The input of manure on our regenerative, grass farm.
There are two things dominating winter life for the care of cattle: “Scraping the lot” and “bedding down the loafing shed.” Which basically means shoveling poop off concrete and putting straw over poop where the cows sleep so it’s hidden until spring. For the uninitiated or unaware, this might seem like an awful experience, especially if you find yourself home late and caught in the clutches of a blizzard. But to a farmer, it’s a labor of love as said manure is the game-changer that propels her forward.
On a grass farm (or your backyard) animal waste is the fastest, natural way to increase productivity. As a substance high in nutrients and carbon, most plants readily make use of all the components in a pile of manure; grass being no exception. And when I say I’m a grass farmer, I mean that grass is mostly what I’m concerned about on a day to day basis.
Cattle perform the function of harvester, transporter, and ultimately recycler of all the energy I’ve allowed the grass to capture over the course of the growing season. I love my cows, but if I wasn’t a Christian, I would worship at the altar of grass.
“For all things come from earth, and all things end by becoming earth.” –Xenophanes
This statement, written by a Greek philosopher around 500 B.C., would have dominated the life of any agriculturalist up and until the turn of the 20th century. Those farms of a bygone era could only rely on the fertilizer they cycled back to the soil from their own land.
Sadly, with the advent of industrial agriculture, a more apt rendition might go something like: “For all things come from a factory, and all things end in the water, air, or landfill.”
That is, most fertilizer in modern times is produced synthetically and trucked to the farm where its widespread application to the soil forms the basis of commodity agriculture. The soy and corn grown are then processed in another factory before it lands on a grocery store shelf wrapped in plastic.
And before you pull me off a high horse or throw your hands up in lamentable disgust, let me state: This system is next to impossible to avoid in our culture! Even for hippy-dippy regenerative farmers like yours truly. To be blunt, I’m a connoisseur of frozen pizzas just as much as anyone. But, in the changing of habits and lifestyles, a lack of immediate success does not necessitate eternal condemnation to failure.
In short, I’ll get better slowly, thank you very much.
There is an old adage amongst grass farmers: “You can’t feed fertilizer.” Meaning, if you want to increase the production of your land, it’s better to buy hay, run it through an animal, and let the resulting manure nourish the grass come spring.
Idyllic? Yes. Easy, precise, or quick? Most certainly not. But it’s what we’ve committed to here. And the results speak for themselves for veteran regenerative graziers such as Greg Judy. But, this blog isn’t a call to action for wannabee farmers, that ship sailed long ago and is currently picking up speed and cresting the waves of the sustainable agriculture community. And I don’t say that negatively, but I can realistically say that it will be some time before these methods make a significant impact on your grocery store experience.
In the meantime, be on the lookout for regenerative farms in your community, the good ones will make themselves easy to find. Of course, you can subscribe to this blog, and/or fill out our interest form for future regenerative meat from our farm.
Not everyone needs to shovel poop, but we can all benefit from its judicious placement.
This post was written by Nick Schmitz, January, 2021.