On a recent evening, Joanna (my wife and farm partner) and I found ourselves with a rare bit of free time, so we loaded up a small picnic into our utility vehicle and went to look for new calves, and to study what the sheep were selecting and in which pasture they were selecting it. With our building site located at the northwest corner of our home farm, we generally look over the place while leaning on either the south or east gates. We recognize all the tree groves, swales, rises, and dips in the pastures and meadows. We know where the other gates and ponds are, even the ones we can’t see.
That evening, we found the cattle and calves to the southeast, and then spotted the sheep deep in our most eastern pasture. We parked at the top of a rise facing west and watched while replenishing our own calories. Rather than studying what the sheep were selecting, we marveled at how different the place looked from that point of reference and how unrecognizable it was in many ways. Sure, we’d been here before, but never to observe for any length of time. The details we noticed from that angle changed our thoughts on where to construct the next phase of our cross fences, and how to move the animals through the various paddocks those fences will form.
A few years ago, we discovered an infestation of an aggressive weed in one of the south pastures. This particular plant is virtually impossible to eradicate, and no chemical, burn strategy, or grazing method would lick it. Tillage might help; mowing, chemicals, and grazing might help. But what to do? Our initial perspective on the issue led to mild despair — and then we read that the weed made nutritious and highly palatable hay. Our conceptual perspective has since changed, and with this fresh perspective, we now see the “problem” as an interesting management issue. As we hay it off each year, the stand overall weakens, and the animals graze the regrowth into late fall. Our cattle and sheep both eagerly devour the young vegetative growth in spring, summer, and fall, and the hay in winter — and the donkeys and mules do too!
We’ve also noticed that our sheep have killed it in areas they like to visit often by “overgrazing” it while it’s young. In time, we’ll apply some mob grazing, light tillage, fall burning, and aggressive smother crop overseeding of the area to further reduce the weed’s vigor — or maybe we won’t. It all depends on our perspective.
If you’ve had any positive changes in perspective that helped lead you out of a dark place, I’d love to hear about them. Send me an email at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com if you have any experiences or wisdom you’d like to share.
See you in December,