really wordy definition, so let me break it down a bit.

Holistic Management was developed in Zimbabwe by Allan Savory to combat desertification… that is, the desert’s expansion into areas that were previously not desert. By learning how to regenerate grasslands, prairies, and savannas, Alan Savory developed a system that can be used to manage highly complex ecosystems. And while Holistic Management can be used on ranches and farms, it can also be used to manage any system with complex socioeconomic and environmental factors such as a family enterprise or business.

The Permaculture Wardrobe

I see Holistic Management as an amazing tool within the “Permaculture Wardrobe”. For those unfamiliar with the Permaculture Wardrobe, let me explain. I first heard the term from Geoff Lawton (current director of the Permaculture Research Institute Australia), and I am not sure if the concept originated with him, but the wardrobe is an idea that describes the knowledge that can be drawn from and the skills that can be applied to a Permaculture project. I drew the illustration above after many years of hearing about the wardrobe. All our tools and methods must agree with, or fall in line with, Permaculture’s Three Ethics engraved at the top of the wardrobe.

Holistic Management is a wonderful system I personally use to implement systems on my homestead and farm. I use it within the guiding umbrella of Permaculture… the Prime Directive, the Ethics, and Principles. Specifically, it provides a framework to implement Permaculture; a way to actually put all of these great Permaculture ideas and ideals into practice.

We have attempted to filter all our farm/homestead decisions through the personal holistic goals we developed. This isn’t some new-age, philosophical, pseudo-religiosity. This is a practical and intentional method to set goals and work toward them. This is the actuality of Holistic Management used in the real world. It has worked beautifully on our pastures, and when we use it, it works beautifully beyond our pastures into almost every aspect of our farm and homestead.

Unfortunately, we stopped using Holistic Management. It wasn’t on purpose. We just drifted away from it. And then things started to unravel. I wrote about this in my article, and I had so many people comment through my website, through Facebook, and through email that I know I am not the only one who has felt overwhelmed, felt over-extended, felt like I’ve got too many things going on, felt like I am spending too much time on things that are not important to me and my family.

So, we are going back to the basics, so to speak. We are going back to our Holistic Management plan. We are going to actively use it to get ourselves back on track.

And this is why we want to bring a Holistic Management course to our area… because we personally see the benefit of using it. Holistic Management is not a cure-all, but it is an amazingly effective tool.

Kirk Gadzia has over 30 years experience teaching the concepts of Holistic Management and has taught over 250 Holistic Management training seminars and workshops internationally.

Ultimately, I feel good about sharing my successes and failures so that others can benefit from them. I am glad to be able to offer a Holistic Management course at our farm, and I am really excited that we were able to book Kirk Gadzia to teach it. Kirk is probably one of the best Holistic Management teachers in the world… and I mean that literally.

I am not a salesman, and I really hope I never sound like one. I strongly recommend taking a Holistic Management course, but I don’t care where you take it. Another course or another location or another date may work better for you. But if our course works well for you, that is great, and I really look forward to meeting you!

In closing, I’ll share a video of Allan Savory’s Ted Talk, the originator of Holistic Management:

 

Holistic Management in Practice course at the Bauernhof Kitsteiner
Bulls Gap, Tennessee
2-4 November 2017 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday)

 

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Pigs, Pride, and Permaculture

The pig paddocks have had too much impact!

It was the smell of failure.

Insidious. It seemed to creep up so slowly.

I was standing at the edge of our pig paddock, and all I could smell was the overpowering odor of pig manure.

Actually, I was at the edge of one of two pig paddocks, and we still had a third paddock on the other side of the farm. But these two paddocks had too many pigs on them for too long. Their impact on the land had been too much.

This system was failing. This system was screaming at me to be fixed.

Something had to change.

My wife and two daughters (3 and 5-years-old) were pinned under the four wheeler.

A week earlier, I was travelling back from my brother’s wedding.

The plane landed, and my phone started buzzing with texts sent while I was flying:

My wife and two daughters had been in a four wheeler accident. 

