Page 46 - The Hunt - Summer 2019
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                 Poultry and sheep are two important players in the rotational grazing system.
 destructive. As a nonprofit, we receive support to help us do that in ways that other farmers can’t. Because of that,
I feel we also have a responsibility to
pay it forward and to teach people how to do it.”
Coverdale can also build a business that is sustainable by feeding the community in ways that are outside the garden box. They do this by working with restaurants and markets throughout the region.
It’s now early winter, and Wales gazes out into the swath of muted green pastureland punctuated by a single spiny oak tree. Looking out over the 80 or so acres of grazing fields, it’s easy to see how over-farmed, impervious soil could send erosion from the rolling topography into the adjacent stream, impairing water quality. “Envision this in a beautiful, green, lush vegetative state,” says Wales, explaining what will happen in the coming months.
Soon micro-pastures—about an acre
or two in size and separated by poly-wire fencing—will be built across 50 some acres. The rotational grazing process will rely on cows, sheep and poultry, in that order, to “mow” warm-season grasses, legumes and herbs that will be planted. Clovers and field peas bring nitrogen from the air into the soil, while strong-rooted plants stabilize it. “This robust vegeta-
tive planting mat is palatable to all native species and will provide service to the soil,” Wales says.
In a follow-the-leader system, about
50 cows will “mob graze” the first micro-pasture. “It might take an hour or a whole day, but they’ll ‘mow’ their portion of the vegetative layer,” says Wales.
The cows disperse their nutrients (urine, manure) evenly around the field before moving on to the next pasture. Next, a dozen sheep “grass manage” what the cows have left behind in the first pasture, followed by 100 chickens and turkeys, who aerate the soil and control pests. Differing manures provide a diverse nutrient profile. Cycles last 40-60 days, allowing the land to breathe in between.
“The birds serve a great function,” Wales says. “Flies lay eggs in cow manure, which generates more flies, which are very stressful to cattle. The chickens will scratch apart this manure and spread it out— reducing larvae and flies.”
Cows also control pests for the more fragile sheep. “Sheep are affected by parasites that live at the soil line, which
can make them anemic. Like vacuums, the cows inhale some of these parasites. So you have a sort of bookend pest control, with cows at the front and birds at the end. In the middle, the sheep are spared exposure to pests that their systems won’t tolerate, as well as those of the other animals.”
Wales and her team began working with the animals in isolation last year to learn how long it takes each animal to graze a certain area. She estimates that, once they graduate from the experimental phase to production, it’ll take about five years to achieve their desired soil quality.
The pigs and goats aren’t part of the regenerative agriculture system, but they do provide their own essential functions on the farm. “Pigs are our cleanup crew,” Wales says, motioning to a decaying
Rotational grazing boosts soil
A DOZEN SHEEP “GRASS MANAGE” WHAT THE COWS HAVE LEFT BEHIND.
  regeneration
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