January 4, 2020
It’s a misty morning with the trees silhouetted against the pasture and hills across the valley. It’s the kind of place that makes you believe in magic and fairies. The sun doesn’t rise until almost 8am and the rain beat down hard during the night giving what little light appears a diamond like quality across the pasture.. The barn chores need to be done and the animals need to be fed but it’s easier to relax in front of the fire with a cup of coffee in hand.
At the start of this new year, we have 3 steers in the freezer, 3 yearlings on the land, and 3 calves in the barn. We have 5 ewes ready to lamb in February along with a ram. We have 3 goats mainly utilized to keep the berry vines under control and to provide some humor to our lives. And countless chickens providings eggs for sale and our own use. We also have 3 horses to ride, a dog for help in moving animals, and 2 cats. Our ranch plan is moving forward.
We have had a clear plan for the last five years to set up this ranch for Peter’s future. He wants to raise cattle and ride his horse. Our small 15 acre ranch is just right for a few head of cattle and some sheep. Enough to sell some pasture raised beef and lamb to a select group in our local area – yay for locavores!
During the holiday season, we had many young people visiting. We served a delicious prime rib dinner for 17 people at Christmas and beef short ribs for New Years. As we were eating, the young people (and some of the older ones) talked about how they were trying to eat less meat. The older ones, it was for health. The younger ones (20’s-30’s) were choosing not to eat meat for environmental reasons. So much for our clear path…
With these comments in mind, we need to rethink our goals and how we are going to change with the needs of the community. We cannot rely totally on tender, grass fed beef and lamb, we need to diversify into other areas. In our studies, we have found that some hooved, grass feeding animals are necessary to provide a better quality soil which grows a better grass/turf, which in turn helps to lock carbon in the soil. For those people who believe that no animals is better for the environment, we propose that it is better to have quality beef/lamb raised locally on well tended pastures. Good soils need the fertilization from large animals so that we don’t use chemicals. Good soils need the cropping of the plants to encourage them to grow deeper roots. Good soils need thicker plants to keep the water from running off and removing the topsoil. But good soils also need maintenance and daily effort by the rancher to not overgraze, to not allow weeds to take over the grassland, or to keep chemicals off the land.
So, given that we need to rethink our process, we still believe that growing a few animals for food in addition to adding you-pick berries and giving people a relaxing place to bring their children to see how their food is raised is still the most valuable use of our land. The mist is getting a little clearer…