Livestock and Animals

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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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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Dealing with Broomsedge Bluestem (Andropogon virginicus)

Andropogon virginicus, also known as Broomsedge Bluestem (or just Broom Sedge), Yellowsedge Bluestem, and Whiskey Grass is a clumping grass that is native to the southeastern United States, and this includes where our farm is located in East Tennessee.

In the photo above, you can see how thick it has grown in the pastures on our farm.

When we first moved to our farm almost 2 years ago, I knew this plant was going to be a great indicator species for me to monitor the health and regeneration of our pastures.

Broomsedge in a pasture tells me that the pastures have been overgrazed or neglected or both. While grazing animals will eat it in Spring and early Summer, it is not preferred. It has less nutrition than other pasture plants, and once it dries out in late Summer and early Autumn, grazing animals will mostly ignore it.

A fun photo of our kids right after we bought the farm… but look at all that broom sedge and red cedar taking over the pastures!

Why is it an indicator of overgrazing?

Well, as many graziers like to say, “herbivores eat dessert first”. They will choose the pasture grasses and plants that have high levels of sugar and/or protein and/or mineral content first. Examples of these plants include clovers, bluegrass, rye, timothy, etc. Ideally, our pastures will have high proportions of these plants.

Herbivores will eat their favorite “dessert” plant first, then wander over and eat another “dessert” plant, and then wander some more and eat yet another “dessert” plant. All the while, they are ignoring the less desirable species of grass or pasture plant.

When the animal eats the leaves of one of these plants, the photosynthetic ability of that plant is suddenly and significantly reduced. The plant now has to rely on the energy reserves in its roots to stay alive. It will use these energy reserves to grow new leaves, or as I like to say, new photosynthetic energy generators. Depending on the season and plant species, this new growth (regrowth) will start in 4-10 days.

If the pasture is small or there is a high stocking density (i.e. a high number of animals per given area of land), the animals may east the less desired plants only after they have eaten all the highly desired “dessert” plants first.

If we leave the animals on the pasture too long during the active growing season then, by the time the animals make their way around the pasture, there has been sufficient time for the “dessert” plants to start to put on new growth.

Now, the only plant an herbivore likes more than a “dessert” plant is a “dessert” plant with tender regrowth!

So the “dessert” plants will be eaten again, just as they are trying to regrow. They have used up a significant amount of their energy reserve in their roots to put out new leaves, and these leaves are now gone again. So the plant has to pull even more stored energy from the roots to try and regrow even more leaves. A plant can only do this so many times before it has no energy reserve left, and then the plant will die.

All the while, the less desirable plant continues to grow. It matures. It develops and drops its seed right next to the “dessert” plant that has been grazed, literally, to death. Now that less desirable plant can move in to the space previously occupied by the “dessert” plant.

This is how, over time, a pasture can become full of less desirable species of grasses and plants.

This is exactly what has happened on my farm. The previous owner let a neighbor open graze his cattle (that means let the cattle have free access to all pastures) for well over 10 years, maybe more.

Fortunately, not all “dessert” species were lost. But the less desirable species, especially the Broomsedge Bluestem, were given an unfair advantage for a long time. Now my pastures are covered with it.

We are rotationally grazing our sheep as one method to improve our pastures.

So what am I going to do about it?

First, we are going to manage our pastures with intensive rotational grazing techniques. This is going to make the biggest long-term impact on the health and improvement of our pastures. I have written about it multiple times in the past on my site:

  1. Sheep paddock rotational grazing
  2. Mob grazing with sheep
  3. More evidence of our farm’s regeneration
  4. Rotational grazing Azores style

Second, since this plant is a native to my area, I am not overly worried about it. But it is not an ideal plant. I would rather have more of the “dessert” species in my pastures. The rotational grazing methods we are using will work to regenerate our pastures. But I think we can speed the regenerative process up a bit.

Third, we will speed the regenerative process up by thinking a bit about how the less desirable species grows (in this case it is Broomsedge Bluestem). It is a clumping grass. It is eaten by our sheep in the Spring and early Summer. By late Summer and early Autumn, it will dry out and form fairly thick standing clumps. These clumps will stay standing all Winter long and well into the next year. By staying standing, it will shade out the growth of other pasture species, thereby maintaining its position in the pasture.

