Casaubon's Book

Over at ye olde blogge, on one of my Independence Days updates, a reader commented on something that I’d posted. I’d mentioned that we are having trouble with goat parasites – most specifically, meningeal worm. Meningeal worm is a parasite is hosted by snails and transmitted by the feces of white tailed deer. It is worst in camelids like llamas and alpacas, but goats are a secondary host, and two of does, Selene and Mina, have it. It is most common after a wet summer and warm fall – this past summer was the wettest in living memory here – we had almost 20 inches of rain in June alone, and it was generally a warm fall, with few frosts. We’re lucky – we knew what it is, our vet knew how to treat it, and we caught it fairly early, so everyone should be fine.

In order to prevent recurrence, I have two choices. The first is large doses of wormer, much larger than one would typically give a goat. There are two problems with this – first, the possible health consequences of using this as preventative, the second that a growing immunity to wormers in general, including the two specific ones most effective on this parasite is a chronic issue with goats.

The other option is to try and exclude either snails or deer from our pastures and browing areas. There are two options for this. The first would be an additional dog – we have a working farmcollie, but she’s not an aggressive territory protector, and we know that the deer have been coming closer and closer to the house since we lost Rufus, our alpha dog. The dog might exclude the deer from areas that the goats browse and reduce incidence of the parasite. The other option is ducks or geese or guinea fowl – ie, some animal that eats snails to reduce the density of snails on the material the goats are browsing. We’re considering both of these options (actually, we wanted both ducks and another dog anyway for various other reasons).

Claire, commenting at the other blog observed that every animal we get seems to require another animal – that, for example, we use cats to control the mice, but if we aren’t to be dependent on commercial pet foods, that means we need to raise a meat animal to feed them (hence, in our case, rabbits). To the commenter, it seemed like a negative – one animal might lead to another. And on a small homestead or urban project, you do have to place limits upon that sort of thing.

But for a farm, I actually see the comment as both true and a positive thing – that is, I think this is a really useful ilustration of why farms once were diversified, and why they probably need to be again. We could simply worm heavily. We could try draining the wetter parts of our pasture, or excluding all wildlife, or putting our goats in pens rather than on grass – these are other possible solutions to our problems. But they aren’t the ones we want to use.

What animals live on a farm? Of course we can all close our eyes and make the list – and in the old kind of farm, many species lived there at once. This is in complete contrast to the modern farm, where farmers raise sheep, or cows, or whatever, but an enormous preponderance of one animal. The classic small farm had sheep and cows, ducks and geese, cats and dogs. There’s an actual reason why our old vision of what a farm is has so many different kinds of livestock on it.

One is simply that diversification was more better for the farm economy. Having different crops to take to market at different times of year spaced out the work, and the profit. Different animals and plants use different habitats and kinds of land. But there are more complex reasons as well.

Consider this – a pasture that will support one cow but not two cows, will generally support one cow plus 2-4 sheep and their lambs. This is because the sheep will eat shorter grasses that the cows have already grazed, and eat some plants that are less palatable to cows. There are several advantages to this – the first, of course, is that you have lamb, wool, sheep’s milk and sheep manure as well as milk, beef and manure from the cow. But your pastures are also grazed more fully and more evenly, with fewer problems from unpalatable plants that would otherwise proliferate as the others were eaten down.

These analyses can get complex – the same pasture can probably also support an indeterminate number of geese which will eat shorter grass still, or a few goats (assuming cow and sheep are both Johnes negative) that will eat brushy weeds and clean out hedgerows. But do you want your hedgerows cleaned out? Do you have a market for geese? Might it be better to follow the sheep and cow on pasture with chickens who will eat pasture and insects and also help reduce worm pressure for next cycle by eating worms and worm eggs. Or perhaps you want to use that ground for growing grain next spring, and should put pigs on it to till it up…

The low energy farm often uses animals to do things that we now do with fossil fuels. So rather than use a chemical poison to kill the snails on my property, I can use ducks. Besides not being a poison, I get to sell the ducks for meat afterwards. But they also require balance – too many ducks are not a good thing. I can’t always do what I want – I might find that I need another animal to fill a particular ecological niche on my farm – say, that I need Guinea Hens to reduce tick pressure on humans and dogs, even though I don’t particularly want them, or even though guineas are less profitable than chickens.

