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VT Pasture Network Blog

When Can We Quit That Off-Farm Job?

Posted: July 12th, 2008 by VT Pasture Network

It’s amazing the lengths that farmers must go to be able to farm. While this example from Randolph, VT, written by VGFA member Lisa McCrory of Earthwise Farm & Forest, shares the story of beginning farmers, the truth is that many long time farmers go to these lengths to keep the family farm afloat.


Comstock Farm: Land Reclamation and Organic Fiber Marketing

Posted: July 9th, 2008 by VT Pasture Network

The Comstock House Bed & Breakfast hosts numerous visitors every year, and a small flock of primarily Dorset sheep. Owners Ross Sneyd and Warren Hathaway started farming with sheep two years ago, and spent a great deal of time in 2007 establishing perimeter fence. Spring of 2008 was the first year lambing with their 18 ewes.


The farm land has been reclaimed with a combination of brush hogging and sheep rotation. The main pasture area was open but full of less desireable species, such as





and Thistle


In general, the open unimproved pasture area is producing thin, lower quality and yield species.


Land reclamation as a topic of discussion came up often, particularly around management of the lower-quality species and weeds. Already, Ross & Warren have observed higher quality forage coming in where the sheep have been rotated. One challenge they face: they have a larger land base than they need for the number of sheep they have. In order to concentrate the sheep at a high enough grazing density to keep the invasives in check, and add manure for soil quality, it means that the additional pasture will either need to be maintained through clipping or haying, or more sheep or other species need to be added. Ross and Warren are considering adding beef cattle to their system to create greater impact without the extra spring lambing stress.


Warren has also been brush hogging an additional area, and plans to put the sheep into the “back 40” to defoliate the returning woody species, and improve the soil.

The visit concluded with a short presentation by Patty Blomgren of the Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, VT , discussing available markets for organic fiber, and general fiber quality requirements. Patty also offered GMS’ equipment for custom processing of wool.


GMS currently buys Certified Organic wool from Maine and western states, to serve customers simply because there isn’t enough production currently coming from VT. One challenge is the fact that there is no definitive national standard for organic wool, so the nearest standard used is for Certified Organic meat. The meat standard requires not only that the live animals be fed Certified Organic grain for the duration of their own life, but also their mother for the final trimester of her pregnancy. The more challenging part is that synthetic dewormers are not allowed for meat animals. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has recognized the lack of a fiber standard, and has placed that standard on the list with other issues waiting more definition, including honey, mushrooms, and the pasture standard. NOFA-VT supports a modification to a standard more similar to the current dairy regulations, which allow the use of synthetic dewormers, with an extended product withholding time.


Here’s a Neat Thing

Posted: June 16th, 2008 by VT Pasture Network

Here’s a Neat Thing

We just received this little gizmo in the mail the other day, and wanted to pass it along. It’s a fence flag to mark electric wire. Just clip the flag onto the electric wire (a red wire piece illustrates it in the picture), and the flag will wave around. You squeeze on the clip to open it, so it’s adjustable for many different types of wire. Pretty neat, and you can take them off much more easily than the orange tape so often wound around wire to make it visible to animals and neighbors.



Sumner Pasture Walk: Manure & Buttercups

Posted: June 11th, 2008 by VT Pasture Network

I attended a pasture walk coordinated by NOFA-VT at Malcolm Sumner’s dairy farm in West Halifax earlier this week. For those of us who don’t get to southern VT very often, the drive down alone was a treat.

Two topics of conversation that came up: buttercups, and manure.

Buttercups growing in a field look very impressive, like they’ve taken over a field, like this:


In truth, they look like they take up more space than they actually do. The Sumner cows were able to graze easily around and right up to them.


The tremendous number of buttercups at the Sumner Farm prompted the question: do we want to get rid of them, and if so, how should we do it? This led into a discussion around the unwanted species in general and the roles that they play. Observations were made that buttercups are often found in soils where there may be significant water flowing under the soil, and on slopes where animals may be depositing their manure fertility inconsistently. On a farm with springs and nary a flat pasture surface, the Sumner Farm fits that description. Buttercups, due to their long tap root, have the ability to reach further below the surface to find water and minerals, and help hold the soil.

Buttercups do have a low toxicity rating, primarily causing oral and digestive tract irritation. Most animals choose not to eat it for this reason. Malcolm noted that after he grazes through the pastures, he also clips them to even the plant competition. Once wilted, the cows are more likely to choose to eat the buttercups.

For more information, check out the VT Invasive Plants list:


We also talked about the multiple ways to manage manure pats…whether to break up the pats to encourage faster breakdown, or leave the pats to crust over.


Many people break up pats to expose parasites to the sun and air (in theory killing them). Recently Dr. Ann Wells visited VT to speak about managing health and parasites; her feeling is that breaking up pats spreads parasites around more widely than it actually kills them in our climate. It’s moist and warm enough in VT to actually encourage parasite growth under these conditions. She says the spreading technique works best in very hot, and VERY DRY climates.

The argument was then made among the group that allowing manure to crust over and form its own mini-ecosystem is better for parasite management and long term soil health. When allowed to do its biological “thing” uninterrupted, the pat encourages the growth of parasitic wasps which reduce fly populations, increase dung beetles and worms…in short, attract many of the beneficial species we want.

This led us all into a great conversation about dung beetles. Thanks to Kevin Kaija for digging (no pun intended!) up this list of North Carolina dung beetles, with pictures on pages 6 & 7.


Most of these species are not found in VT, but several are…so keep flipping over those pats and tell us what you see!


New Options for VPN

Posted: June 3rd, 2008 by VT Pasture Network

Greetings to everyone in the VPN/grass-based universe. As you probably know, VT Pasture Network is a group of farmers (VGFA), agricultural service providers (UVM Center), and federal agency folks (NRCS) dedicated to sharing the benefits of and providing technical assistance for grass-based agriculture far and wide. We’ve seen illustrations over and over how managed rotational grazing can improve lives, support farm economies, and provide clean water and healthy soils.

We VPN staff are continually seeking ways to share information between farmer experience, structured research and current events affecting grass-based farming practices. So, we’ve decided to start a blog.

Check us out from time to time for recent pasture walk pictures and themes of interest, general postings about ongoing events, links to news clips as we find out about them, Across the Fence and other streaming video clips…the options are nearly endless.

Come along and join us! Should be a new adventure in each posting.


Jenn & Rachel

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