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The cows bring us home

Posted 10/7/2013 9:33am by Leaf Myczack.

It is an interesting turn of events that have transpired since we turned our lives over to the task of providing for the well being of our small bovine family. In the early days, we thought keeping cows was about having our own source of milk and meat and manure. While it still is in part about those things, it is also much more involved as they have come to dominate our lives as we follow the unfolding of our human / bovine relationship.

The purchase of our dairy cow in 2011, as readers of Blog #35 well know, was a business deal turned rescue. It has in retrospect, been an amazing journey to walk in the world of the cow. Through the process of befriending these big gentle mammals, an opportunity arose to expand our teaching farm concept in much more fertile ground, both literally and figuratively.

Because of the different seasonal grasses that grew on our former hot climate farm in TN., we were unable to adequately winter pasture our 3 cow herd on our 11.3 acre leased farm. Our farm forage was dominated by hot weather grasses that faded out in late October. We had an arrangement with our deed holder to use an adjoining 10 acres of semi-scrubland with a good ground cover of fescue for winter pasture. However, on December 4th, (2012) she informed us that the cows were no longer welcome to graze the 10 acres. For us the decision was to either sell the cows, or to move our farm. The choice was simple.

We view the non-human residents of our farm as being equally deserving of the best possible living conditions that we can manage to provide. Our day does not end until we know that all are well fed, well provided with drinking water, and are safe for the night. While the honey bees pretty much take care of themselves, we still assist them by inserting and removing hive-opening reducers based on cold and warm ambient temperatures. Here in the mountains at this time of year, it is a daily, routine chore. But I digress a bit. The point for us is, we take seriously the admonishment to "respect all creatures both great and small." That translates to mean clean stalls and roosts everyday, a predator proof place to sleep, and non-abusive treatment by humans. As noted animal behaviorist, Temple Grandin, has stated, "just because we are going to eat them, doesn't mean we can't treat them kindly."

In this day and culture, a farmer viewing animals in this way is considered both quaint and impractical. However, by following this philosophy, Cielo and I were forced to make a difficult decision with the outcome mostly unknown. It was a leap of faith, as when a fledgling bird leaps from the nest for the first time.

Moving at our age (68 & 69) is difficult enough, but moving a working, living farm is a whole different and a much more challenging undertaking. It is not a journey for the timid or faint of heart. As one farm died, another was birthed, but not without the sadness of the former and the labor pains of the latter.  During the Spring and Summer of 2013, we worked diligently to move both the practical infrastructure of our Tennessee River Valley farm, and our roster of non-human farm residents, 300 miles northeast to the mountains of southwest Virginia. The stress level imposed on body and mind was significant, and our very physical survival was deeply questioned.

The gains for taking this risk have been enormus. We have been able to design a new teaching farm from the very start of clearing pine scrubland to the design and oversight of the construction of the farm structures. We have a new partner who shares our dream of creating a sustainable agricultural model for the next generation of farmers and homesteaders. And we are involved in a community of diverse talents that share the excitement and promise of a thoughtfully lived life.

Additional benefits of moving the farm include a parcel of land that 95% of the total acreage faces south and southwest, a building site that is quietly secluded and sheltered from weather extremes. We also gained overall better soil with a more balanced mineral content, hardier and more nutrious forage grasses, clean spring and well water, much cleaner air, less summer humidity, lower overall summer temperatures, and neighbors who are friendly and open-minded. In short, it is a wonderful place to start anew with an ancient belief in an ancient craft; a sustainable way to live in harmony "with" the Earth.