My dog keeps down predators, but requires some animal proteins to eat. Thus, she and the goats are reciprocal – without Mistress Quickly, the goats would be prey to the coyotes that den across the road. On a traditional farm she’d be paid in a share of their milk – we do this, although she also gets some dog food. The cats keep our grain losses down – for them (and other reasons) we keep the rabbits, which make use of marginal weeds that otherwise would be pests to us… The relationships are stronger when they are more complex and diverse, when there are more participants in each system.

Most of us grasp, of course, that monoculture is bad in general, but it is hard to viscerally grasp the consequences of reduced complexity, or of using one solution (fossil fuels and its outputs) to replace multiple resources. My own exploration of what our family needs for self-sufficiency plus income is a kind of re-inventing of the wheel, and not coincidentally, it comes to look more and more familiar.

There’s a price to be paid for all of this, as well as benefits – you can specialize, but only to an extent. You can pick and choose, but only to an extent. You will be more independent in many ways, but often, not as profitable as a farm that chooses the highest value crop and produces only that. There are costs in land use and resource use as well – the additional animals take space and time.

When we started out farming, we grew a huge garden and raised chickens. The chickens gave us eggs to put in the CSA baskets and eggs for the Challah we included in our baskets. They also gave us manure for our gardens. But we found that it was hard to get enough manure to support a garden big enough to run a 20 person CSA – we were dependent on neighboring farms, which wasn’t bad, but they didn’t always have manure when we needed it. Or we were dependent on soil additives and fertilizers that we didn’t make. We were also dependent on the lawn mower to keep weeds from going to seed, since we didn’t have enough stock to keep them down. Adding more animals made it better possible to grow the garden – but created new incentives to shape the garden in particular ways, so that we didn’t trade one dependency (on soil amendments) for another (on the feed store). Diversity was better – but not just more diversity, the right combination.

It isn’t just animals that work this way – plants do too. We know from research that in terms of output (as opposed to yield) diversified small farms produce more food, fiber and fertility per acre than monocrop farms. We know that polyculture is better for the soil, better for wildlife and soil life, better for people than monoculture. We know that different plants do well in different environments and that no 50 or 10,000 acres are precisely alike – trying to get the same amount of corn out of every single acre regardless of its conditions is not good for anyone.

This runs through pretty much every part of the diversified small farm, and it gets played out at the economic and social level – for example, running the diversified small farm with minimal fossil fuels takes people too. One way to do this, the traditional farm family way, was to have many children – but that’s not all that was involved. Neighbors traditionally shared work during busy times, sharing tools, resources and time – effectively allowing a farm population of four or five to expand to fifteen or twenty when it is needed.

The farm economy was diversified as well – my family often stops at a historical reenactment village that happens to be at approximately the halfway point between our house and my extended family’s. Once, while chatting with one of the gentlemen there, the village cooper, he observed that his shop would soon be closing, because he practiced cooperage only in the winter – spring through fall, he farmed. I was struck by this example of something that has always been true – only the most affluent farmers (or the ones in the best climates) actually farm all year round – the supplemental income that is the norm for farmers now has been the norm for a very long time. Thus, the cooper of 1830, my great grandfather who farmed and taught school in Maine in the 1890s, and the guy who farms and drives trucks now are all part of a logical continuity – that there is time for paying work in the winter or the dry season, and that farm economies are stronger when they are diversified.

Does this mean that everyone who gets chickens is doomed to own a yak? No, of course not. But it does mean that once you open up a system to ecological management, the process of figuring out what its proper mix of species is isn’t an easy one. Honestly, if I didn’t want ducks and another dog, I’d find another way to do things. But it is the case that the small farm of the past has lessons for creating a low energy small farm of the future – there’s a reason that there are more species, not fewer.

