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Archive | Livestock

Principles of Permanent Agriculture

When we look at the great soils of the world, we can see these principles of permanent agriculture in action. The prairies have the grasses and clovers that together structure the soil and incorporate nitrogen. The grass roots finely divide the soil particles and then decay after the tops are grazed. The mobs of bison on small acreages of the Great Plains, for short periods of time ate a small percentage of the growth and trampled the major­ity of the carbon back into the soil. The heavy animal impact included manure, urine and tillage from their split hooves. It is fascinating to watch a bovine’s hoof split apart and literally plow the soil sideways, as the weight of the animal comes down on it.

Corn growing at Long Hungry Creek Farm in Tennessee. Photo by Kristina Rossi

Afterward, the land rested with no animals, and grew back up better than ever. This cycle produced phenom­enal soil humus.

This same thing happened in Northern Europe with wolves chasing reindeer and in the African savan­na, with lions chasing water buffalo. Everywhere you find great soils in nature, you’ll find mobs of grazing herbivores moved by predators. This is how humans will reverse climate change — by sequestering carbon with the use of grass, legumes and large herds of herbivores on small acreages for short periods of time. Continue Reading →

Pastured Pigs — A Primer

Raising livestock on pasture isn’t new, but with the advent of confine­ment livestock operations and the industrialization of meat production, chickens, cows and pigs were moved inside and shut off from the natural world. Feed, water, pharmaceuticals and intensively managed animals liv­ing in man-made environments some­how became the norm. Getting these animals back outdoors has become the goal for many farmers, as well as consumers.

Young pigs with portable waterer in a tall pasture system at Fortner Farm in Moravian Falls, North Carolina.

Many issues associated with con­finement — manure management, odors, water pollution, disease due to crowded conditions — are the result of too many animals and not enough space. Likewise, managing livestock on pasture means respecting the limits of the land, understanding the ani­mals’ natural behaviors and properly managing both.

“As with any other livestock, out­door pigs, when not appropriately managed, can elicit damage to their environment,” said Silvana Pietrose­moli, research associate, North Caroli­na State University, Alternative Swine Research and Extension Project.

Pigs root in the soil, and this natu­ral behavior is often maligned as the reason pigs aren’t able to be pastured successfully. But rooting behavior is controllable and can be beneficial to pastures, too. Wallowing is another pig behavior which can have detri­mental environmental consequences. Soil compaction is another concern, and pigs produce a lot of manure. Continue Reading →

Gabe Brown on Ecosystem Stewardship

North Dakota farmer and rancher Gabe Brown stands at the forefront of the regenerative agriculture movement. He is perhaps best known for popularizing the concept of cover crop cocktails as a key strategy for jumpstarting soil health and nourishing soil biology, but that’s only one of his many contributions.

North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown stands among his crops

North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown grows crops, cover crops and trees and manages diverse livestock on 5,000 owned and rented acres outside of Bismarck.

To his life work, Brown brings an inquisitive mind and an infectious love of the journey. He revels in trying new things and is not reluctant to fail at some of them, as experiments always yield food for thought and generate ideas for future exploration. As a pioneer, Brown has forged close relationships with fellow seekers and fostered a stimulating community for trailblazers. Generous with his knowledge, he’s a consummate educator who strives to open minds and is known for making a deep and sustained impression on his audiences.

As science begins to catch up with what Brown has been demonstrating on the ground, his sphere of influence has steadily expanded to include more mainstream researchers, policymakers, and even leaders in the conventional food industry.

Brown grows crops, cover crops and trees and manages diverse livestock on 5,000 owned and rented acres outside of Bismarck. By area standards, Brown’s Ranch is not that big. But what is astonishing is how much more this dryland farm is able to produce than comparable operations — both for market and deep within the soil. Continue Reading →

How to Establish Dung Beetles in Pastures (and Why You Want to Do This)

I only recently became interested in dung beetles, largely because it has only been recently that we have had any to become interested in. As a rancher, I must create the conditions for dung beetles to thrive, and they will come.

The first time I saw dung beetles completely bury a manure pat in a number of hours, I was hooked. I wanted to learn all about them: what they do, how to help them establish in pastures, how they work, etc. My continued observations and research has led our family to develop a deep appreciation of these hard-working creatures. So much so that we created our updated business logo in honor of them.

Our daughter art directed the logo and our neighbor, Brian Taylor, created it. We get a lot of stares when people see our logo on the side of our truck, but we hope it piques their curiosity enough to learn more about dung beetles and the vital role they can play on a healthy farm or ranch. Continue Reading →

Veteran Farmers Making a Difference

Veterans are once again taking up the call for our country as veteran farmers. Charley Jordan stops to listen to the quiet and to feel the breeze as his cattle graze in the distance. The silence is a stark contrast from the thunderous helicopter rotors he knew in the Army.

Tom Bennett has removed his staff sergeant stripes and left the Marines, but he now brings the same gung-ho attitude to sustainably raising his pigs and chickens.

Richard Gwilt no longer breathes the cordite he once did as a range master and paratrooper. His days in the 101st Airborne are over. Today he serves as director of operations for the Desert Forge Foundation, a nonprofit located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that is dedicated to transitioning veterans to farmers. The former chief warrant officer raises horses, cows and chilies, among other crops.

Tom Bennett has removed his staff sergeant stripes and left the Marines, but he still has the same gung-ho attitude, which he has been able to apply to raising pastured pigs and chickens. He has found a vocation that allows him to apply the problem-solving skills that he honed in the military.

Many veterans come home to a life completely different from the one they grew accustomed to in the military. Some aren’t lucky enough to adapt. For thousands of veterans, farming has become that new life: an occupation that is saving both them and agriculture.

There are currently more than 23 million veterans in the United States. When their service ends and their tours are over, veterans often have no place to turn. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, today’s vets are more likely to be unemployed than both civilians and veterans of prior conflicts. Through 2012, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent — compared to about 7.9 percent for the general U.S. population. Continue Reading →

Winter Poultry Care

The answer to the poet’s ques­tion of, “What is so rare as a day in June?” was, until recently, a farm fresh egg in the middle of winter. Egg laying was essentially a seasonal activity and was greatest only when the hours of daylight lengthened.

Egg output increased as producer experi­ence and skills increased and were motivated by the demand for eggs in the cooler months when baking is increased and appetites are heartier. Take stock of your flock facilities and management techniques for successful winters to come.

Lighting 

Earlier egg producers learned to make the most of what nature of­fered them. Poultry houses were built with larger southern-facing walls, of­ten with large numbers of windows to catch as much of the thin winter sunlight as possible. They were white­washed inside each fall as both a sani­tary measure and to further amplify the light factor inside the building.

When electricity became more available many began to light their laying houses to stimulate egg produc­tion in the darker, gray months. It is a practice that continues with good effect though not always done well. Continue Reading →