Circles of Life

August 13, 2020

Traveling in circles creates life and brilliance on the farm.

We recall from a college course in literature that Dante Aligheri is best know for writing, The Divine Comedy: Paradise, Purgatory, and Inferno. He died in 1321 AD, and describes in Inferno the nine circles of hell. These include: paganism, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. These circles are traveled at peril, leading to darkness and death. So, when I found myself reflecting on circles, they came to mind from that course long ago.

But in contrast, the circles we travel on our farm create life! And there are quite a few of them. We go round and round, without ever seeing the same thing twice, yet the scenery always looks strangely familiar. These repeating patterns across dimensions overlap and interlock, creating underlying resilience.

This motion may be the simplest distinction between commodity meats and nutrient-dense meats. The former is derived from linear motion; the latter from circular. 

Feedlot beef spends six months on pasture and another 14 in feedlots. Commodity hogs and chickens are confined from birth and never see the light of day. This is linear food, whose only merit is it is cheap to produce, if that is merit.

Our animals, by comparison, take twice as long to mature and are always moving in a circular pattern to fresh feed on pasture. Because of the extra time required for these livestock, they periodically cover the same ground, but at strategic intervals to maximize health of soil, grass, and animal. So, what are our specific circles of life?

The hens move in Fld. 3 on about 15 acres, moving forward once a week, and leaving behind rich droppings of nitrogen and phosphorous. We just brought newly weaned yearling calves through the hen paddock on their first excursion across and around the farm. The yearlings quickly showed preference for grasses fertilized by the hens. We have the Hen Circle and the Yearling Circle.

The broilers are over in Fld. 6, moving forward at a rate of about ten feet a day. Mike will turn them around to bring them back toward the road, when nearing harvest, and the pasture they fertilize will be gratefully gleaned by calving cows in about 45 days. This is the Broiler Circle.

The cow herd is in perpetual motion, moving by careful design, completing one circle after another over 350 acres of landscape. Sometimes the Cow Circle is completed in 30 days; other times in 120. 

We make concerted effort over the Sheep's Circle during the growing season. They don't return to the same paddock for 75 days, in effort to outlast parasites waiting to reinfect. This creates long rest periods, during which we can quickly move cattle through some of the sheep lots and then back out. We are currently doing this with our small finishing herd of beeves. Alternating beeves and sheep in the same paddock helps control parasites for each specie. The sheep enjoy a landscape of about 80 acres, which includes Flds 1, 4, and 5.

Hogs move through woodlots in circular pattern, so when they are ready to be harvested, they are close to loadout facilities.  They might travel over a 7-acre area.

Of increasing importance is the Processor Circle, articulated by our travel to the processor and back on a weekly basis. Without their partnership, we have not a product nor a business. We are in constant communication with them, scheduling deliveries, sending cut-sheets, and picking up inventory. 

It might be said the most important effort we make is to town and back every week, where we engage in the Customer Circle. Without you, we are just a concept. You are critical to our viability and to the meaning behind all those circles we travel. You validate our work and our being.  

All of these circles stand within the single larger one - the process of managing soil to produce nutrient-dense food for the tables of discerning consumers. That is the same process day after day, without a step being redundant. The uniqueness of the journey is what makes it so interesting and gratifying. This is the Soil-to-Table Circle.

When we are attending to problems in blistering heat or brutal cold, we sometimes wonder if we are traveling in the circles of hell... But if Dante were to visit our farm, and the growing number like it, and meet those who work it and the animals who live it and the customers who support it, I believe, in the deep humility of imperfect success, he might offer that such circular travels are worthy of the heavens.   

This ewe below has successfully nursed triplets. Few ewes succeed at doing this at all, let alone while maintaining good body condition, as she has. In a pasture-based system, usually one of the lambs becomes the runt and does not make it this far. Both lambs and ewe look very healthy.

The calves we just weaned are adapting well to life without adults. The calf looking at us shows a large stomach, which is a preferred trait for grassfed beeves. 

Several weeks ago, our friends and partners at the Highland Nature Sanctuary organized a moth-counting outing adjacent to our wetlands. It was one of those eccentric exercises that naturalists partake in to develop data. A large sheet was stretched over a frame with a powerful lamp shining on it. This attracted moths in the dark of night, which were then identified and photographed by the dedicated. My visit was completed by 10 PM; the dedicated were there until 1 AM. They came up with a count of 104 different moths. How amazing, and what a great group of people. 

The picture on the right is of a tiny tree frog just above half way up the stem of the plant. It is leaning out to the left and is hard to see because of the powerful light. It is no bigger than a thumb nail. 

There is so much to behold if one takes the time to do so.

Other news from the wetlands is Kathy is collecting Elderberry seeds for our inventory. And the wild hibiscus or Marsh Mallow are out now in full bloom. They seem to become more prolific every year. The circular path we take through the wetlands is the same every time, but the ecology is evolving so rapidly that each trip is nearly unrecognizable from the last, representing new adventure.

One of the pleasures of writing a newsletter is the wonderful responses that surface. Last time, we offered travel to Asia Minor for Persian Lamb Shanks. One reader took us up on the suggestion and booked a reservation at a fine dining establishment in Asia Minor. He order Persian Lamb Shanks, only to be reprimanded by the confused waiter that his geography was errant. Asia Minor it turns out is in the vicinity of Turkey, a mere 5,600 miles from Persia! So, given I was the source of this embarrassing mistake, I offered to buy him a ticket to Tehran. Because of the magic of travelling by food, we had him well situated at a sidewalk cafe within minutes, savoring Persian lamb shanks until midnight. 

We will be offering Broadbreasted turkeys again this year. Unfortunately, we will not have heritage breeds this fall. Landis Weaver raised them for us last year, and as he is decamping for Maine at the end of the year, he did not restock heritage turkeys. They take about a year to raise, so one has to be proactive way in advance. We will have them next year.  In the meantime, we will have plenty of Broadbreasted. They will be frozen, so we will have several times you can pick-up your bird. We will post this on our website shortly. Let me know by email if you would like to reserve one. We expect them to weigh 15 to 20 lbs. 

Above we have Pistou and pan-fried lamb chops. Pistou is a French vegetable soup accented with pesto. France, as I understand, is located off of the Mediterranean Sea. Susan is always travelling and educating, and has a better sense of geography than the raconteur.

May the circles you travel be brilliant and bring you life.

Drausin Wulsin

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