We’re still figuring out what the right combination of creatures and practices are on our farm – still debating whether we can make a living using our marginal wetlands as they are, what animals we should be eating down our pastures with and what will be needed as time goes on. But we’re committed to this basic project – to the idea that it is possible to create an integrated, self-sustaining system where most of the interventions are productive, rather than reductive – that is, rather than just poisoning the things we don’t want, we can intervene in ways that create some kind of net improvement in our situation.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Raye
    December 29, 2009

    And so, similarly to your farm, continues my own adventure on this little acre. I have been using bits of time to construct “Little Fort Knox,” in anticipation of the runner ducks that will eat slugs and Japanese beetles and produce eggs and fertilizer and even add a “cuteness factor” that I hope will help the rest of the neighborhood have positive feelings about the changes on our property as we turn it into a more food-fiber-fuel productive garden. Already, I find myself contemplating a dog that could help keep an eye out for predators and discourage uninvited visitors, and an aquaponic component to raise fish for the cats. Viva el trabajo!

    Have you thought of using your marginal wetlands for growing candlemaker’s rush and horsetail (both have home and market value)?

  2. #2 Kelly R.
    December 29, 2009

    Hi Sharon,
    You seem to be describing the way nature works. Ecological niches abhor a vacuum. I love your solution for the slugs. I work in pest management and I much prefer the integrated pest management approach. Humankind’s obsession with control ignores the reality that diversity and complexity are much better solutions than simplification..further, attempts at simplification usually end up being destructive or unsustainable.

  3. #3 e4
    December 29, 2009

    Who wouldn’t want yaks? “Milk, meat, wool, ride, pack and pull” as they say. Now if I could just convince my wife…

  4. #4 Sharon Astyk
    December 29, 2009

    We’re having yak weather here, and it just seems right!

    Sharon

  5. #5 Edward Bryant
    December 29, 2009

    You have just described the most challenging part of any Permaculture design. How to assemble elements so that they work together while having incomplete information about each element and their possible interactions. When I tell my students to “accept feedback” and that failures are chances to improve the design, I will use this example to illustrate the process.

    Implement, observe, adjust, repeat; kinda like an OODA loop for Permaculture.

    Thanks

  6. #6 Edward Bryant
    December 29, 2009

    Yaks are cool. There are some north of town and I always slow down to watch them as I drive by, but what I want are highlands. My daughter’s BFF lives next to a pasture full of them and they are sooo cute; little and dreadlocky!

  7. #7 Paul Sonntag
    December 29, 2009

    One of my current projects is the construction of an urban microfarm, and this level of diversity is highly attractive and yet extremely difficult due to the impact of zoning regulations. We’re fortunate in the Seattle area to be allowed chickens (though no roosters), and recently we’ve also gained the right to keep miniature goats (female and neutered males). So while the challenge of assembling a working permaculture system increases with diveristy, I’m heartened by the fact that public attitudes toward livestock are changing, allowing those of us working on these problems in the urban environment to have a greater range of tools and options.

  8. #8 Laurie in MN
    December 29, 2009

    Oh, look! Ecology as a web, not a chain! Who’d’a thunk? ;)

    /snark

    I for one am intrigued to hear about how you cope with these naturally occurring issues without resorting to pesticides and other poisons. I learn so much from hearing about you tweaking the environment of your farm. I won’t be able to put *half* of it to use myself, on my lot and a half in urban Minneapolis, but I glean what I can. (In direct contrast to the people who this last year complained in our local paper about the “unmaintained” apple/pear trees nearby, claiming that the reason that *they* have apple pests is because these trees go unsprayed. I am not convinced, not after reading Greenpa’s posts on his organic orchard.)

    Glad you caught the worm issue early and that you have plans. As I’ve said before, I have an inordinate (and really rather unexplainable, never having lived around any) love for goats. This has only been exacerbated by you posting essays and pictures of your herd. Hope the girls are soon feeling back to themselves!

  9. #9 Claire
    December 29, 2009

    It’s somewhat flattering that my comment on the other blog inspired this post. I agree that your reasoning makes sense on a small farm. I’ve been study the permaculture literature for about 10 years or so, and I have seen examples of designs for small suburban properties like my own (1 acre) which use combinations of animals. I don’t know how they work in practice and really wish for a lot more details on an actual working system than I have been able to find so far. I can’t figure out how the designs I have seen could be adapted to my own situation.

