What's behind Holistic Management and sustainable agriculture practices, such as those we utilize here at Helder~Herwyck Farm?
Check out this linkto a very important and enlightening presentation by Alan Savory, founder of Holistic Management International.
'Neath Winter's sparkling, diamond blanket....
A period of rest is of utmost importance as part of our sustainable practices. During pasturing season, running April through sometimes December, each pasture area is allowed to rest for a minimum of 60 days between grazings.
... lies sleeping, Summer's lush, green gold...
Improving soil health, animal health and ultimately your health, through planned rotational grazing...
Using intensive, rotational pasturing, our livestock are rotated in sequence through our pasture areas. Each species contributes to the vegetation and soil through their natural behaviors. The sheep crop grasses in a particular way, and by defacating, release nutrients back to the field. The laying hens graze in yet a different manner, and obtain valuable proteins and other nutrients through a buffet of insects, plants, and seeds. Our grazing animals awaken a bank of native seeds hidden in the soils from the past. By rotating, and species following each other, we reduce parasite problems, improve pasture plant diversity, improve animal health and vitality and thereby improve our end products - food for your family. Our animals feed on our grasses, grown purely by nature, the sun and rain. In exchange for their food, they return nutrients to the soil which increase soil health, plant and animal diversity - the vibrancy of life. No plowing, no chemicals, no seeding - basically, we harvest the sun!
Mist in the meadow....these late summer grasses and legumes and well, even nutritional weeds, have served our flock well all summer. By mid November, this section had been grazed for a fourth time. Using planned rotational grazing has nearly eradicated the invasive Russian knapweed from our sheep-pasture areas - no plowing (which would actually give the knapweed the upper-hand over the existing seed bank of native grasses and legumes), and definitely, absolutely no spraying - NOT an option ever in our Whole-Farm planning. When grazed short at least twice early in the season, knapweed loses its grip, and the existing native seed-bank can take hold and return the area to lush, native vegitation.
Russian, or Spotted Knapweed. At this height, most livestock have little interest in eating it. The stems are woody and there are few leaves of much consequence to feeding. Now found in nearly every state in the lower 48, the plant is destroying areas managed by conventional repetitive plowing, grazing or spraying.
This is an example of knapweed's invasive properties. This community is formed by the plants heavy seeding, and a chemical released by its roots into the soil which slowly drives native forage species further and further out away from the "colony".
Photo 2013 - Though this field was never as bad as that at above right, this photo shows very little knapweed to native plant ratio. After rotating our sheep through several times that summer, followed with hens each time, then in the photo below, taken early in 2014 following a winter's rest, the weed is nearly eradicated.
That said, however, knapweed has a fairly long taproot, which actually returns valuable minerals from deep in the soil to the surface, via our sheeps' stomachs....
"Heather", a ewe lamb grazing on knapweed in one of our more severly infested pasture areas. As our flock increases in number, we will be grazing more and more of our fields, reducing the amount of knapweed.
Another down side to knapweed is when it invades hay fields and is mowed late in the season, along with the grasses, not only are it's seeds dispersed, but the resulting hay is often unpalatable to livestock. Additionally, when the sheeps' wool is so valuable, the dried seed heads can become snagged in the fleece while eating. Value is lost if contaminated fleece must be skirted out before processing.
By grazing on this plant, minerals it absorbs from its deep roots are consumed by our livestock. Few animals will eat it at this stage, but by intensively grazing the sheep on it, they consume it nearly entirely. Often only sticks are left. By consuming and digesting the minerals, when the sheep defecate, these minerals are returned to the surface, and the cycle begins again. Now the native plants will carry these minerals forward in the next cycle. After the sheep have grazed a pasture area, we next employ our poultry, consisting of about 100 laying hens plus 150 Guinea keets and 100 Heritage Broiler chickens.
Pastured within electric mesh fencing for protection from predators such as coyotes, racoons or fisher cats, the birds are also provided with portable hoop-house "bedrooms". The birds are released onto pasture in the morning, and enclosed in the houses at night for added protection from owls. The coop for our laying flock included egg boxes for laying in. The benefits of the poultry following the sheep are multiple. First, as they forage for their natural diet of bugs, worms, seeds and vegetation like grass and clover and grit (sorry folks, "vegetarian" is a completely unnatural diet for poultry!) they scratch the ground with their feet, also foraging in the dried sheep manure for various insects and seeds. Doing so aerates the soil and spreads the manure amongst the plants. It is a natural fertilizer consumed by the forage plants, as is the birds' droppings themselves. When the birds are cooped at night, they continue to add their contributions of fertilizers, but in a concentrated manner within the coop. Every morning the coops are moved onto clean grass so the night's manure deposit can begin to break down. There is very little odor, if any, when poultry are managed in this manner. Finally, every few days, the fencing is moved to an entirely new section, along with the coops, and the process begins again.
Web Hosting by FatCow All content and photos, unless otherwise noted, are Copyrighted. All rights reserved by Helder~Herdwyck Farm
The Bradt Family
450 Long Road,
East Berne, NY 12059 (518) 872-9081