On the left of this photo is the field I am actively mowing… cutting the Broomsedge. A swale is holding water almost a week after the last rain. This moisture has helped “green up” the landscape downhill, but that area was also mowed a few months earlier, and so that pasture was not shaded out by the tall, dense Broomsedge clumps.

Forth, I use this information to develop management plans to encourage other plants’ growth. Specifically, I let the animals eat the Broomsedge in the Spring and early Summer. Then, especially in Winter when we will not interfere with the active growth of other plants, I knock down the dried standing clumps of Broomsedge. I do this by cutting it with my riding mower. Yes, I am sure I get some strange looks by my neighbors when I am riding my small mower in the middle of our pastures. But there is a method to my madness. By cutting those standing clumps in Winter, I am preventing the Broomsedge Bluestem from shading out the other plants come Spring. I am trying to give the unfair advantage back to the desired species.

About a week after mowing the area uphill of the swale, there is already new green growth. This is mostly fescue, a cool-season grass that is getting a jump start due to the recent warmer weather AND my letting in more sunlight by cutting the Broomsedge.

There are a number of other techniques that could be used. We could add seed of desirable plants. We do this a bit right now. I broadcast clover seed in Winter (this is known as frost seeding). Other people my use a tractor and seeder to drill (i.e. plant) seed in the pastures. Some people may plow up a field and reseed, and other people may use chemicals to kill all the grass in a pasture and then reseed with the plants they desire. We do not have a tractor, and I am pretty adamant about avoiding all synthetic chemicals on our property. This is how we came up with the methods we are now using.

 

All photos in this article are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them.

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Piglets at the Bauernhof

NOTE: As we are actively growing and developing our herd of pigs, we are offering piglets for sale. We do not ship live animals. Please let us know if you are interested.

This year we have had our first piglets at the farm.

This year we have had our first piglets at the farm.

One of the goals I have for our farm is to develop a good line of pigs. I don’t have a specific breed in mind. But I have specific characteristics in mind. I’ll explain the background of how I chose the characteristics I am looking for.

Here is a photo of our first pigs on the farm.

Here is a photo (over a year old) of our first pigs… the foundation stock.

The reality is that there are a lot of places that have feral hogs and landrace pigs, but not many places have truly native wild pig species. Feral hogs are pigs that were once domestic, but have escaped. These feral hogs can be found around the world.

A landrace is a bit different than feral animals. A landrace is any breed of domestic animal that has been developed in relative isolation from other breeds or strains of that same species. These may be pigs or sheep or chickens or ducks or any other domestic animal. (Note that I am not referring to the American or Danish Landrace pigs which are specific breeds of pig… I am referring to the idea of a landrace breed in general.)

We run a mixed-breed herd of pigs on our farm.

We run a mixed-breed herd of pigs on our farm.

It was common practice for Spanish and Portuguese explorers to bring animals with them on their journeys. They would find a location with fresh water and let a few animals free. These animals would breed and their numbers would grow. When the explorers returned to that area, they had water and meat waiting for them.

But there was a catch.

Those animals had to survive. With no human intervention. With no hay. No feed. No medications. No assistance with birthing. No vaccines. No shelters. No dewormers. No barns. No selective breeding.

Nature was the selecting force. The animals that could survive did. Those that couldn’t handle the parasites, the droughts, the humidity, the cold, the predators… they didn’t. And their genetic traits of being unable to cope were not passed on to the next generation.

These survivor genetics are what I want. And fortunately there are a number of surviving landrace pigs out there.

Our piglets nursing well.

Our piglets nursing well. These are Gloucestershire Old Spots x Vietnamese Potbelly piglets.

 

Our pigs love to eat grass!

Our pigs love to eat grass!

Fortunately again there are a number of heritage breed pigs that still exist as well. A heritage breed is a breed of animal that was traditionally raised by farmers and homesteaders in the past. Over time, commercial breeds gradually took the heritage breeds’ place, and their numbers significantly declined. Many heritage breeds were lost. But there were a few dedicated farmers and homesteaders who kept some of these breeds going, and I am so glad they did. These heritage breeds may not be as hardy as some of the landrace pigs, but they are significantly moreso than the commercial breeds. They also have a significantly better flavor of pork than the commercial breeds. And, to be fair, the meat of landrace breeds are also very flavorful.