    But as for adding livestock to my own property, I continue to hesitate. I could buy in some hens, for instance – but it wouldn’t really be sustainable if I’m not breeding them. If I buy in chicks and keep a rooster or two for breeding, then I have to learn enough to breed them well, plus I have to feed the rooster, plus I have to have someone to buy or receive excess chicks, plus I have all the excess males that I must do something with (slaughter, give away for slaughter, or some such). I’m in an unincorporated area so I could do this, but it strikes me as a lot of extra work on top of keeping a large garden and trying to do some good (unpaid) work in the wider world. It seems to me that by making my property attractive to wild birds, I can get the benefits of their eating insects, pooping, and being food for other beings with no work on my part. I can’t eat them, but I could eat mushrooms for protein, instead.

    If I felt confident of my ability to raise animals and drawn to raise animals, I’d be more inclined to do the work to find a sustainable way to raise them. But I’m not confident, and I have never had a cat or dog; have only had gerbils and parakeets as pets. I seem to be a plant person, not an animal person.

    It seems to me that while it’s very good to discover ways to keep different kinds of animals on farms, and in smaller scale on suburban and urban lots as well, it would also be really good for people like me to figure out ways to let wild animals bring us some of the same benefits. I’m willing to say that more people could keep useful animals than do … and also that there are some of us who won’t, and need to have ways to encourage wild animals to perform useful functions, to increase the diversity on our livestock-free patches.

  10. #10 becca
    December 29, 2009

    Old McDonald had a yak!
    Wait, what sound does a yak make?

  11. #11 Sue in pacNW
    December 29, 2009

    Becca,

    According to an article in the latest Countryside, they don’t moo, they make a low grunting sound. Maybe not the best choice for an Old Mac….song.

    Sue

  12. #12 abbie
    December 29, 2009

    Only 100 years ago, the farm I grew up on was fully self-sustaining and diversified. Then they transitioned to a working dairy farm (but still self-sustaining) and then when the barn burned down in the 70’s, to an apple orchard. Now, while we occasionally raise animals for meat, our animals tend to be purely pets… our beloved dogs and draft horses, and llamas, goats, a yearly calf, a mini horse and sheep for our petting zoo. I think it would be easy to transition back to self-sustaining and make these animals work more for us than being beautiful and brining in customers, but alas it’s not my decision to make, and I live down the street on my own smaller piece of property. My family is now self-sustaining in fruits, veggies, maple syrup.

    But I think this is where community comes in, and in my case, community is our big agrarian family. My aunt and uncle are beekeepers and provide honey. Another aunt and uncle have eggs (though I really want a few of my own chickens). My in-laws raise pigs, turkeys, and for the first time this coming spring, chickens for meat. My husband’s uncle raises beef cattle. And my husband and his brother keep us stocked in fish and shellfish. So for us, in a world where we can’t all be totally independent on our own smaller pieces of property, we can still make it work and each have our own important thing to contribute.

    But that doesn’t mean I don’t want my own menagerie of animals right here with me :)

  13. #13 Greenpa
    December 29, 2009

    Ok, Sharon, I have something really very serious- and large, I think- to share with you. I wouldn’t mind it if you’d cite me as the source of this observation, should you adopt it. :-)

    YOU/I/WE ARE NOT “RE-INVENTING” ANYTHING.

    We are actually INVENTING “agriculture” – for the very first time.

    The agriculture we practice generally was never, ever “invented” by anyone. It was inherited- as a collection of totally unconnected traditions. No thought was ever given to any concept approaching “sustainability”- seriously; NONE. Only- what works this year, for me. Period.

    “Invention”; as generally used and understood, implies that someone THOUGHT about what they were doing, with some intent to create a useful, and generally durable- process. “Agriculture” as a whole was never invented.

    Each tiny bit was- yes. But the “system” is a complete accident.

    Which we cling to as divine revelation.

    Generating integrated systems is a new thing for agriculture; and is still not being done in a systematic way.

    “Permaculture”, for example, and pardon my heresy, everyone- is basically useless. Because, it spends lots of time working on how plants/animals/processes SHOULD and could work- and very little on how they DO work today, here; and none whatsoever on how HUMANS work. A bit like Soviet communism that way- cool ideas- which real humans cannot practice. It appeals hugely to – Permaculturists. And not at all to anyone else-which would be 99.9999% of humanity. And even less than that to- mainstream farmers. Who are the ones who farm the land- which is the problem.