The four wheeler flipped.

All three were pinned underneath.

They were heading to the emergency department.

My 5-year-old was scraped up but doing well.

My wife was bruised and needed CT scans… no significant injuries.

My 3-year-old daughter was complaining of abdominal pain, was vomiting, and had blood in her urine.

She had a CT scan… some significant bruising. Probable kidney contusion. But everything was okay.

By the time I was able get home, the emergency had passed. But the near tragedy was, and is, still fresh.

We have fallen in love with this land, but we were not enjoying it like we should.

We have only been at our farm for two years.

The first year had been wonderful.

But things had changed during this second year.

With the stench of manure in the air and the bruises on my family, I knew something had to change.

The near tragedy shook us out of the routine we had fallen into.

Our Vietnamese Potbelly – Gloucestershire Old Spot piglets.

How had it gotten to this point?

Over the previous few months, I had observed multiple issues with our pig system. It had started moving in the wrong direction. When we first started with pigs, our thought was to incorporate a wide variety of breeds in our herd. I wanted to see what worked best for us and for our land. Included in our herd were a couple Vietnamese Potbelly Pigs. This small breed was very resilient, but it was just too small for what we were aiming for. Unfortunately, I had not separated the boar from our two potbelly sows… I had too many things on my list, and I separated them too late. Well, not surprising, we had undesired litters from each of our Vietnamese Potbelly sows.

So we now had three separate herds: 1) young uncastrated males (we didn’t castrate them, because I didn’t get to it… too many things going on!), 2) young females and older females we didn’t want bred, and 3) our main herd (boar and selected sows). Keeping three herds fed, watered, and on fresh pasture is a lot of work, especially when the weather is getting hot.

The pigs have a heavy impact on the land. We anticipated this, and we had designated an area for us to rotate our herd. Unfortunately, with the extra pigs and multiple herds, the land didn’t have enough time to recover by the time we needed to move the pigs to the next paddock. The result was degraded soil with no cover and an excess of manure building up.

Get to the root cause!

But the pigs were just one example, or better yet, a symptom, of the underlying problem.

I am a strong proponent of getting to the root cause of problems. Finding and fixing the failure is important, but discovering the underlying reason that the failure occurred in the first place is paramount to preventing similar problems in the future.

We needed to search for the underlying cause.

So what went wrong?

First, I know I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. We have had many successes on the farm. With our pigs specifically, I know they were actually in much better conditions than most other pig operations I have seen. But these were my pigs on my land under my management. And this is not how I wanted to raise them.

Second, we lost sight of what our goals were. As a general rule, I don’t publicly share our personal holistic goals, but I can say that our overall priorities are faith, family, homestead, environment, farm, community. I generally aim to live by two guiding tenets:

  1. The Permaculture Prime Directive: The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for own existence and that of our children. A Greek proverb that falls right in line with this is: A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.
  2. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Third, we over committed. We stretched ourselves too thin. We pushed ourselves too much. I also work off the farm, and so this burden frequently fell on our intern, our WOOFERs, and my family. Instead of doing a few things well, we were doing too many things… some were working great, some were working well, some were not quite working, some were not getting done, and some were failing. Because we were too busy, we were not enjoying the journey. We had stopped doing a number of the things that were important to us. Yes, we were accomplishing a lot, but we were not accomplishing the things that mattered the most to us.

Fourth, I had not heeded my own advice: Revisit the Permaculture Principles on a regular basis. David Holmgren (co-founder of Permaculture) has 12 amazing principles that I regularly use… well, maybe not as regularly as I should have! The following section touches on a few of these principles and how we are using them to get back on track.

Permaculture Principle One: Observe and Interact.
I had observed, but I didn’t interact. We just kept on doing what we were doing. It is hard to take the time to make changes when you are just trying to keep up, even if those changes will make things better in the long run. But we need to take the time to implement changes based on our observations! 

