How Ruminant Animals Help Support County Agriculture

I have just been reading Volume 35 of Small Farmer’s Journal.  There is an article in this Winter Quarterly that gives the lay of the land, so to speak, about how Sustainable Agricultural Design can work, county by county.  I was delighted to find that one of the main components of his argument is that ruminant animals save energy, consume the vegetation that we humans cannot, and enrich soil fertility. When we speak of terroir and farmstead cheese making, we are not only speaking about a refined palate and an art form, but also a craft that has the potential to benefit the ecosystem that surrounds it, creating more lush land that thrives off of these natural foragers/ruminants.   Below, I will quote this article, Visioning County Agriculture Part Two by Karl North of Marathon, NY.

“…agriculture will incorporate multi-functional species to provide not just food but essential ecological services to address these key requirement of farm production…

Some of the most durable and productive low external input farming systems in history are designed around animals that can accelerate the growth and conversion of plants to fertilizer.  Because they are highly multi-functional, ruminant animals rank highest among these.  Beyond their manure production function, they can consume fibrous perennials unusable for human food.  These perennials can grow on hill land too rocky or too erodable for many types of food cropping…

…the ruminant stock subsisting on 3 acres of forage produced enough manure to sustain both the fertility of the forage land and one acre of cropland…Perhaps the most important design question for our purposes is the ratio of forage to cropland that is sustainable in our environment.

The full soil organic matter building process requires a design focus on three crucial area of agroecosystem:

Pasture management for a wide variety of productive, palatable perennial forages, kept in a vegetative state by pulsed grazing throughout the growing season to maximize biomass production, yet maintain forage health in future years;

Manure storage in a deep litter bedding pack under cover during the cold season to maximize nutrient retention and livestock health;

Conversion of the bedding pack to compost during the warm season as well, to maximize organic matter production, nutrient stabilization, and retention;

Field application of the compost during the warm season as well, to maximize efficient nutrient recycling into the soil.

Pulsed grazing is so important to the success of the soil building system…a method of repeated grazing of paddocks in a pasture that controls stock density and timing of stock movement in and out of paddocks to maximize forage production over the growing season:

-Stock enter a paddock before forage leaves its vegetative state and growth slows.

-Stock leave paddock while there is still sufficient forage leaf area to jump start regrowth.

-Grazing causes forage roots to die back, which adds soil organic matter from the dead root mass.  High stock density insures that ungrazed forage is trampled to accelerate decomposition and add to soil organic matter above ground as well as below.

-Stock return to the same paddock when leaf and root regrowth have fully recovered vigor and ability to recover from another grazing.”

All of this will also yield tasty, local flavors in our cheeses, while helping preserve the land.  What a a great combination.  The potentials with the animal biomass continue forward…

This idea can work perfectly on conservationist land around Boston area, as well as many other areas, providing a system of locally nourished land. Karl goes further into depth about Water Capture and Use along with Biofuels for the future.  Thinking about our land regionally and in agricultural and ecological terms will provide the most effective methods of land transformation and supply.

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