    Anyway!

    We’re setting up to seriously have 500 guineas in 2010; and set up an accounting system that values the non monetary services they provide. Which I’m guessing would be about 4x what chickens could do for us. Long story. Neighbors think we’re crazy- guineas are not agriculture.

    And I confess to thinking about yaks. :-) They DO have a couple shortcomings. Still thinking, though.

  14. #14 Lora
    December 29, 2009

    If you have not yet chosen a dog breed/mix for your next dog, may I suggest a Great Pyrenees?

    They are a highly intelligent, low-maintenance breed–don’t eat much for their size, train exceedingly quickly, don’t take a whole lot of grooming. They are long-lived and don’t suffer from near as many joint problems as other dogs. Although they are very territorial, they have a quite low prey drive and are good with poultry; mine guards ~30 layers and 6-20 turkeys, depending on time of year, and has defended them from fishers, hawks, owls, possums, raccoons, foxes, etc. They work best with herding types as partners, and you already have a collie. If you need help with other farm chores, they can be trained to draft, which is a great help for when your back is tired of the wheelbarrow. Kuvasz are similar in temperament but shed slightly less. We have such a serious predator & deer problem in this area that I have no idea what I’d do without mine.

    Greenpa, I pity the neighbor who startles your flock. Does the hatchery send you a free set of earplugs with every 10 birds? ;)

  15. #15 Kate in NY
    December 29, 2009

    In reading this post today I am struck, as usual, by just how complex and intellectually demanding farming and gardening and permaculture are. I used to think I was kind of smart because I am “ABD” in English lit, with a medieval specialization. Ha! I can write a mean paper on Chaucer, but soil amending? plant diversity? ecological management? This stuff makes my head spin, and I feel as if I will never figure out how to do more than grow mint! In the meantime, I get it now – the good farmers are the really intelligent ones. Sorry. I never knew.

    Best,
    Kate

  16. #16 Greenpa
    December 29, 2009

    Lora: “has defended them from fishers, hawks, owls, possums, raccoons, foxes, etc. ”

    wow. Didn’t know it was possible to defend against fishers! :-) Nice thing about guineas- the only real threat is owls. We solve that by training them to come in at night.

    Greenpa, I pity the neighbor who startles your flock. Does the hatchery send you a free set of earplugs with every 10 birds? ;)

    lol. No hatchery! Intend to have chickens raise our own fertile eggs. Way too expensive, otherwise.

    And- it turns out the noise thing is less of a hassle with more birds- and some older ones in the mix. Get a moderate group of teenagers alone and they’ll drive you nuts. Older ones are pretty quiet- except briefly when they see a threat; and they calm the younger ones. A bit. (And- they eat more grass and way more bugs than chickens do; and way way less feed when free ranging.)

  17. #17 janine
    December 29, 2009

    Found your post on farm diversity interesting.
    One of my history profs at the Univ. of Minnesota taught us that one reason Minnesota was less battered by the Great Depression than other states was becaused our farmers were diversified, and thus better able to weather the economic storms of the 1920s and 1930s.

  18. #18 Lori Scott
    December 29, 2009

    Just a comment, Sharon – I had a friend who told me that once you had eaten guinea fowl, you would never go back to chicken. So once you get your guinea fowl, do not hesitate to use them like you would any other poultry. Apparently the eggs are nice too if you can find them.

  19. #19 Sharon Astyk
    December 29, 2009

    Greenpa, what a lovely way of constructing it – I certainly will attribute it to you.

    Kate, I’m living proof that even an English ABD can be smart enough to master agriculture ;-).

    Sharon

  20. #20 Shivani
    December 29, 2009

    Sharon, you could give the goats diatomaceous earth for the worms. I read about it at: http://wolfcreekranch1.tripod.com/index.html and now use it for our cats. The folks we get our pastured meats from give it to their pigs to keep them clear of trichinosis. Another friend uses it in his greenhouse to keep crawlies from eating his plants. No side effects and it actually has some nutritional benefits.
    It’s also great in stored grains to kill insects. Not toxic. Works by scratching their exteriors and dehydrating them to death.
    Shivani

  21. #21 Sharon Astyk
    December 30, 2009

    Hi Shivani – Thanks, I do use DE (and an herbal wormer) on my animals, but in this case, it wouldn’t be effective, as the parasites are already out of teh stomach. I could use it on pastures, but the cost of spreading enough DE to affect the snail population would be prohibitive.