 

Permaculture Principle Four: Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.
It is so easy to let our pride get in the way of accepting feedback. It isn’t always arrogance. Too often we will just keep doing the same thing or wasting a lot of energy trying to accomplish something, because we think we are smart enough to figure it out. We tell ourselves, “If we just work on it a bit more, longer or harder, we can make it work!” And we may eventually figure it out, but at what cost? Remember the quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

 

Permaculture Principle Nine: Use Small and Slow Solutions.
One of the first things I wanted to do on our farm was to try a little bit of everything. We would see what we liked, what worked for us, what didn’t work for us, and then we would pare down. Unfortunately, trying to maintain so many systems was overwhelming. Also, trying to pare down is actually a lot more difficult than I was expecting.

We thought we were starting small and slow. Compared to many farming ventures, we were not doing a lot. But for us, it was still too much. Over the last few months, my wife has told me many times, “This is starting to feel too big.” She has more wisdom than she credits herself, and if I was a bit more self-aware, I would have made the connection between her words and this principle.

However, we also need to use small and slow solutions to fix the problem as well. We could have decided to completely give up, sell the farm, and move back to suburbia. I think many young farmers get burned out and then walk away from everything. But that wouldn’t be a small and slow solution. We are choosing to pare down a step at a time… trim back slowly.

 

Permaculture Principle Twelve: Creatively Use and Respond to Change.
Everything is constantly changing around and within us. This is life. We can passively let these currents push us around. Or we can be intentional. We can use these changes. We can learn from them. We can respond to them. We can also make our own changes to influence those currents.

We found ourselves in a place we didn’t like. While we had systems that were working, we also had systems that were failing. And so we are doing something about it. We are observing, accepting feedback, interacting with our systems, and using small and slow solutions to get ourselves back on track with our personal holistic goals.

We have since made some changes to our pig system. We moved things around and now have two pig paddocks instead of three. By doing this, we have already cut our pig chores by a third. We are also giving the land more time to rest… and the smell is almost gone already! In addition, we took the time to process some of the larger pigs that did not fall in line with our breeding goals. This has cut our feed bill, and we now have some high-quality pork in our freezer and for sale. We will continue to cut back on our pigs until we have a much smaller breeding herd. Our focus is quality, not quantity.

We are implementing a number of other changes. For example, our first batch of broilers (meat chickens) is about 2 weeks from their processing date. This first batch of birds was for our own personal consumption. Last year, we raised a second batch to cover the expenses of the first batch. However, with being stretched too thin, we decided not to raise a second batch this year. That means our chicken is going to cost us more, but we will have more time to enjoy it!

We are continuing many of the things we love including raising our pastured lamb and laying hens. Most of our other changes are small, like they should be. But cumulatively, they will continue to guide us back toward our goals.

We love raising our sheep on pasture.

This Permaculture Life is a process. It is not an endpoint. There is constant evaluation and interaction and evaluation and interaction… and this goes on and on. And it can be a lot of fun. But we must be intentional.

I’ll end with some of my favorite quotes.

Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret?
There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.

– C. S. Lewis

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
– J. R. R. Tolkien

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
– Matsuo Basho

We are what we believe we are.
– C. S. Lewis

 

You may be interested in these other articles:

 

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Planting Ramps in our Forest

There is something about the Spring forest that brings me a deep sense of joy and contentment. The days are growing longer. The air is warming. The trees are waking from their slumber. The songbirds are returning.

After the Winter, walking in the Spring woods seems to rejuvenate me as well.

It is in this temperate climate Spring forest that Ramps will grow.

These wild onions with strong garlic and leek undertones are true Spring ephemerals. They only shoot up in the early Spring forest, and they quickly depart as the trees’ canopy fills back in with new leaves to cover the forest floor in shadow.

I have previously written about Ramps in one of my plant articles.

Ramps are now growing on our farm in Tennessee!

When we moved to our farm in East Tennessee, Ramps were one of the plants I was hoping to find. Unfortunately, I have yet to come across a wild patch of them on our property.

