When given the opportunity to think about my farm in depth, I always add the fanciful. I observe the way the light looks through the barn in the early morning as I let the sheep out to pasture. Meandering towards the house, I adore the line of ducks that make their way down to see what stray grain my milk cow Ohio is flinging from the trough in her excited eating. While sitting peacefully upon the steps leading up to the side door, I am happy to see the rows of vegetables putting on large yellow blossoms.
On this particular Friday morn, at the Dollars & Sense workshop held by Holistic Management International in Oklahoma last week, I was soaking in the words of Dr. Ann Adams as she asked me what I like about farming. I explain the undiluted wonder my livestock provide for me every day. For the rest of the day we discussed the running of my farm and it’s further development into what I want out of my farm.
Being a young farmer, this question is always foremost on my mind. What do I want out of my pasture? What do I want out of the types of animals I keep? What do I want out of the produce I grow? The important element is to ask the right questions. For the whole of my Friday and Saturday, I was taught the necessary questions, and given the freedom in a holistic manner to think about my role as steward of the land. I say steward because the common thread between most of the farmers in the room is that we were all looking for a sustainable way to succeed at our tending to the land, which in turn creates the forms that our farms will take.
Dr. Ann Adams taught me the practical skill of thinking about my acreage in a detailed way. She asked the correct questions for me to determine what my farm can handle and what factors are necessary for me to focus on in order to succeed. In addition, she approached even the weak links, whether it is a person or a patch of barren soil or the lack of funds (money is usually a problem at my farm. I judge my accounts in new fence links and gates) in a holistic way, where I was able to judge my problems in terms with my end goal… of what I want.
One of the teachers, Frank Aragona, was no stranger to me. I had been listening to his AgroInovations pod cast for a while before this workshop.I am fascinated by soil science, and for five years now I have been studying the effects of different cover crops, such as field peas and various grains, and what effects the different combinations have on soil. I have read many a books on soil fertility and how to achieve it, and try to play out those ideas with my animal husbandry, so I was excited to listen to Frank’s perspectives on soil composition and learn from his experience what it will take to bring the barren patches at Early Bird Acres (my farm) back to a thriving field of forage. I now feel more confident in building up my soil composition in such a way as to better keep and catch those precious rains. Frank asked the necessary questions about my land to make me realize how to get what I want out of those acres. He encouraged me in my path of animal based soil sustainability and taught me the limits of hw much my grass can take when it comes to grazing. “You can literally feel the amount of grazing a field has been under,” he said as he touched the ground. It made me even more excited that I would soon picking up my third batch of baby pigs, given the lovely work they do for my soil, all while growing bacon upon their backs.
Another teacher, Kirk Gadzia, discussed the concept of paddocks and the planning of one’s grazing. This piqued my interest since eventually I hope to maintain a small herd of Jersey and British white cattle for my organic dairy business. I also toy with the idea of having buffalo, but that is another post in itself. He made me imagine all of the different areas of my acreage and what each area might look like at different times of year, and with that, plan a very holistic rotational grazing schedule. I had never done the math on the recovery time for all of my paddocks. It made me feel more secure on the number of animals I could keep without shelling out thousands of dollars in supplemental feed.
Overall, I would highly recommend the Dollars & Sense Holistic workshop for any farmer of any age. I was happy to observe old cattle farmers truly wanting to better the land they steward and the cattle they graze. For more information about Holistic Management International, please go to www.holisticmanagement.org and inquire on bringing this class to your own area and further framing the picture you want of your farm.