Pigs_02

We have a mix of genetics on our farm. Here is a photo when our heard was relatively young.

 

A piglet at sunrise!

A piglet at sunrise!

With all this said, my goal is to build my herd with genetics from a variety of landrace and heritage breeds. And that is exactly what I am doing. Here are the breeds I am using at our farm:

Berkshire

  • Origin: Britain. Berkshire (Berks County).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Succulent, marbled, flavorful, pink-red meat.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Black with a white snout and boots and tail.
  • Temperament: Good-natured.
  • Notes: Good mothers. Good foragers. Commonly used as a terminal sire (i.e. used as the male contributor for hybrid meat hogs).

Gloucester Old Spots

  • Origin: Britain. Gloucestershire (Gloucester County).
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Sweet, very flavorful, well-marbled meat.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Mostly white with a few black spots.
  • Temperament: Very good-natured and friendly.
  • Notes:  Very good foragers. Very hardy. Very good mothers. Originally raised on windfall apples.

Guinea Hog

  • Origin: Guinea (Africa) originally, but this is a southern USA landrace breed (meaning it was developed over time, adapting to its new environment in the hot and humid South).
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Delicious! On the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Small to Medium (adults: 150-250 lbs/68-114 kg).
  • Color: Black, occasionally red, and hairy.
  • Temperament: Sweet-natured, friendly.
  • Notes:  Endangered breed. Very good foragers. Do not do well in confinement.

Kunekune

  • Origin: New Zealand, but originating from Asian breeds.
  • Type: Meat. Being a small pig, they produce select cuts of meat and a lot of sausage and bacon.
  • Flavor: Well-marbled, succulent, tasty meat
  • Size: Small.
  • Color: Wide range of colors, hairy.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Friendly.
  • Notes:  Excellent foragers. Kunekune means “fat and round” in the Māori language. It is one of the “pet” breeds of pig.

Large Black

  • Origin: England. Devonshire (Devon County) and Cornwall County.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Very tasty, juicy, lean but well-marbled meat. Little back fat.
  • Size: Large.
  • Color: Black.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Docile.
  • Notes:  Endangered breed. A very good forager. Very good mother. Not common in the USA.

Mulefoot

  • Origin: USA. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Arkansas. Developed from early Spanish explorers’ hogs (a landrace breed).
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Succulent, marbled, red meat. Delicious! On the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Black with wattles.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Docile.
  • Notes: Endangered breed. Very good foragers. Hardy. Mulefoot hogs have fused toes forming a “hoof”… hence the name.

Vietnamese Potbelly

  • Origin: Vietnam.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Flavorful. Can have a lot of fat if allowed/desired – very good for bacon. Being a small pig, they produce select cuts of meat and a lot of sausage and bacon.
  • Size: Small. 70-150 lbs (32-68 kg), but can get well over 200 lbs (90 kg) depending on the genetics.
  • Color: Black or Black and White.
  • Temperament: Very good-natured.
  • Notes:  Common as pets in the United States, although this is a new phenomenon considering how long they have been present on small farms in southeast Asia.

 

Gentle pigs that do not grow too large are important considerations for us as we have our own children as well as frequent visitors to our farm.

Gentle pigs that do not grow too large are important considerations for us as we have our own children as well as frequent visitors to our farm.

 

These are our most recent piglets.

These are our most recent piglets. They are Gloucestershire Old Spots x Gloucestershire Old Spots/Mulefoot/Large Black piglets.

We ultimately want to end up with a line of pigs that need no significant human intervention but are still gentle. They do not need to be fast-growing, but they do need to produce quality, flavorful meat. I do not want tiny animals, but I certainly do not want very large pigs; I have my own children as well as frequent visitors to my farm, so safety is a consideration. I don’t vaccinate. I don’t deworm. I don’t use antibiotics. I don’t help with deliveries. I don’t use a barn; I provide minimal shelter. I feed them fermented grains (no soy and no corn). They eat fresh grass (as much as they can find!). They eat roots and tubers and anything they can find on (or under) the pastures where they live.