I had been contemplating how to bring Ramps to our farm when an opportunity crossed my path.

My family and I recently had to travel to northern Indiana. We try to use our camper as much as possible, and we used it for this trip staying at a few different campgrounds. I spent many early mornings walking through the forests in and near the parks where we were staying, often with one of the kids who woke up early enough to join me.

The ephemeral Spring woodland where the ramps were growing.

There was a small forest bordering the property of one of the campgrounds. I recognized it as a special place as soon as I entered. Overhead were mature maple and beech trees with their young leaves just forming. There was an understory of flowering dogwood and pawpaw trees. Blanketing the moist ground were at least three different Trillium species all in flower, Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum), Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), Wild Ginger (Asarum), multiple ferns, and… Ramps! Literally thousands of Ramps covered the floor of this Spring forest! Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of the areas with dense Ramp plants, but I did get the photo above where there were a lot more of the other Spring ephemerals.

Fresh Ramps!

I spoke with the owner of the campground, and he told me he owned this forest as well. He was unaware of the plants he had growing there, but he seemed very interested to learn what I had found. He also told me that I could harvest a few Ramps for myself. I did so, but very carefully. Trilliums are sensitive to disturbance, and they will usually die if any part of the plant is picked or damaged. Since many Trilliums are endangered, I chose to harvest Ramps that were not growing near the Trilliums. I carefully dug up the Ramps preserving as much of the roots as possible. I then pushed the soil back in place and replaced the forest detritus.

I decided to eat a few Ramps with breakfast, sauteed in butter with our free-range chicken eggs… amazing! I saved the rest to transplant.

I planted the Ramps (3)  near Mayapples (2) and Pawpaw saplings (1).

We returned to Tennessee a few days later, and I knew exactly where to plant the Ramps. One small valley on our property has relatively moist soil. This is where our largest Pawpaw patch resides nestled under the overstory of hickory and oak. There are Mayapples, False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum), and ferns growing underneath. This environment best matched the location where I harvested the Ramps.

I won’t know until next Spring if the Ramps took to their new home. But I am excited and hopeful. If they do survive the transplant, it will probably be 3-5 years before I will feel comfortable with their establishment before I will harvest any.

Regenerative agriculture is a long game.

It takes patience.

But the rewards are well-worth the wait.

And sometimes they are delicious, too!

Positive Poultry Impact

So amazing to see the positive impact of our chickens on our land!

The only difference between the low quality field in the background and the lush area in the foreground (where my daughter is almost buried!) is that we had our laying chickens’ mobile coop parked in the foreground area for about 3-4 weeks.

We run Salatin-style chicken tractors.

We have seen some marked pasture improvement with our chicken tractors. These are our mobile pens where we raise our broiler chickens. These “tractors” are moved 2-3 times a day.

Swath of green from our chicken tractors.

As you can see, in the wake of the chicken tractors, the pasture really had a positive impact.

The EggMobile – our mobile chicken coop for our layers.

But it was nothing compared to a more intense impact of 3-4 weeks from our mobile chicken coop (a.k.a. the EggMobile). We did no re-seeding. We added no soil amendments. We didn’t water this area. The only difference was that the EggMobile was parked here!

Amazing boom of lush growth from our mobile chicken coop!

We can have healthy domestic animals and quality farm products and profitable farms AND heal the land in the process.

It takes time and intentionality… but it is possible!

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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Woodland Edge Plant Identification

A few days ago, I was walking through our pastures getting things ready to move our ewes to a new paddock. We have a clump of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) trees on the edge of this paddock, and I noticed a swath of bright green growing under the trees and spilling over into the pasture. I went over to investigate and noticed a number of plants that I could not identify. I took a few photos and did my best to identify them, but was only partially successful. So I posted them on Facebook and had an almost immediate response from a number of online friends. Within a few hours I was able to confirm all the species in the photos. This is when I love social media!

