Here are our thoughts on a few topics and how we address them in our farm operations.
Generally speaking, sustainable agriculture practices have the goal of producing safe products without harming the environment while maintaining plant and animal genetics that are socially acceptable and profitable. We like to take it one step further and strive to actually enhance (regenerate) our all of our natural resources and products leaving behind a better environment that we started with for now and future generations! And its not hard to do. Mother Nature does most of the hard work, we just have to stay out of her way and not throw toxicity at her.
Instead of competing with nature, we have partnered with her. This really comes down to holistic land management. Our grazing management practices consist of strategic daily movements that continually rebuild the soil organic matter and biodiversity which not only gives us better forage diversity, crop resilience, nutrient-dense energy for our animals, but also helps reverse climate change in both a carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle. Again, we let the animals do most of the hard work naturally!
It's all in the pudding…I mean, soil. We are continually working to build better soil. The cycle is pretty straightforward. There are four (very basic) aspects to healthy soil: 1) stop disturbing it, 2) encourage plant diversity, 3) keep roots in the soil, and 4) keep soil covered. These basic ideas help hold the soil in place, prevent erosion and allow rainwater to filter in. On top of this, we then implement our livestock-managed grazing techniques to help add additional carbon and nutrients to give it that extra boost and regenerate. We run several unique tests on our soil that give us a report card on our efforts – and the results have been astonishing.
We broke our large pastures down into a grid of small paddocks, each about an acre. We move our livestock daily following our 1/3 rule for optimal results. This is where we allow the livestock to graze only the top 1/3 of the grass before they get moved out to the next pasture, which resembles natural herd migration. By doing this, we are hitting several goals all at once. First, this offers our livestock the best part of our grass forage – the top third is where all the energy is before the grass matures and seeds. Secondly, by keeping 2/3 of the plant intact allows the plant to regrow without putting a burden on its root system. Finally, the livestock naturally drop manure and urine evenly and ‘trample’ it all down with a percentage of the grass which adds additional carbon and nutrients back into the soil. Once the livestock are moved out, we let that paddock rest and regrow until it's ready again. Thus, not only providing excellent grass-fed meats, but simultaneously improving the health of our grass and soil. This naturally helps, along with moving our water and mineral locations at each paddock as well, to avoid high animal concentration locations which eliminate ‘cow paths’ and bare dirt spots.
We are always looking to add additional diversity to our pasture grasses. We currently have a nice mix of orchard grass, timothy, broom, and a little clover and alfalfa mixed in. We look to overseed additional types of diverse grasses, forbs, legumes, and shrubs for a well-balanced salad bar for our livestock. As we get pastures to optimal levels, we start rotating in different livestock trailing one another (and some even together) for a complete cycle of what I like to call ‘livestock permaculture’.
We have two natural waterways that wander their way through the property. Awesome. However, we also have upstream livestock that have access to our lower creek and thus, creates a less-than-optimal water source or our operations. We have been studying a mycelium bunker sack remedy for helping heal our natural waterways in our ecosystem, but for the time being, we now have 3 water wells on the property that we use to water all the plants and animals onsite – including ourselves! We demand the best water quality we can for all.
The truth is we are surrounded by chemicals – both good and bad, natural and synthetic – but the issues come down to their toxicity levels. It’s the EPA’s job to manage how, when, and where they are applied and that’s no easy task, especially when money is on the line and lobbyists are still at the helm.
We have been, by choice, 100% chemical-free in our land inputs since day one. This includes absolutely no use of any pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, soil fumigants, desiccants, harvest aids, plant growth regulators, or any other ‘cides or chemicals we wouldn’t want in our ecosystem or food chain for our own family!
Don’t get us wrong – we also buy mostly ‘organic’ and ‘non-GMO products. However, we decided not to certify our farm organic yet, because quite frankly – it's not enough. Organic certification still allows producers to use many pesticides and other chemicals that they deem safe at certain levels. We still may end up getting certified ‘organic’ as a base certified standard. We are also looking at other certifications like the family of Animal Welfare certifications from AGW and the Non-GMO Project, but will always follow our own best-practice standards, regardless of what might be allowed.
We want our ruminants to eat live, fresh, free-choice, salad-bar style pastures full of grasses, forbs, legumes, shrubs, trees, etc. via rotational grazing at the goal of 365 days a year. Not easy! Some say impossible especially with the unknowns of winter. But if properly managed with the right amount of land/pastures for the size of the heard, it is possible to grow ‘storage’ grasses in a winter pasture that greatly reduces the need for additional hay inputs.
However, having hay does become a necessary option. We try use as little hay as possible and only during the worst parts of winter or other select instances when it's the only solution. If so, we use hay off our own pastures or acquire it locally on neighboring farms that follow a chemical-free practice.
Here’s the skinny on grain and ruminants. First, ruminants are grass grazing herbivorous mammals like cows, sheep, deer, giraffes, etc. They have a special chamber in their stomach called the rumen that allows them to get the nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it and then rechewing to further break it down to stimulate digestion. The fermented plant matter is called cud, which is why you can see these animals ‘chewing their cud’ all the time.
Now, nowhere in the above did the word grain pop up…as ruminants were not developed to eat grain! Feeding grain to ruminants started in the 50’s because it can take a long time, years, for an animal to get finished and ready for processing. It didn’t take long for folks to realize that feeding cattle corn grain gave them more calories and grow faster. But here's the rub.
YES!! We do love mycelium and all things fungi (except the cide). These guys helped build the earth to what we have today from millions of years ago via meteor or some other ancient vehicle to our planet. Mycelium makes soil and can heal the planet and are definitely used here on Wolf Oak Farm.
We were not born on a farm or grow up working on one– even during the summers like some claim. Albeit some of our relatives do/have, but we have had to learn along the way. There is a treasure trove of books and now, online knowledge on farming – both good and not so great. But, we love the planet and her infinite wisdom to host humanity and follow our hearts. We will drop a list here shortly of a few authors and other links to who we believe are helping the planet via farming with love and light.