This is a work in progress, and it will probably take quite some time before I “arrive” at a final result. Most likely, I will be tinkering with this for as long as I am alive, and that makes me happy.

 

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Sheep Landscapers

This summer, we allowed the sheep to forage around the house for a few days. Why use a lawn mower, weed-eater, or do any work for that matter if your animals will happily volunteer?

Here is a photo showing them taking down the wild grape vine that has grown up around a rose bush. They can only reach so high, and the upper leaves remained out of reach.

Our lambs were a few months old in this photo. Many of the lambs need to kneel down on all four knees if they wanted to nurse.

Just a fun photo I wanted to share!

 

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More Evidence of Our Farm’s Regeneration

We are in the middle of a drought at the end of October here in East Tennessee. It is classified as moderate to severe, depending on the source. Those in the drylands of the world would laugh at our complaints, but we are truly in a drought for our area. We are not in the desert. We are not in the drylands. We are in a continental temperate climate, and our average rainfall is between 36-44 inches (91-111 cm) per year, and this is one of the reasons we chose this area to live. Unfortunately, our rainfall is significantly below average. In fact, we are currently in the fourth driest month on record here in East Tennessee.

What does that mean to us and to our neighbors? Well, it means things are really dry. The soil. The pastures. Our ponds. And our neighbors are concerned about having enough hay for the Winter.

While it is not a cure-all by any means, but our application of Holistic Management is keeping our animals, and our land, in pretty good condition despite the drought. For those unfamiliar with the term, Holistic Management is a system of land and pasture management geared at improving the soil and the environment while still making a living using livestock. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s a brief explanation.

A fun photo of our kids... but look at all those red cedars and that broom sedge!

A fun photo of our kids… but look at all those red cedars and that broomsedge!

Above and below are a couple photos of our land when we first moved to the farm. It was a bit dry then as well in the first photo, although nothing like right now. You can see a few issues relatively quickly if you know what to look for. First, there are a lot of young Eastern Red Cedar trees/saplings (Juniperus virginiana) across the pastures. These pioneering plants will try to turn a pasture/field back into forest. Second, there is a lot of Broomsedge Bluestem (Andropogon virginicus). This is a native clumping grass that often indicates, and rightly so in our case, that the land has been overgrazed. I love native plants, no kidding, but some are better than others. Herbivores will eat Broomsedge Bluestem in the Spring and early Summer, but the nutritional quality of this plant greatly drops as the plants mature. Animals generally avoid it at this point. Then, to make matters worse, this clumping plant stays standing and blocks sunlight to other more desirable plants.

Another photo of our land right when we moved in.

Another photo of our land right when we moved in.

We were extremely blessed to have a youth group volunteer almost a week to clear the Eastern Red Cedar saplings from our fields. This saved untold hours of work on our part. And it was the first step in pasture regeneration.

Eastern Red Cedar removal!

Eastern Red Cedar removal… we only had a piles of cut cedars left!

At this time, we are using sheep as our primary tools to repair our land. We rotate them frequently… as often as every 3-4 days with the drought conditions we have right now. We use portable solar electric fencing and give them just enough space to keep them fed and happy for a few days at at time. The sheep trample a lot of the dried Broomsedge Bluestem. They nibble a little bit of it as well. They graze most of the other plants in the pasture. We give almost no ancillary feed; just a little fermented grains to move them from one paddock to the next. The sheep deposit manure and urine which fertilizes the soil and provides additional organic matter.

We use sheep as our main land regenerators at this time.

We use sheep as our main land regenerators at this time. This was earlier in the year when we had a decent amount of rain… look at that green!

After the sheep are moved off the paddock, I will take our tractor… okay, it is actually just a riding mower, and I take down anything that is left standing in the paddock. Yes, this is more management than I desire to do, but I only plan to mow any given pasture one time, and one time only. As we knock down the Broomsedge Bluestem, we are making room for the other pasture plants to take their spot, to outcompete them. Ideally, I would mow right before the Broomsedge Bluestem is forming a seed head, but that is not always possible. But by knocking it down so that it cannot form a shading clump, we are giving the other plants an “unfair” advantage. This seems to be giving the other plants just the boost they need. Combined with our grazing method as described above, I don’t plan to ever mow an area twice.

