Back Issue Vol: 40-1
In the corner of my living room is what some would call folk art. Of course, one man’s art is another’s trash. I’m not big on metaphors, so it’s neither trash nor treasure to me. It simply reminds me of all the years I made my living logging with horses. Evidently some long ago horse logger was having a bad day and broke a drive grab. Breakdowns happen. You fix them; you keep on keepin’ on.
Over the last twenty plus years of intensive vegetable growing at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, CT, we have constantly sought ways to improve the health and vitality of our crops and soils. Much of the land grows vegetable crops year round so the intensity of production demands very careful soil care. Over the last several years a system was developed on the farm which has proven to be quite successful. The various methods are still being fine tuned; but with a high level of success and it seems appropriate to share what has been done.
Originally developed in the Midwest as an alternative to chemical no-till which aided soil warming and mechanical weed control, we adapted ridge-tillage to horsedrawn market garden production by attaching the rough equivalent of a ridge-till sweep to the middle of the riding cultivator. We initially used a cast-off roto-tiller middle buster found on the farm, then upgraded to a heavier duty customized 12” sweep, and finally settled on a 10” furrower purchased from Agri-Supply.
Market gardeners who already have an up and running tractor-powered operation and think they might want to explore transitioning to live horse power are often attracted to the idea of starting with a single horse. The single horse can also be a viable option for creating a mixed power system where the tractor is used for heavy tillage and the horse is used for secondary tillage, cultivation, and other light draft tasks around the farm. And for the complete beginner looking to get started in market gardening and working with horses, a single horse has a lot of appeal.
At the end of the day, what is a cow? Is she just so many pounds of animal flesh, a unit in a farm management scheme, a tool to be used and discarded as needed? Is she a mere producer of calves, of milk, of meat? Is she a member of the family, perhaps, or at least of the farm? Is she a pet? At the end of the day, is she still just a cow? These thoughts and more have been at the forefront of my mind these past few days as we deal — and, ultimately, dealt — with the decision of what to do with our beloved old boss cow Gail.
While the heritage breeds overcome the shortfalls of the Cornish-Rock Cross (CRX) and similar modern hybrids, they come with their own drawbacks. They do not approach the rapid growth rate, low feed conversion rates, and low production costs of the CRX, but there is a lack of information as to which breed or breeds might serve as a potential alternative for niche markets. Thus, our proposed solution was to raise a variety of heritage breed chickens on pasture, to gain a sort of foothold regarding expected growth considerations and production costs.
The question of why one ought to consider raising heritage meat chickens can be approached, I think, from two different angles: farm-based reasons for the actual raising of heritage birds, and the marketing advantages that heritage birds offer for the small farmer. Heritage chickens are a distinctly niche product, and niche production is a boon to the small farm. To be sure, pastured poultry generally is a niche product, but one that is becoming more and more common in many local markets. By opting specifically for heritage birds we further differentiate ourselves and our farm.
This issue I am going to invite you to lean over the fence rail and listen-in to a conversation that took place via email between myself and Ben Saur, whom I visited with last fall at the Farmer-to-Farmer gathering in Dorena, Oregon. Ben is just getting started farming with a team of Fjords in Hood River, Oregon. Following Farmer-to-Farmer Ben emailed with several farming related queries. The questions Ben asks get right to the heart of what it takes to get started in farming.
Success with raising poultry, whether for eggs or meat, feathers or breeding stock, all of it depends on keeping the birds healthy and vigorous – and one important element in that equation is housing. Good breeding and the best feeding are vitally important but even those factors won’t get you maximum return unless the birds enjoy the best possible, disease-free, environment.
Somewhere amid the ebbs and eddies of a curious childhood I wondered who Alexander von Humboldt might be. I had noticed all the places named for him, sprinkled on maps of the world, and assumed he was some kind of explorer. It was not till I took up sailing in my late twenties that I learned of the Humboldt Current, a cold nutrient-rich Pacific current known to fishermen from time immemorial, that runs up the coast of South America from Chile to Peru, Ecuador and Columbia.
She wrote in that inconsequential blog that they were to give up their farm because it wasn’t working. And she lashed out, blaming people like us for having sold them a lie. She was angry because her family could not make their farm succeed. She screamed in her capital letters that there was no way to make enough money to give her family all that they wanted and needed including security. It was all so loud that we were certain to hear the truth in it.
The solution to the weed problem is intimately connected with the adoption of a better system of farming. A knowledge of the life habits of your worst weeds, plus careful planning and neighborhood cooperation, then, are the important factors in weed control. Planting only clean seed, summer-fallowing where practicable and doing it thoroughly, adopting a cropping system that will discourage the growth of perennials, and the persistent use of the proper types of cultivating machinery — all will help you in the task of eradication.