stewardship

Pastures of Plenty is, at its core, a land stewardship business. While we work first and foremost to provide our faithful customers with the best nourishment on earth, we also understand that healthy food can only come from a healthy ecosystem. Our goal as farmers is to create and manage an ecosystem that blends with the local, natural system, enhances the land, supports happy healthy animals, and ultimately feeds wholesome food to local families. Our animals make this all possible. Below are some of the production practices we employ:

Management-Intensive Grazing
Affectionately known as “MiG” to practitioners, Management-Intensive Grazing refers to the practice of closely monitoring and guiding the interactions between the pasture and the grazing animals to achieve the highest level of health possible for both. MiG requires the farmer to have a thorough knowledge of forage plants and understand the nutritional quality of those plants at different stages of growth. The farmer must also understand the needs of his animals based on their stage of growth. Timing is everything, and much of the practice of MiG boils down to managing when the animals begin to graze a certain pasture, the amount of time they spend on that pasture, and how long that pasture is allowed to rest and recover before it is grazed again. In the picture below, you can see an example of MiG in action. In this scene, Graham is grazing the cattle using high-density, short duration impact. This means that the cattle are kept in tight groups and given only enough grass for about one day of grazing. You can see on the right side of the picture where the cattle were the day before. The grass has been either eaten of trampled. The cattle are then quickly moved to another relatively small piece of ground containing abundant high quality forage, and excluded from their previous pasture using a single strand of electrified polywire. In this picture, Graham has left a high residual in the previous paddock. This benefits the cattle because they are only made to eat the plants they find most palatable, and palatability corresponds to high nutrient levels and digestibility. The land also receives benefit from the high residual. The grass that hasn’t been consumed is trampled into the ground and mixed with manure and urine – the makings of a great compost pile right there on the soil surface. The result is that we get to grow beef and improve soil fertility at the same time!Mallory_13

Silvopasture
This term refers to a certain blended ecosystem. Blended ecosystems are always more bio-productive than two mutually exclusive ecosystems. For example, a brackish estuary has a lot more going on than the salt water or the fresh water on either side. In the case of silvopasture, we are talking about a grassland ecosystem that is also partly treed – think of a handsome park, with both grass and trees. Or maybe it is a forest that is open enough to grow grass in the understory? Really, it’s both ecosystems at once, and that’s what makes it so effective. For instance, a major problem with pastures in the humid northeast is the phenomenon of nutrient leaching. Certain trace minerals such as copper, boron, iodine, selenium, and magnesium will be rinsed off of the topsoil in high rainfall areas. Almost all of our Maine grasslands are deficient in one or more of these nutrients. This leads to major health problems with our domestic livestock and puts limits on wildlife abundance. Deep rooted plants like trees are able to reach down into the subsoil and pull up some of the trace minerals, and every fall these trees shower the land with a mineral rich fertilizer – their leaves. Other benefits provided by the trees include shade for livestock, habitat for wildlife, erosion control, improved water holding capacity, increased carbon sequestration, protected riparian areas, a more diverse forage base, and mast production. Mast refers to acorns and other nuts produced by hardwood trees. As we sculpt our silvopastures, we are careful to keep as many oaks as possible so that each fall our pigs can get a bonus dose of high-quality, totally sustainable feed that literally falls from the sky. The picture below shows one of our new silvopastures on the Great Farm, where we are taking abandoned land and using pigs and cattle to create thriving ecosystems.IMG_1712

Seasonality
In order to grow high-quality meats as sustainably as possible, we have to arrange our operation to flow in time with the seasons. Most livestock in America are raised in confinement. They have a controlled environment and their food is brought to them. In this system, severed from the natural world, the season makes little difference and farmers are performing all operations at all times of year. The animals are fed concentrates such as grain and food processing by-products that can be easily stored and shipped. It is a system that provides cheap meat at the grocery store the year round, but contains many hidden costs in terms of environmental degradation and animal welfare. It is especially energy intensive to ship feed to one location where the livestock is held, then ship that meat all over the country, and then try to figure out what to do with all the manure built up at the feed lot, and fix the depleted crop fields where the feed came from. It could be simple: the animals could be raised outdoors and fed perennial pasture plants which could mitigate most of these problems. But to successfully raise critters with forage as their primary or only feed source we need to be seasonal. Check out how PoP beef productions moves through the seasons: Calves are born in the spring. This means the temperatures are warm enough that the babies stand little risk of freezing. It also means that the mother cows are starting to transition from eating hay (low quality feed) to eating fresh spring grass, a high quality feed that they need as they begin to lactate. Calves then spend their first summer and fall grazing alongside their mothers. Weaning takes place in the fall as the cows start to transition back to hay. This way they don’t have to try and nurse when they need more energy to keep warm. They are also pregnant again by now and need to recover their own condition before they give birth and lactate again. The following spring, the one year old cattle are ready to hit the pastures and graze right through the growing season. By their second winter they are big enough to spend the cold months out on pasture, rotating through the paddocks and eating hay bales to spread manure and grass seed across the reclaimed pastures.