Our only "tractor".

Our only “tractor”. I don’t ever plan on owning a “real” tractor.

Here I come to our proof. Our evidence that what we are doing is truly working. The photo at the top of the article (and below as well) shows our personalized rotational grazing method. In general, you can see how brown everything is. This is not normal for this time of year here in East Tennessee. But with our land management, we are still getting green growth… despite the drought!

In the far left is where I have just removed the sheep. Then in the center area is the area I have just mowed. Then to the right you can see the area that has already been grazed and mowed and rested for just over a week. No Broomsedge Bluestem. And lots of new, green growth! This is a mix of pasture grasses and forbs (non-grass herbaceous flowering plant… sheep love these!).

This Permaculture stuff works. Even in drought!

The different stages of our pasture's regeneration.

The different stages of our pasture’s regeneration.

 

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Sheep Hoof Trimming

A few days ago, we took about an hour and trimmed the hooves of our sheep. We run a small, but growing, flock of Katahdin Hair Sheep. Anyone who keeps sheep or goats needs to check the animal’s hooves once a year at a minimum, but 2-3 times a year is probably more appropriate. If they are given a lot of supplemental feed (instead of just pasture) and/or they are regularly on wet, soft soil, then the hooves will need to be checked more frequently.

If an animal has hoof growth that is not kept in check with rocky soils or with regular trimming, then significant health problems can develop such as foot rot, foot scald, laminitis, and arthritis, to name a few.

Our sheep are relatively relaxed around us, so catching them and trimming their hooves was not too difficult. My wife and our current WOOFER (Eliza) were the ones who caught most of the sheep while I flipped them on their rump, sat down with them, and trimmed their hooves. Only one ewe evaded us over and over again, so we’ll have to try to catch her again on another day.

This was the first time I’ve ever trimmed sheep hooves, but it went very well. It was easier than I expected. My main bit of advice is to trim the hooves slowly and sparingly as you are figuring things out. If you are a little too aggressive, you can cause bleeding. If you are very aggressive, then you can cause significant bleeding or infection. If you are feel unsure of yourself, then go visit another sheep farm to get some experience first. Here are some resources I found helpful as I learned how to trim sheep hooves:

Article: http://www.sheep101.info/201/hoofcare.html

Article: http://www.raisingsheep.net/how-to-trim-sheep-hooves.html

and a couple videos…

 

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Salatin Style Chicken Tractor Hand Truck or Dolly

Hand Truck or Dolly… what you call this device really depends on where you come from. For us, this simple machine has been a huge time saver. We use this hand truck to move our chicken tractors each day. We raise a few hundred broiler (meat) chickens each year on our farm, and I gave a small overview of that endeavor in a previous article. Previously, we used a standard household or moving type hand truck; this did do the job, but it was harder and took two people to move the chicken tractor (one person to hold the hand truck and one to pull the tractor from the other side).

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The hand truck in action. The wheels are under the chicken tractor as we pull from the other side of the tractor.

With our new hand truck, based on the Salatin design, the chore of moving the chicken tractors now only takes one person. It is also easier to move the tractors; it is smoother and more steady. This hand truck is not sold anywhere. We found a local welder/fabricator who was able to create this with the photos and drawings we gave him.

Here are some photos of the hand truck:

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Our Salatin-style chicken tractor hand truck. Just to be clear, it is laying on it’s back right now. It’s important the handle bends forward (up in the image) so that when it slides, the handle doesn’t catch on anything.

 

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Here is a photo of the outside of the wheel. It’s important that the foot has an extension so that it can slip under the edge of the chicken tractor.

 

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Here is a photo of the inside of the wheel. It’s important that the axle sits away of the angled piece . The foot scoops under the chicken tractor, then as we pull the hand truck back and down, the wall of the chicken tractor slides down and rests behind the axle. Then the hand truck will not flip back up when we pull the chicken tractor.

 

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Note that we cut down the stop on the legs of the hand truck. These stops are important to prevent the tractor from sliding back, especially when the tractors are on hills. But in our original version, the stops stuck out too far and caught on the wire walls of the chicken tractor.

 

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