I am drawn to slow processes that create beauty. It’s why I adore agriculture, why fermentation is a something I am awed by and surround myself with.
At the turning of spring, the human world is keeling and reeling, buffeted by the waves of uncertainty, fear and change. All of us feel it. My children are home, some employees have been laid off, business revenues halved in the space of seven days, and two weeks ago I had to euthanize my companion of 12 years: a bounding Drahthaar that has shared more life with me than my wife or children.
Then there is spring. A cycle in agriculture that pushes like the tide, confounding schedules and swelling the round world with the effervesce of the coming bounty.
I am thankful for the torrent, for its occupying. There are two hurdles we are working at this spring. The first is accomplishing a pasture system for our goats to achieve three full seasons of forage that they can graze on. We are committed to pasture for three reasons: honoring the animals’ natural desires, the ecology of well-managed grazing, and the nutrient and flavor quality this practice produces.
Ruminants were made to graze. They were made to live on what they pluck from the ground, and in doing so they find joy. Just like us when we feel we are fulfilling our purpose, an animal on good pasture is a picture of joy. Their whole system is working at harvesting, macerating, pre-fermenting and digesting the different plants like a walking brewery. They are a marvel.
Our commitment to this is ecological as well. Animals properly managed on rotational pasture build soil organic matter significantly, improving the carbon and nitrogen cycling of soil to levels back to where native prairie was or even higher. The writing of authors like David Montgomery, Alan Savory, Christine Jones and Nichole Masters all push us to consider that the ecology of food production should be building the natural environment, not taking something from it. That’s possible with grazing animals and we are so excited to work at it.
Last, our commitment to pasturing our animals is because grass-fed animals produce milk that is higher in beneficial fatty acids, has richer flavor compounds, and has a more complex and abundant natural population of lacto-fermenters, which will contribute unique imprints of the solids and seasons on our cheeses. If you have ever tasted grass milk you know that it is an entirely different thing than milk from animals fed on a low-cost grain and silage ration.
Our pasture divides into three sections, each planned to provide the nutrition and protein at the correct stage of plant growth for the corresponding season. The animals will move through these areas in 18 separate sections through the seasons. The divisions allow the animals to harvest at the stages of plant growth where the nutrient content corresponds to their needs. Tall fescue, once it has headed out in mid-summer, is too low in protein for a lactating goat to get very excited; mulberry leaves, however, hold protein levels more than adequate for the animals even into the heat of summer and into autumn, and because the mulberry was bred to host the silkworm, it will tolerate defoliation over and over again.
-Brome & fescue grasses (cool season)
-Rye grass (cool season)
-Indian, Bluestem, and Switch native grasses (warm season)
Late Summer/Fall (Silva Pasture)
The blackberries are creeping out, swollen buds uncertainly pushing green tips into the world. With temperature headed for 21 or 22 degrees this Friday night we are preparing for another rite of spring: the mad dash to deploy hundreds of sand bags, stretch tight the covers in the blowing north wind, and spray water through the night trying to buffer just a couple degrees to bring the buds through safely and spread the joy of blackberries in summer.
I can feel the clenched fists and weary back muscles this process always entails, and while it is bitter and bracing, it is part of season, part of looking over the horizon and feeling the warmth of summer and the sound of little children.
Here at Elderslie we are excited for spring, and until then, we will be planting the seeds of bounty, laying the foundations for the harvest, and through exertions and uncertainties, watching the unfurling of spring with unabashed joy.