    Sharon

  22. #22 ancientTechie
    December 30, 2009

    A friend of mine from Nepal assures me that the only yogurt worth eating is made from yak milk.

  23. #23 T
    December 30, 2009

    “We know from research that in terms of output (as opposed to yield) diversified small farms produce more food, fiber and fertility per acre than monocrop farms.”

    I’m kind of a n00b, so apologies if this is a basic question – but I don’t understand the difference between output and yield. I thought they were synonyms.

  24. #24 homebrewlibrarian
    December 30, 2009

    Sharon,

    This blog post got picked up over on Gene Logsdon’s blog “The Contrary Farmer” and points back here. That is so cool! Glad Gene reads your stuff!

    Kerri in AK

  25. #25 billygroats
    December 31, 2009

    Excellent post, Ms. A.

    There is a humorous story in an old issue of Analog magazine about a resident of an asteroid station who decides to order some snails to eat the mold growing on the station’s walls. Then he gets some ducks to eat the snails. Eventually, his comptroller gives him a call and asks, “What’s the elephant for?”

    Taken to its logical extreme, rather than creating a multitude of mini-biomes on all the farms in the world, human would re-learn how to co-forage with all the other critters on the planet. We’d become co-pinnacle predators in the ecological niches in which we rove.

    However, we find it to convenient and profitable to create specialized mini-ecologies for ourselves where we are the top predator and any other predators that try to invade are driven off or eradicated. Well, we’re not the only animals who do this, so I guess our desire is “natural.”

    I disagree a little with Greenpa. While the a significant part of ag lore is precisely that – lore – I recall from the ag branches of my family a very rich tradition of ideas that were accepted and repeated and bore up under the scrutiny of scientific inquiry. Much like the songs the native Australians use to record their walking paths, a large part of ag lore is really useful stuff, put together in a way that non-literate people can effectively pass from one generation to the next.

    Take a look at Ben Franklin’s almanacs for some examples. He collected the information used on by his ag neighbors and passed on what worked, what was empirically true, to his readers.

  26. #26 Sharon Astyk
    December 31, 2009

    Sorry I’m behind on responding to comments here! Kerri, thanks for telling me that – that’s just plain awesome!!!!

    Billygroats, you are right, but a foraging human populace is only possible at vastly lower levels of humans, so we’re stuck with agriculture. I also agree with you that Greenpa is slightly overstating it in his rather elegant construction – and I think he knows that, but it is more fun to think that way ;-).

    Edward, you’ll note I very intentionally didn’t use the word “permaculture” here – not because I’m not aware of the overlap, but because I don’t want to imply that a modern permaculture view is the only way to come at this – well done traditional agriculture invented these projects, and while I like permaculture for some purposes, I get a little queasy about transposing the credit for this into a modern system sometimes. Yes, this is permaculture. It is also a bunch of other things.

    Claire, I’m glad you don’t mind my writing a post based on your comment – I thought it was a really good one. And I don’t think everyone has to raise livestock – again, I like critters, so I tend to think of livestock based solutions – but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t wild solutions or plant solutions. One solution to my goat problem would be to not have goats – to choose an animal not vulnerable to meningeal worm. Some of this is sentiment and preference.

    That said, however, I would tend to think that if you wanted chickens (and again, this isn’t a claim you should want chickens), that you could raise hens and not keep a rooster or raise chicks, assuming that someone else in your area wants a rooster and to raise out chicks. That is one of the benefits of urban centralization – you don’t have to do everything yourself (you don’t even have to do it out here, actually). Now maybe there are no hatcheries near you, and no one has hens and a rooster and would want to hatch out chicks for you, but maybe someone would want to, someone who is more into poultry. That is, it would be possible to introduce a limited species into your landscape, without inevitably ending up with a yak in your house ;-).

    Sharon

  27. #27 Greenpa
    December 31, 2009

    Sharon and Billy: “Billygroats, you are right, but a foraging human populace is only possible at vastly lower levels of humans, so we’re stuck with agriculture. I also agree with you that Greenpa is slightly overstating it in his rather elegant construction – and I think he knows that, but it is more fun to think that way ;-).”

