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Hidden Hole Farm – Natural Farming Analysis Basis

Concord in Farming: The Built-in Method at Hidden Hole Farm

Arlen Beery has been farming the identical piece of land at Hidden Hole Farm in Dayton, Virginia, for thirty years. He was one in all a number of farmers that OFRF spoke to in a collection of interviews about Combine Crop-Livestock Methods, the apply of elevating livestock and crops on the identical farm, overlapping on the identical floor in methods that may profit the animals and the vegetation, in addition to the entire farm ecosystem. “In all my years the crops and livestock have each been right here,” he stated, when requested which got here first. “The livestock wanted forage and winter feed,” he stated. “For us each got here collectively.” His residence farm is 117 acres, and he additionally rents one other 200 close by. Hidden Hole Farm primarily raises dairy cattle, and sells natural grass-fed milk by means of Natural Valley, a wholesale milk cooperative. In addition they increase about 1000 laying hens, produce greens, hay, and corn, and sometimes promote some beef.

Though the crops and livestock have each been there from the start, they haven’t at all times been as built-in as they’re now. “Years in the past after we began we weren’t grazing,” Arlen stated. “We might harvest all of the crops we have been rising and bale or chop the crop and retailer it for the cattle to eat in additional of a confinement sort setting, the place cows went to the feed bunk [a type of feeding trough] to get their feed.” In 2003 Arlen started the transition to natural manufacturing, turning into licensed in 2006. “We moved into grazing at the moment,” Arlen defined, “as a result of it’s a nationwide natural program ruling, it’s a requirement.”

There have been a number of issues that impressed them to make the shift to natural manufacturing. “One of many key causes was to minimize the impact of the swings available in the market on the subject of fertilizer,” Arlen stated. It additionally helped to buffer them in opposition to the “ups and downs within the grain market.”

“The natural mannequin doesn’t rely upon artificial fertilizers and artificial chemical substances,” Arlen stated. This meant his annual manufacturing prices have been extra predictable. As a result of he feeds much less grain now that he’s rotationally grazing his cows on pasture, swings within the grain market additionally don’t have an effect on his funds as a lot. One other motivation for going natural was the well being and wellbeing of the farm, the soil biology, and the household, together with younger youngsters who reside on the farm.  “We have been eager to get to a extra pure means of farming,” Arlen stated.

Since turning into licensed natural and starting to place their animals on pasture, Arlen has developed a multi-year rotation for his farm to maintain his pastures and animals wholesome. “Now we have [an] eight yr rotation on the pasture system,” Arlen defined. For seven years, the land is in pasture, and the eighth yr in an annual crop (sudan or millet). Beginning in the summertime earlier than the annual crops shall be grown in an space, Arlen places chickens on that pasture intensely. They then “out winter” the cattle, preserving them on that very same piece of pasture by means of the winter. “In spring there shall be a variety of manure left there from cattle and chickens,” Arlen defined. “The sod is skinny from livestock being on it. Then we do some tillage, and plant sudan/millet as an annual summer season crop.” After about 35 days they can begin grazing the cattle in that space once more, and might return to graze the sudan/millet each month over the summer season. In September, after about three grazings, they pull the sudan/millet out and plant the realm again into perennial pasture, and hold the animals off it for the primary winter so it might get established. Once they replant a pasture they embrace triticale as a “nurse crop.” Triticale grows shortly, so it’s the very first thing the animals can graze once they’re put again on the pasture within the spring. “We will begin grazing there in mid March,” Arlen stated, which is sooner than different pastures that don’t have the triticale current.

Arlen has his farm divided into paddocks about 5 acres in dimension. They’re usually shifting about 90 cattle, and rotate them roughly each two days. “The best way I farm immediately,” Arlen stated, “crucial factor is having a fringe fence round the entire farm that’s safe.” This enables them to let cows into an space every time they should, to allow them to have cows clip a pasture, or terminate a canopy crop. “It’s quite a bit cheaper to let the cows in than to run hay gear over that floor,” Arlen defined. “That’s one thing I might suggest to anybody pursuing these methods of farming, to have a robust safe perimeter fence so you possibly can flash graze when wanted.”

Whereas Arlen says that the yields on his crops haven’t modified a lot since integrating, there are another advantages that he has noticed. “The well being of cattle and chickens is quite a bit improved,” he stated. “Particularly for the dairy cows, they aren’t pushed as exhausting… so that they’re not making an attempt to provide extra milk than they have been naturally designed to.” Arlen defined that his cows now have an extended lifespan and higher general well being as a result of they’re not on a excessive vitality food regimen of grains that ruminant animals haven’t developed to eat. Chickens comply with cattle round within the rotation on Arlen’s pastures.  They “are actually efficient in serving to to regulate the parasite load and fly larvae that comply with cattle,” he defined. They scratch round and assist to distribute the cow manure throughout the fields. This has well being advantages for the chickens as properly. “Getting the clover and alfalfa within the fields, in addition to crickets and worms, it’s useful to them,” Arlen stated, stating that it additionally makes a more healthy egg for the patron. 

Arlen has additionally seen enhancements in soil well being by means of integrating the livestock onto the cropping floor. “Soil natural matter has elevated quicker than every other mannequin of farming that I do know of,” Arlen stated. The cows depart cow patties on the fields, and dung beetles burrow into the bottom, distributing that manure and transporting vitamins down into the soil. Earthworm exercise additionally will increase the soil biology, and the pathways left behind by the dung beetles and the earthworms help in water infiltration and retention. The “soil well being actually hums,” Arlen stated of what he sees in his built-in farming techniques.

“The grazing of cattle is an fascinating studying curve,” Arlen stated. “Cattle have to discover ways to graze, and farmers have to discover ways to handle grazing animals.” From his expertise, that course of takes three years, and generally longer. “Studying your cattle, studying your farm, studying your atmosphere, your dry instances, rainfall, winter, how moist climate impacts how one can graze, how a lot harm you do… Takes time to grasp that,” Arlen stated. He identified that it’s not simply the farmers who’ve to regulate to the method of rotational grazing. Cows additionally have to be taught to graze, in the event that they haven’t been raised that means. “It takes a cow rising up as a calf on a grazing mannequin,” Arlen stated, “earlier than they’re good grazers and capable of hold good physique situation.”

“There’s no means which you can begin out as a brand new inexperienced grazing farmer and be capable to do [it] excellent to start with. There’s no means to enter a farm and do it by the textbook.”

Thankfully there are farmers like Arlen who’re prepared to share their experiences of the challenges and some great benefits of integrating their crop and livestock manufacturing to assist educate and encourage different farmers to make the leap. Surveys of natural farmers have proven that farmer-to-farmer studying is without doubt one of the most most well-liked strategies to obtain data, so the willingness of farmers like Arlen to share their expertise is paramount. Though it takes time to be taught the nuances of how land, livestock, and crops work collectively, and to develop the built-in techniques, Hidden Hole Farm is a superb instance of the long run advantages that crop-livestock integration can have on animal, crop, and soil well being.



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