After reading more about Holistic Management and attending the Savory Network Gathering in 2018 fall, I was so pumped with the potential and idea of using animals as a tool to regenerate our land (and yes, it works!).
Holistic Management is a lot more than planned grazing and ecosystem processes. It is a decision making framework that guides one to manage resources with all aspects considered. It will be a long learning process, but I thought animal husbandry will be a good starting point.
So I came back as the barn/ animal/ site manager at Northern Farm Training Institute.
Majority of the work was new to me, but about 5 months in, I was already good/ confident enough to delegate, lead and train… to manage our site operations as we shifted to the winter mode of ‘keeping our animals alive’.
Aside from the must-do’s, I got a few side projects too:
This was the first year we:
- yielded over 100L of goat milk in 4 months
- tamed all our does to be milked & handled
- better managed hooves for our goats & sheep (from twice a year to 5X)
- harvested almost 60lbs of clean wool in Fall (Spring wool was way too dirty to be used)
- shepherded daily for 2-3 months (to protect them from predators)
- grew the size of our sheep herd by 50% (it decreased in prior years)
- heated all our campus buildings with firewood we harvested on-site!
This year was not so much about achieving, but about:
- learning how to keep/ care for animals
- creating small-scale production processes for future animal product income streams (e.g. dairy, wool)
- establishing markers/ ways to demonstrate the land transformation process
- evaluating my interest in animal husbandry
- and dreaming about my future (whether I see myself keeping animals)
I worked crazy hours like last year, but I found myself enjoying it a lot more this time. Maybe because of the immediate feedback I got interacting with animals. Or maybe because I tried to focus on doing what I want, but not what I feel needs to be done. (I’m very lucky to have the choice!)
Now that I’ve had the taste of caring for animals, I can’t imagine not keeping any. In fact, I missed them a lot during my winter vacation away.
It is inevitable that meat will be part of my diet as long as I live in temperate zones since I believe food should be grown using regenerative agricultural practices and consumed locally. While I spent 7 months loving & caring for the animals, I didn’t find it bothering to assist in harvesting the meat, probably because there are more than one in the herd I bonded with and I helped decide which one to be harvested. I also am not & cannot be the person doing the killing either, because it will affect the bond they have with me as a shepherdess.
The daily shepherding/ dog training walks across the property improved my ability to observe & read Nature tremendously. I feel empowered to know what to do according to the natural rhythm, to slowly recognize natural patterns, and I can’t wait to discover so much more every day.
However, what I see/ pay attention to is not necessarily the same as others’, because we all have different capacity to observe and are raised with different expectations. I often forget about this difference, and it frustrates me at times in such a communal setting in the farm. I secretly complained about the lack of common sense/ observation skills in others, but it turns out I am exactly the same when I am not the person-in-charge (e.g. when I’m at my parents’ place) as well!
I craved time alone a lot more this year, wishing I could get a break from volunteers/ visitors… probably because barn work involved team effort working with volunteers while garden work is often done on my own. Don’t get me wrong, volunteers were great help and many things wouldn’t be possible without them. But communication & people management seems to be my weakest suit, and it brings my energy down when I need to constantly explain myself to new members (volunteers often stay for a month or two only).
- Goats would choose to eat tree bark & shredded paper over hay at times
- Black goats attracted a lot more horseflies in the summer heat, making them more reluctant to grazing outside during those 2 weeks
- Sheep & goats need their hooves trimmed every 2 months! Even when they have access to pasture
- It took the sheep 3-4 months to bond with me/ humans (some are still super flighty), while goats start trusting us in 1 month
- Lost of sole companion can trigger death (that happened to our boar & ram this fall)
- Sheep can be sheared in -10°C no problem (it’s not cold for them)
- Tomatoes are a nightmare to grow without proper trellis plan
- Potatoes can be very productive with good soil & sufficient water (we were super lucky to have abnormal weekly rain this year)