Multispecies rotational grazing maximizes soil fertility and health

Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm

Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm (photo shown in Joel’s presentation)

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm (polyfacefarms.com) in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley recommends rotational grazing to caress soils and confuse pathogens. The Salatins delight in diversity and prefer portable, flexible animal infrastructure. They blend and rotate livestock and pasture species to puzzle pests. Soils rest between rotation cycles to nurture nutrients and to break pest and pathogen patterns.

For centuries farmers have understood that animal manures return vital nutrients to crop fields. Many farmers pull mechanical spreaders behind fossil fuel-burning tractors to move manure into fields. At Polyface farm, livestock spread their own manure.

Rotational or mob grazing simulates large herds of bison grazing and moving across the American prairies. Well managed grazing concentrates livestock in one area for a short period and then move them on. At Polyface farm, portable electric fences contain grazing beef herds. Farmers move the fences and livestock daily. Salatin said his animals look forward to a fresh “salad bar” every morning. These cattle graze forage at a sustainable level. They trample their manure patties ensuring good soil contact and starting the decomposition process. [Read more here.]

Legal concerns around farm workers & employees

Rachel Armstrong

Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons

Workers and Employees

Farming is hard work. Many farmers seek help from a blend of volunteers (CSA work shares – trading food for labor), compensated volunteers (trading food and/or housing for labor) and paid employees. Farmers seek happy and productive workers. Rachel Armstrong, lawyer and former grower, led an informative webinar on the legal considerations around unpaid and compensated volunteers. “Ag. law is incredibly complex,” said Armstrong. Her website (farmcommons.org) offers checklists, flowcharts and model documents to guide farmers.

Volunteers

Armstrong recognizes that consumers everywhere value their connection to the land; they want to reconnect with the land and with farmers who grow their food. Many farm customers happily volunteer with their favorite farmer. Armstrong noted that no one volunteers to pump gas.

[Read more here.]

Energy conservation opportunities in broiler & breeder poultry operations

Dennis Brothers and NPTC staff installing a bubble-wrap/fiberglass side-by-side wall insulation test at a grower owned commercial farm. Photo taken by NPTC Specialist Jess Campbell.

Dennis Brothers and NPTC staff installing a bubble-wrap/fiberglass side-by-side wall insulation test at a grower owned commercial farm. Photo by NPTC Specialist Jess Campbell.

Poultry operators may increase their profitability by lowering their energy expenses. Dennis Brothers, Extension poultry housing specialist with the National Poultry Technology Center (NPTC) of Auburn University, led a webinar on this topic called “Poultry Operations: Broiler and Breeder Energy Conservation Opportunities.” Brothers focused on commercial broiler and breeder houses. Brothers said broiler and breeder chicken production accounted for 85-90 percent of American commercial poultry houses.

Brothers found many energy saving opportunities in large poultry operations including significant energy savings for lighting, building envelope, ventilation and heating systems. [Read more here.]

Beginning farmer training for military veterans

Norm Conrad

Norm Conrad of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)

Military veterans prefer hands-on learning with people they trust. Veterans want to “do” rather than listen to lectures. Successful educators build relationships with veterans and create Beginning Farmer training techniques that address veterans’ unique learning style.

Effective educators offer training and other beginning farmer services for veterans by connecting and engaging with their audience. Norm Conrad suggested agricultural training programs created for veterans include plenty of hand-on experiences for this high-energy group. Veterans learn their technical skills through haptic or hands-on, experiential learning. They are accustomed to demonstrating those skills to peers or sharing skills with other veterans.

Conrad strongly suggests having extra materials on-hand as well as an extra group exercise or activity in the curriculum. Veterans are often more focused, productive and efficient than other workshop attendees. Educators may find events or activities finished early.  [Read the full story here.]

Bittersweet Farm raises heritage pigs

Heritage pigs at Bittersweet Farm

Heritage pigs at Bittersweet Farm

Brian Bennett of Bittersweet Farm has been living with pigs for over 30 years. Each year, he raises 10-12 liters of certified organic pigs with 6-8 piglets per liter. The pigs live as families outdoors not packed together in huge barns. All the farm’s pigs have names. “I like to know who is coming to dinner,” said Bennett with a smile.

To people offended by smelly pig barns, Bennett reminds them that he does not run a confinement operation. Farrowing huts may smell of manure and afterbirth, but it’s all connected: “Energy, passion, life process and life force.”

Bennett’s favorite heritage breeds are Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spots. These breeds are known as great mothers. Bennett used to raise Yorkshire pigs but their large liters lost too many piglets, especially in extended subzero periods in upstate NY. Heritage pigs thrive on pasture, in woodlands and with diverse diets. Bennett and his family raise much of the pigs’ food on the farm. [Read more here.]

The healthy, profitable business at Green Pastures Farm

Greg Judy

Greg Judy

Greg Judy runs a profitable, managed grazing operation at Green Pastures Farm. He uses pasture stockpiling so his livestock collect their own winter feed. Known by many as The Grass Whisperer, Judy manages his pastures for healthy soils, drought resistance and diversified forage. His ruminants improve land, soil and water quality without the use of fossil fuels.

Judy views himself as a “steward of the land and the animals.” Green Pastures Farm does not own a tractor. Judy described livestock in feedlots as “fossil fuel consumers.” Feedlot meat producers use fuels to plant, fertilize, harvest and transport corn, soybeans and other feed. They use more fuel to remove and spread animal manure.

Diversity matters to Judy. He values livestock, plant, wildlife AND soil species diversity. He said, “For every new species you welcome to your farm, you make room for eight more.” Judy views an ecosystem like a spider web. Remove any strand and you weaken the whole web. He welcomes spiders in his fields; to Judy, that means his ecosystems are healthy. [Learn more here.]

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Maine Mead Works

Maine Mead Works

According to the American Mead Makers Association, in 2000, there were under two dozen commercial meaderies in the United States. By 2015, there are nearly 250. In 2014 alone, 40 new meaderies have opened. Maine Mead Works is one of the leading American meaderies. Their meads have received numerous awards. Owners, Ben Alexander, Carly Cope and Nick Higgins handcraft small batches of mead including Cyser (a style of mead) and Chai (flavored mead).

Maine Mead Works shares the oldest fermented beverage – Mead – with their customers. Using wildflower honey, pure water and a proprietary yeast strain, mead maker Nick Higgins blends ancient traditions with modern science to produce distinctive honey wines (meads).

Award-winning mead maker Dr. Garth Cambray, founder of South African Makana Meadery, helped Alexander start Maine Mead Works in Portland, Maine in 2007. These two meaderies produce their mead with the only two state-of-the-art, continuous vertical mead fermentation systems in the world. [Learn more here.]