Rotational grazing means moving grazing animals to new sections of the pasture regularly, rather than putting them in a pasture and leaving them there. Moving the animals regularly mimics the natural movements of grazing herds on the landscape. When grasses and forbs have a chance to regrow after being grazed, they are healthier and more resilient. Deeper roots and improved nutrient cycling extend the growing season, reduce water use, and improve fertility. Healthier pastures means fewer inputs are required.
We move our animals to fresh grass about twice a week. This practice is labor intensive, but we believe the hard work is worth it. There is deep joy in watching our animals move onto new ground- their excitement is contagious. They move eagerly around, rushing to taste each type of plant, kicking up their heels, enjoying being on the move.
Pigs as Plows
We like to let our animals do what they do best. For pigs, that's rooting around in the soil to find roots, insects, fungi, and plants to eat. Our pigs are rotated on pasture so that they can do just that. What the pigs don't know is that we're using them for double duty. Much of our farm's pastures were damaged from years of overgrazing when we bought this property. The pigs are helping us to renovate this land by adding fertility and by tilling the soil with their noses. With them helping to turn the soil, we can greatly reduce the use of our tractor in preparing ground to plant new seeds. This spring, we are planting late summer forage crops in the two acre section that the pigs helped us prepare. When the pasture grasses stop growing in the heat of summer, both pigs and goats will be eating fresh forage corn, squash, and turnips that we've planted with help from the pigs.
The Farm as an Ecosystem
Diversity in nature deepens the resilience of an ecosystem, and diversity on the farm deepens the resilience and sustainability of agriculture. On our farm, this means not only growing a diversity of species and varieties, but also working to creatively integrate our livestock and crops. Depending on the time of year, you'll find chickens and turkeys fertilizing the orchard and cleaning up after the goats to reduce parasite levels. Grazing goats mow the grass around the apple trees (with very hot electric fencing to protect the trees themselves). Pigs prepare ground for planting and add fertility.
With rotational grazing, animals improve the soil by improving nutrient cycling, and when managed appropriately their presence helps keep pests, diseases, and weeds from getting out of hand. We're grateful for the contributions that our animals make to the resilience of this farm.
We strive to make our farm a beneficial part of the larger ecosystem. We do not use synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. We protect and augment populations of native wildflowers and plant flower resources that are beneficial to a wide variety of insects.
The goats have proven to be a very valuable tool for regenerating forest and edge habitat. With careful management and creative timing, they clear invasive blackberry and Scotch broom, as well as other weeds, which can take over and crowd other species, reducing diversity. We have seen the return of a number of native species where the goats have controlled the weedy brush.
Our goal is to provide food for our community, build healthier soil, improve our resilience, while providing and protecting habitat for the wild plants and creatures that also call this land home.