Livestock and Animals

Product Recommendations from the Bauernhof

I have finally gotten around to putting together a list of the products we use on the farm.
  • We raise Katahdin Sheep with rotational grazing/holistic management.
  • We raise mixed heritage breed pigs on pasture.
  • We raise free-range, mixed heritage breed laying chickens.
  • We raise Cornish Rock Cross broiler chickens on pasture in Salatin-style “chicken tractors”.
  • We raise Broad Breasted White Turkeys on pasture.
The following are the products we actually use every day/season.
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Power Flex Fencing PolyBraid 1320’:  This is the perfect length to use with the O’Briens reels (see below). Very good conductivity mixed with the strength of braided line. We’ve had to cut it a few times (we got tangles… our fault); all we did was tie it back together with a couple square knots, and it worked like new. Very good product.
Kencove Step-In Posts: 8 hooks on one side, 4 clips on the other. The clips are for electric tape, but we use them to secure our polybraid (above) when we run our lines. The ones with only 2 clips are not as versatile. When really cold, the plastic can snap, but otherwise, these are very durable.
O’Briens Single Reel Geared sold by Kencove: This product was recommended to my by master grazier Greg Judy, and it is a great product. O’Briens is a New Zealand company, and the Kiwis are at the forefront in the world of sheep and cattle grazing. The geared reels spin 3 times for each 1 time you spin the handle. This is a huge time and energy saver.
Premier 1 Portable Solar Charger:  The Premier PRS 100 (small, 1 Joule) and 200 (large, 2 Joule) Solar Energizers are an extremely useful product. They are very easy to use. We have used them almost exclusively for almost 3 years now. They work well, but they are not without some drawbacks. If there is a moderate amount of grass or pushed up earth (from rooting pigs, for instance) on the bottom lines, these charges ground out easily. Also, I don’t think the batteries like subfreezing temperatures. The battery life seems to drop significantly after subfreezing temperatures. We have had to remove the battery and use a trickle charger to get it up and running again. If this occurs too many times, the battery fails. I still think this is a great product, and I don’t think there is a better one like in on the market. If you don’t have the ability to run a permanent system, this is a wonderful solution. We are still using them with our sheep every day.
Gallagher M60 Electric Fence Charger: This is a permanent charger (110 V) that plugs into a typical home receptacle. Our pigs have routinely walked right through the polybraid wire with the above-mentioned Premier 1 Portable Solar Charger when the battery would cut out or when the pigs rooted up earth and piled it on the lowest line. We are now keeping our pigs in an area about 1 acre (0.4 hectares) in size with subdivided paddocks that we rotate every few days. We ran this charger from the nearby house to the paddocks, and it was been working great. We will eventually get our entire fence running on a permanent charger, but this smaller unit is working great right now.
Premier 1 Poultry Netting: We use the PoultryNet Plus 12/42/3  from Premier 1. I prefer using the above-mentioned step-in posts and polybraid from our sheep and pigs, but we regularly use the Poultry Netting with our ducks and geese. We use them temporarily with our laying chickens when we move them a far distance and want them to reestablish their home base. We also use this Poultry Netting with our ram lambs who occasionally These work great when the ground is flat and not rocky. They don’t do great on hills or uneven ground… there are too many gaps that animals can climb under or the netting bunches up and grounds out. We use extra posts to pull the netting down to cover the gaps. We also have disconnected the bottom 2 or three electric lines to keep the entire netting from grounding out. One of our WOOFERs taught us this trick (Jacob!), and it has worked beautifully.

