So many have heard the same, familiar phrases from various vendors, pasture kept this, free range that, and their response has become one of a 'yeah right, heard all that before' type of thing. After observing this and some careful consideration on our part, we have decided to take the opportunity through this blog to share more details about this particular aspect of our land management/livestock practices.
We focus on sustainablility, improving the land naturally, not only in our gardens but also in our pasture areas. What do WE mean when we say that? It can best be described by simply saying we want the health of our land, crops and animals to be in the process of continual improvement. We want the nutrient levels of the soils to be rising and the yields of both crops and meats to be increasing...with absolutely NO negative side effects or commercial/synthetic inputs used. Proper, intensive management is necessary in order for this to happen.
So, how have we accomplished this lofty goal? First, we carefully studied the natural grazing patterns and needs of each species of animal who calls our farm home. From the height of the grasses to the life cycles of the parasites, all has been given special consideration. And from this study, an intensive, all-natural management process was born.
Our pastures are grazed in a specific order and rotated religiously. Goats get to graze first. They are browsers, preferring the taller grasses and weeds. They are also one of the most challenging animals to manage parasite wise. Grazing higher on the plants automatically limits the amount of parasite eggs consumed (numbers greatly increase the closer you get to soil level), and the load per animal is naturally diminished with no chemical inputs necessary. The parasite life cycle is a 3 week period, so goats are moved to a clean pasture right on time to avoid reinfestation.
Next comes the horse and the cow. These two are pasture mates and both graze on different parts of the grasses. The cow prefers the medium length blades while the horse relishes in the tender shoots closer to the ground. Parasites are species specific and the goat worms do not bother either the cow or the horse. They ingest the eggs on the blades of grass which then die in their digestive tract with no ill effects. A cow will not naturally graze around its own manure nor will a horse graze around theirs. This is part of God's design to help keep down the numbers in each.animal. But, the one will glady graze around the others manure, and vice versa, again, consuming parasite eggs which then die with no ill effect. These two beautiful ladies, Corrie and Daisy, are in essence our pasture vacuum cleaners! They graze an area for 3 weeks as well before being moved and always come in behind the goats.
Then it is time for the chickens/ducks to come in. Poultry are fantastic soil workers. They love nothing better than to scratch and dig. Their manure is a high source of nitrogen. If the portable tractors are moved daily, as ours are, the manure loads are kept to a minimum in each location where the grass can really benefit and the soil is worked, but not overly so. They tear into the horse and cow piles, eating all the worm eggs and bugs to be found while spreading the manure into thin layers, where the sun can easily dry it out and it can decay in a much quicker time frame. This builds the humus in the soil, feeds the microorganisms and the grass benefits from a perfectly natural meal. It recoops very quickly, becoming more nutritious and plentiful over time. Poultry is allowed to graze an area until it is completely covered, one 10X12 section at a time, before being moved to the next pasture always following the cow/horse.
The contribution of our rabbits simply cannot be overlooked. Their manure is the most complete, natural fertilizer available. Our hutches are cleaned on a daily basis and our pens are raked out on a weekly schedule. After each cleaning, the removed manure is either added to a compost pile or scattered thinly onto a pasture. It breaks down quickly and the nutrients are easily absorbed. If we had to choose just one manure to use, this one would be it! That is some powerful poop!
By this time, each pasture has sustained about 9 weeks of intensive grazing and it is time for a well deserved rest. We have subdivided our grazing areas into at least eight different sections. Each is allowed to rest a full 9 weeks or more before being grazed again. By that time, the grass has fully recooperated, the soil is naturally more nutrient dense, and the cycle is begun all over again.
This intensive process allows us to graze a larger number of animals on smaller acreage with better results. In turn, this translates into more plentiful, nutritious eggs and healthier meats. The land quality is improved, parasite numbers are naturally controlled, the animals thrive and require less intervention, either through traditional or herbal methods. We consistently use herbal worming methods to maintain the health of our herds/flocks. Because of this, there are no harmful residues in any of their manures. The natural organisms in both the waste and the soil are free to work as intended and beautiful results are then achieved.
We hope this explains a little more of what WE at Walk Ahead Farms mean when we use the phrase 'pasture raised and kept'. It is not something we say lightly, no, on the contrary, it is spoken with pride. We work hard to maintain the health of our land, animals and of the products we bring to market each week. We know personally how each animal lived every day of it's life right up until the time it is processed. We have researched the processing methods and are confident that our animals are treated with the same respect there that they are given here.
We believe this quality foundation will brightly shine through in each and every product you purchase from us.
Thanks again for giving us 'new guys' a chance. We look forward to continue serving you and your families nutritious, sustainably-produced foods.
Please view the slide show below which gives a pictoral diary of this process in action. The featured pasture was grazed by goats until the beginning of November, 2012. The horse grazed it until December. Chicken broilers and ducklings were brought in during late January/early February and have grazed this area, moving 10x12 feet daily, until present. Rabbit manure will be spread when the poultry is finished and then it will be rested.
The pictures will show that the 'proof is in the pudding'!