    Which is why I like hanging around here. :-) Sure- in terms of ABSOLUTE TRUTH- you can quibble about this bit, and that. You wanna guess how useful quibbling is- in terms of communication with the world?

    Not, is my reply.

    “Slight overstatement” ( you are SUCH a diplomat, Sharon) – is VERY effective; in terms of getting people to THINK- in a new pattern. It makes people go “wait a minute- that’s not TOTALLY true” . Then, eventually- they CAN realize that the rest of it IS true. Hm!

    (In case you hadn’t fully noticed, Homo is stunningly bad at thinking new thoughts, or changing old ones.)

    In athletics it’s called “over-correction.” When you have a bad movement habit, it works immensely faster if in practice you exaggerate the correction; in fact pushing your body well past where you really want it to wind up. When you relax your active attention, the body tends to wind up in the middle.

    That’s both a muscular memory you’re working on, and a central nervous function.

    I will also maintain that, in response to: “the ag branches of my family a very rich tradition of ideas that were accepted and repeated and bore up under the scrutiny of scientific inquiry.”- it is very easy for farmers to see and believe that what Grandpa did was done for a good reason; true or not; and that a whole lot of “scientific inquiry” is done with the intention of justifying present practices. Biases there can be unintentional, unexamined, and literally subliminal.

    A good example is how often you see news releases on the amazing health benefits of (fill in the blank: pomegranates, soybeans, coffee, and chocolate are currently very popular).

    Astonishing how scientists just going about their scientific investigations trip over those things, isn’t it? The idea that it might have anything to do with the fact that the investigators work for a university in a state that grows/uses a lot of (fill in the blank) never occurs to the journalists, apparently.

  28. #28 Sharon Astyk
    January 1, 2010

    T, sorry not to have made this clear upfront. Yield is the total amount of a single crop – ie, your corn yield is how much corn you produce. Output is the total amount of all your yields. What happens with polyculture farms is that they lose on yield – they often can’t match up with larger farms on per acre corn yield, say. But they win on output – the total number of calories they produce is higher, as well as the total amount of their own fertility and etc… Also the quality of the calories is generally higher, but that’s not properly calculated in either output or yield.

    Sharon

  29. #29 Lily
    January 2, 2010

    Hey there. wanted to let you know that there are fantastic herbal wormers that are jut as or more effective than traditional pharma given to livestock.

    There is a wonderful wormer by Quantum (I’ve studied herbalism and have looked at the ingredients- they are fantastic!): http://www.quantumherbalproducts.com/frame_pet.htm

    There is a detox after a pharma wormer that rocks, too (in case you go that route, you should know those wormers take their toll on the liver and more): http://www.ambertech.com/products/vaccination-and-wormer-detox-tm.html/

  30. #30 Mel
    January 4, 2010

    I have had problems with meningeal worms, too. Our solutions have been to reduce the number of goats we keep and to add ducks to the pasture. Last summer was the first year with adult ducks roaming around, and I never saw a single snail or slug in the pasture. We also didn’t have any problems with brain worm this year, for the first time. We reduced the flock because we don’t have the fencing available to contain the ducks in the woods, which is our preferred place for the goats in the growing season (we have fewer problems with stomach worms in the forest than the pasture). Once our fencing is more comprehensive, we’ll probably increase the goat herd again. I wrote an essay about meningeal worms after the first goat got it two years ago:
    http://foxtailfarm.blogspot.com/2007/10/brain-worm.html

    Good luck with your plans!

  31. #31 theYakRanch
    July 22, 2010

    “Doomed to own a yak” I take offense! But not so much. This is a great post and really lays out the case for interdependence. We started with only yaks basically on a whim and continue to work out the balance issues. Accidentally, yaks turned out to be amazing all purpose animals.
    Thanks for the great post!
    http://www.theYakRanch.com

  32. #32 altın çilek
    May 7, 2011

    Astonishing how scientists just going about their scientific investigations trip over those things, isn’t it? The idea that it might have anything to do with the fact that the investigators work for a university in a state that grows/uses a lot of (fill in the blank) never occurs to the journalists, apparently..

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