 

Plasson Bell Waterers: We bought these from Cornerstone Farm Ventures. These are wonderful waterers that we use with our laying chickens, our broiler chickens, and our turkeys. We connect ours to a 5-gallon bucket. I wrote an article about setting up the Plasson Bell Waterer. They can occasionally clog up, but the entire unit can be easily broken down and cleaned. We’ve had to do this about once a year, but it is not hard. In freezing temps, the water will freeze and the water will not flow. But we’ve never had a part break due to freezing. Once the temps warm up, everything starts flowing again. If a part does break, and there is one part (the handle hook) that has broken on us a few times, you can buy just the individual part to replace. I highly recommend this product.
Plasson Bell Waterers

48” Galvanized Poultry Feeder: We bought these from Cornerstone Farm Ventures. These high volume feeders are fantastic in the Salatin-Style Chicken Tractors. We used other, smaller ones in the past, and we had to refill them way too often. These have been durable and have reduced our work.
48” Galvanized Poultry Feeder

New Country Organics Feed: For our chickens, turkeys, and sheep mineral, we exclusively use New Country Organics. I have not found a poultry feed that has a better nutrient profile, and if I was designing a poultry feed, this would be almost identical to what I would want.
New Country Organics

Prairie Moon Nursery Seeds: This amazing company only sells native (to North America) wildflower/prairie seeds. We have added small amounts of their mixes to our other re-seeding mixes for our pastures. We have also recently planted some larger portions of our lawn to wildflowers… we want to get rid of as much mowing as possible and attract native pollinators/beneficial insects. Their products are high quality, but can be expensive, so pick the mix that best suits your site and finances.
Prairie Moon Nursery

Walnut Creek Seeds: This company provides multiple seed mixes for pastures. We have used the Super Soil Builder mix after frost through the Summer. We use the Nitro Soil Builder mix in late Summer through Autumn. And we use the Winter Grazing Mix starting in October. We have been very pleased with their seed mixes. We will often add other cold-weather pasture grasses to these mixes or a small percentage of wildflower seeds (above) to theses mixes.
Walnut Creek Seeds Agricultural Mixes
Walnut Creek Seeds Grazing Mixes

Murray McMurray Hatchery: Every year, we raise broilers for ourselves and for sale. We raise Broiler Chickens (Jumbo Cornish X Rocks) in Salatin-style chicken tractors on pasture. We have used other hatcheries, but McMurray has consistently provided the highest quality chicks. We also raise a wide variety of laying hens, and most have been purchased from McMurray. In addition, we raise Broad-Breasted Giant White Turkeys each year.
McMurray Cornish Rock Cross Chicks
McMurray Layer Chicks
McMurray Turkeys

 

 

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Wildlife at the Farm

We recently had some of our ducks and geese killed overnight. This happened last year as well. But we were never able to determine who the culprit was… fox, coyote, raccoon, opossum, owl?

I had found various piles of scat (animal droppings/manure) around the pastures, but they were too indistinct for me to tell which animal they came from.

We tried to go out late at night and really early in the morning to spot an animal. We never saw anything.

One of our farm volunteers even stayed up all night with a large spotlight in an attempt to catch a glimpse of a possible predator. Again, nothing.

So finally, after trying without success, I bought a game cam.

I first set it up near our mobile chicken coop, the Egg Mobile. We saw some rabbits and a few opossums. But that was it.

I then set it up near our sheep. Nothing.

I set it up near our pond. I saw the black and white cat that occasionally visits our farm.

But no predator that could take out 5 geese in one night (last year) or 4 ducks and one goose in one night (this year).

Eventually, I set up the game cam at the treeline bordering our pastures.

Here is what we found:

 

I am disappointed to see the coyote on the farm. The coyote is the likely source of our animal losses (although the bobcat may be contributing for sure). We know that if coyotes are hunted heavily, litter sizes increase dramatically. So in our attempt to fix the problem, we are actually making it worse. For now, I am still working on a plan to deal with the coyote, but I am not sure yet how I will proceed.

But I am so excited to see the bobcat on our farm. To have a high level predator like this means that we have a functioning ecosystem. There is obviously a trade off with this. If we lose a few chickens or ducks to these higher level predators each year, I am okay with that. To me, this is the cost of having a farm that encourages natural diversity. And I love it.

 

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

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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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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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