Here was my initial post:

Plant Identification Photo 1

Plant Identification Photo 2

Plant Identification Photo 3

Looking for some plant identification help.

These plants are all growing on the edge of one of my pastures, on the western border of a clump of Eastern Red Cedar trees. They are in a low point, so they have plenty of moisture, but not sitting water.

1. Pretty positive this is Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum).
2. ? The wispy plant with tiny white flowers
3. Pretty sure this is a type of burdock
4. ?
5. ?
6. ? These plants have gotten quite tall in a few spots in the pasture… maybe up to 6 feet?

Anyone know these plants?
Thanks!

 

As I said, I was quickly able to identify all the plants. And as I was confirming the plant identification, I was able to learn some useful information about these species. I’ll show the photos again with the species and information:

Purple Dead Nettle

The characteristic “square stem” of Purple Dead Nettle

1. Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) – Native to Europe but introduced to North America. Considered a weed. Does not sting like its relative Stinging Nettle. It is considered edible and nutritious, but most people blend them into smoothies (I am guessing to mask the flavor?)

 

Hairy Bittercrest

2. Hairy Bittercrest (Cardamine hirsuta) – Native to Eurasia but introduced to North America. Considered a weed. In the Cabbage and Mustard family. The leaves and tiny flowers are edible and have a spicy-hot cress flavor which can be used in small amounts in salads or cooked as a potherb.

 

Burdock

The “burrs” of Burdock. Note the small hooks on the ends of the tips.

3. Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) – Native to Eurasia. Considered a weed in North America. Used a root vegetable and is reportedly very good (has a neutral flavor that picks up the flavor of whatever is cooked with it)… I’m going to have to try some! Also used in folk and traditional medicine for many purposes.

 

Chickweed

Chickweed

Chickweed’s diagnostic single row of hairs on one edge of the stem.

Chickweed for breakfast! Sauté with butter in a cast iron skillet with over easy duck eggs… delicious!

4. Chickweed (Stellaria media) – Native to Europe but introduced to North America. Often considered a weed. Highly nutritious wild edible; some say when cooked they taste just like spinach. I tried some just this morning for breakfast, and it was excellent. I really mean that. Often time, “wild” foods are bland or very strongly flavored, and you have to force yourself to eat it. But not so with Chickweed. I will be harvesting this for food on a regular basis!

 

Cleavers

5. Cleavers (Galium aparine) – Probably native to North America. Often considered a weed. Tender young shoots, leaves, and stem are edible (before fruits appear). Geese like to eat it (also known as Goosegrass) – I have geese! In the same family as coffee; the fruit can be dried, roasted, ground, and used like coffee!

 

 

Giant Cane/River Cane

6. Giant Cane/River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea) – This is one of our native North American bamboo species in the genus Arundinaria. We only have three native species of bamboo in North America: Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea), Hill Cane (Arundinaria appalachiana), and Switch Cane (Arundinaria tecta). Base on the size of the plants on our property, this is Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea), also known as River Cane. It has grown well over 6 feet on our property, but can reach heights of over 33 feet (10 meters)!. It has all the uses of other bamboos around the world. I am especially interested in the shoots for cooking! Giant Cane is also an “important habitat for the Swainson’s, hooded, and Kentucky warblers, as well as the white-eyed vireo. The disappearance of the canebrake ecosystem may have contributed to the rarity and possible extinction of the Bachman’s warbler, which was dependent upon it for nesting sites.” (quote from Wikipedia)

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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Spring Forest Plants!

Spring may be my favorite season.

I love walking in our woods and seeing the Earth wake up from its Winter slumber.

Here are some photos I took this morning…

Cercis canadensis, the Eastern Redbud, is much more pink and magenta than red.
Redbuds are “nitrogen fixers”… that means they pull nitrogen from the air to be used for its growth. It also provides some excess nitrogen to surrounding plants.
The flowers are also edible!

 

Asimina triloba is the Common Paw Paw, the largest native North American fruit!

 

Another photo of Asimina triloba, the Common Paw Paw.
Its scientific species name, “triloba” refers to the flower’s three-lobed calices and doubly three-lobed corollas.

 

Silene virginica is known as Fire Pink.
It attracts and is pollinated by the Ruby Throated Hummingbird.

 

Prunus americana is the American Wild Plum.
Their fruits are edible, and while sweet they are also very tart.

 

Carya ovata, the Shagbark Hickory.
Bud in the foreground and trunk in the background. The trunk is what gives this tree its name!

 

Carya ovata, the Shagbark Hickory.
Now with the bud in focus.

 

Viola sororia, the Common Blue Violet… but considering its purple color, I prefer its other name, the Common Meadow Violet.
Edible flowers and leaves!

 

Oxalis violacea is the Violet Wood-Sorrel.
The flowers, leaves, stems, and bulb are all edible and taste sour (in a good way), similar to a lemon.
Also known as the “Wild Shamrock”.

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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COURSE: Introduction to Permaculture!

Introduction to Permaculture at the Bauernhof Kitsteiner
17 June 2017 (Saturday)
9:00 am – 4:00 pm
*Limited to 30 participants.

John Kitsteiner will be teaching a 1-day course at their family farm, the Bauernhof Kitsteiner. This course is designed for the person who knows little to nothing about Permaculture. The first half of the course will be lecture based, and the second half of the course will be a guided tour of the Bauernhof where Permaculture design is being put into practice.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL COURSE DESCRIPTION!

Grass-Fed Lamb!

So excited to see that the smallest of our lambs still falls within expected weights of conventionally raised Katahdin lambs… and we are producing a healthier, grass-fed animal with no antibiotics, dewormers, or vaccines… and our small section of Earth is being healed in the process!

Looking out over our pastures!

This process is taking a few months longer than conventional, but the only real cost is the time to move paddocks. And this is kinda fun thing do.

Just under a year ago, our ewes had their first lambs on our farm. Today I’m taking the smallest ram lamb to a new butcher to be processed. This Katahdin Hair Sheep lamb weighs 97 lbs. He is 99.9% grass fed on our rotationally-grazed pastures. They get a small bit of fermented grain to help lead them to a new paddock and to keep them friendly. They also have a free-choice, kelp-based mineral supplement.

If the butchering goes well and our tastings pass the test, we will soon be able to start selling USDA-approved, locally-grown, beyond-organic lamb!

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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Pig Plows and Wildflowers

I don’t own a tractor.

There may come a time when I change my mind, but I actually hope to never own one if I can help it.

But I still could use some earth turned from time to time.

Fortunately I have pigs.

And they can beautifully plow up a field. I have struggled to bury a shovel blade in the same soil that my pigs move through with seemingly no effort.

And they only use their nose!

Pig plow in action.

Pigs who root are happy pigs!

Pigs are amazing animals.

This same plowing efficiency is why some people do not want pigs in their pastures. That’s understandable. Especially if it is a good pasture. The pigs will tear it up.

The key to grazing pigs on pasture… and yes, I do mean grazing… my pigs love fresh grass! …but the key to grazing pigs on pasture is to make sure the soil and pasture are not destroyed by the pigs in their process of tearing it up.

And that’s not a contradiction.

A pasture that is torn up and left with patches of bare soil has the real possibility of being destroyed. A pasture that is torn up and then quickly covered again with grasses and other pasture plants is not destroyed, but is stable or even improved.

And this is the process we are implementing on our farm.

The rolling hills and valleys of our pastures.

Our farm has some areas of pretty good pasture and really bad pasture. Not surprisingly, the worst areas are on the ridges of our many hills. The topsoil is very shallow or even non-existent and has almost no organic matter.

These infertile, poor-soil ridges are the perfect place for our pigs.

This is our “soil” on the ridges… not very good

Between the Broomsedge and erosion already present on the ridges, it was pretty easy to see where we should start working to repair the soil.

Here’s our plan:
We set up a paddock on the ridges. We use poly braid electric fencing with a portable electric solar charger. The paddock will not extend too far on either side of the ridge where the pigs can cause significant erosion. We just want the soil turned over. We add hay to the paddock. The pigs eat some of this, but mainly they nest in it at night. After a few days, and this all depends on the size of the paddock and how much rain we get, the paddock will be sufficiently pig-plowed, and the pigs will be ready to be moved to the next paddock. The day before we move the pigs, we will broadcast seed in the pigs’ paddock. The pigs will trample the seeds into the soft earth. The manure and hay will add a good amount of organic matter to start the soil rebuilding process. The seeds will bring even more biomass and biodiversity to rebuild the soil and pastures.

 

Our pigs have plowed up this paddock and are ready for the next one.

This brings us to the seed.

I have many requirements and desires on pasture species. Therefore my seed list is very diverse.

Here’s the basis of our seed selection:
We desire pasture plants that can feed our animals. We desire plants that produce a lot of biomass (leaves, blades, stems, roots, etc.) to build the soil. We desire plants that can pull nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it into the soil. We desire plants that can break up our clay soil and subsoil compaction. We desire plants that have deep roots that can withstand drought and pull nutrients from deep in the subsoil. We desire plants that increase soil microorganisms and life in general. We desire plants that yield a steady progression of flowers through the season to provide pollen and nectar for pollinators. We desire plants that provide habitat and food sources for beneficial insects.

That is a lot of desires for a seed. No one plant can do all that. There are some species that fulfill many of these requirements, but we also desire to increase the biodiversity of our pastures.

We are going to do this with seeds from two sources, Walnut Creek Seeds and Prairie Moon Nursery.

The bulk of our seeding will be using the Walnut Creek Seed Super Soil Builder Mix. This is a mix of species that will meet the majority of our desires in pasture plants. The seed mix includes:

  1. Field Pea
  2. Cow Pea
  3. Sunn Hemp
  4. Oats
  5. Pearl Millet
  6. Radish
  7. Ethiopian Cabbage
  8. Sunflower

We will also be sprinkling in a small amount of seed from Prairie Moon Nursery every time we seed with the Super Soil Builder. These are seeds from prairie plants native to North America. The majority of these species had original distribution over much of the east, including my home in Tennessee. These plants will fulfill our desire for pollen, nectar, and habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. They will also greatly increase the biodiversity in our pastures as there are over 100 species in our mix!

The species from Prairie Moon Nursery include:

  1. Wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia)
  2. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  3. Yellow Giant Hyssop (Agastache neptoides)
  4. Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)
  5. Prairie Onion (Allium stellatum)
  6. Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis)
  7. Pasque Flower (Anemone patens var. wolfgangiana)
  8. Tall Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)
  9. Rose Milkweed (Asclepias incarnate)
  10. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
  11. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  12. Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticallata)
  13. Heath Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum ericoides)
  14. Smooth Blue Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum laeve)
  15. Calico Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum lateriflorus)
  16. New England Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
  17. Sky Blue Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum oolentangiensis)
  18. Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis)
  19. White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba)
  20. Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis)
  21. Decurrent False Aster (Boltonia decurrens)
  22. Pale Indian Plantain (Cacalia or Arnoglossum atriplicifolium)
  23. Great Indian Plantain (Arnoglossum reniforme)
  24. Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)
  25. Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)
  26. Pasture Thistle (Cirsium discolor)
  27. Lance-Leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
  28. White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida)
  29. Leafy Prairie Clover (Dalea foliosa)
  30. Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
  31. Illinois Bundle Flower (Desmanthus illinoensis)
  32. Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense)
  33. Illinois Tick Trefoil (Desmodium illinoensis)
  34. Midland Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)
  35. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  36. Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
  37. Bush’s Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa)
  38. Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
  39. Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata)
  40. Biennial Gaura (Gaura biennis)
  41. Cream Gentian (Gentiana flavida)
  42. Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)
  43. Showy Sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus)
  44. Early/False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
  45. Rose Mallow (Hibiscus laevis)
  46. Great St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
  47. Kankakee Mallow (Iliamna remota)
  48. False Boneset (Brickellia eupatorioides)
  49. Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata)
  50. Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis)
  51. Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)
  52. Marsh Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
  53. Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)
  54. Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
  55. Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
  56. Glade Mallow (Napaea dioica)
  57. Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
  58. Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)
  59. Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
  60. Tube Beardtongue (Penstemon tubaeflorus)
  61. Narrow-Leaved Obedient Plant (Physostegia angustifolia)
  62. Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana)
  63. Prairie Cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta)
  64. Slender Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)
  65. Hairy Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var.pilosum)
  66. Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
  67. Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
  68. Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  69. Sweet Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)
  70. Brown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
  71. Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis)
  72. Late Figwort (Scrophularia marilandica)
  73. Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa)
  74. Maryland Senna (Senna marilandica)
  75. Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
  76. Rosin Weed (Silphium integrifolium)
  77. Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)
  78. Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
  79. Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
  80. Stout Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)
  81. Grass-Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia)
  82. Early Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
  83. Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
  84. Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
  85. Purple Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum)
  86. Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
  87. Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
  88. Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta)
  89. Yellow Crownbeard (Verbesina helianthoides)
  90. Common Ironweed (Veronia fasciculate)
  91. Missouri Ironweed (Veronia missurica)
  92. Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
  93. Heart-Leaf Golden Alexanders (Zizia aptera)
  94. Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
  95. Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens)
  96. New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)
  97. Shrubby St. John’s Wort (Hypericum prolificum)
  98. Early Wild Rose (Rosa blanda)
  99. Big Bluestem PLS (Andropogon gerardii)
  100. Side-Oats Grama PLS (Bouteloua curtipendula)
  101. Bebb’s Oval Sedge (Carex bebbii)
  102. Plains Oval Sedge (Carex brevior)
  103. Brown Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)
  104. Canada Wild Rye PLS (Elymus canadensis)
  105. Virginia Wild Rye PLS (Elymus virginicus)
  106. Dudley’s Rush (Juncus dudleyi)
  107. June Grass PLS (Koeleria macrantha)
  108. Switch Grass PLS (Panicum virgatum)
  109. Little Bluestem PLS (Schyzachyrium scoparium)
  110. Indian Grass PLS (Sorghastrum nutans)
  111. Rough Dropseed (Sporobolus asper)
  112. Prairie Dropseed PLS (Sporobolus heterolepis)

Note: There are a few of the species listed here that may be toxic to livestock. Then why would I add them to our fields where our sheep and pigs and other animals may eat them? First, none of the species are extremely toxic. Second, toxicity is almost always dose dependent… meaning, a little bit will not cause trouble. If a whole paddock was filled with a mildly toxic plant, then yes, an animal could be harmed. But we are adding so few of each plant, that I am not concerned about this. Third, these are native prairie plants that have been grazed by herbivores on this continent for thousands and thousands of years before modern humans altered the ecosystem… meaning, grazing animals have and can live in harmony with these plants. Fourth, when animals have a choice, and that is key, they will choose the plants their bodies need. Many of these “toxic” plants are likely medicinal to the animals in small quantities. If herbivores have plenty of options for grazing, they will eat what is needed and desired, and not more. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but in light of the other reasons listed above, I believe the benefit from this huge increase in biodiversity is worth the very small risk.

As this system matures, I will add photos!

 

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Patches of Spring Regeneration

It’s not much yet, but I’m still excited to see these bright, Spring green patches of grass coming up in a pasture that was recently covered with Eastern Red Cedar seedlings (Juniperus virginiana) and Broomsedge Bluestem (Andropogon virginicus).

This is the result after only a single rotational grazing period with our sheep followed immediately with my small riding mower to knock down the clumps of Broomsedge.

We did no reseeding, liming, or calcium application… all of which would be helpful and would speed up the recovery/regeneration process.

It’s these little encouragements that confirm we are on the right track.

 

 

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