Organic or not?
It seems lately the term organic is getting a bad name. Organic means different things to different people. Some staunchly defend it, others poo poo it. I’m falling somewhere in the middle. Our farm was certified organic in the 90′s by Oregon Tilth. We are no longer certified, but could be if we needed that distinction. If you are truly organic, getting and keeping a certification is not hard at all. If you want to cheat it is difficult. I think the national standards are too lax, and are geared towards large corporations who want to cash in on organics. My personal rule of thumb is if you’re organic, you don’t do dual marketing. Don’t tell me a big egg ranch that has several different lines of eggs, has their heart in the right place. It’s common to see free-range, cage-free, organic, natural, brown and white eggs all marketed from the same large farm. Don’t tell me that if they run out of organic feed in one layer flock they won’t use conventional feed, or if they get more orders for organic eggs that they wouldn’t just add a few of the brown eggs from a different flock. They won’t take the loss – to them it’s just sales. The consumer can’t tell the difference.
Do I buy organic, yes, if it is local. I will buy organic nectarines in the summer from Oregon or Washington, but I won’t buy organic nectarines right now from Chile. There are just too many links in the chain of custody for me. I won’t buy local conventional nectarines. It’s not worth it.
I’m digressing here, I was going to talk about hay on our farm and why organic isn’t maybe the end-all in certain cases. Maybe having livestock is the answer. Managing the livestock on our farm and their output (manure) makes all the difference. A living, breathing farm, with livestock. A biological farm, that waxes and wanes with the season.
Can you see a difference in the hay bales on this truck? Which one do you think could be easily certified as organic? And more importantly why is some green and some not.
The tan hay is from a neighbors farm who has no livestock. The green hay is the bale and a half that was in the baler and is from one of our hay fields. (Some hay from the previous field is always left in the baler, until haying season ends.) The tan hay could be certified organic because nothing was applied to the ground. No crop farming has taken place on the tan hay farm for many years. But hay has been made there for quite a while. I’m pretty sure the ground is clean. Our hay could probably only be certified as transitional because we buy straw from a farmer who is not certified organic and we use that straw for our composting.
Our hay ground is just paddocks that have gotten ahead of the cows during the grazing season and are dropped out of the grazing rotation. Our pastures contain many different types of grasses and forbs and so does the resulting hay. By grazing at least once during the grazing season, we can make high quality hay later in the summer than most people do and still get good hay. Trying to make hay here in May and June is a pain. We are getting a second “cutting” that is the mark of hay farmers far and wide. We are just letting the cows harvest the first cutting while it is raining. That puts us in a good a weather window for harvesting too. The date isn’t so much important as the quality of the hay. And the best quality “hay” is actually grass that gets grazed by a cow when it is still grass. If I make more hay, I have less grass to graze. It would be the same as you canning or freezing all your vegetables for winter and not eating them fresh when they were at their peak. See? The more days in the year my cattle can graze and harvest their own food, the longer it is before I have to start feeding them hay. It costs money to make hay.
One or two types of the early grass has set seed heads, but that is OK, as you can see from the hay flakes above, the hay is predominately green.
High density, short duration grazing helps replenish the soil. It looks bad to the uninitiated eye but look at the difference below.
Same paddocks, already showing growth mid-winter. Meanwhile the mechanically cut, and not fertilized strip to the right is not as vigorous and hardy. And no, you don’t have to have a hundred animals to mob graze, despite what you’ve read. Sure the more the better and quicker results, but the key is high density, short duration. Not high density, long duration. Meaning leaving a two hundred chickens in one spot for one day (broilers) or three days (layers) is OK and will rejuvenate the soil. Leaving two hundred chickens in one place, say 1/2 acre or so, for 3 weeks, bad idea. Sure it will give them room to roam and range, but after about 3 days it is stale. You can imagine a salad bar with the same bowl of salad mix put out day after day until the bowl in empty… not to mention what impact that is having on your soil and pasture plants. Hopefully, you get the idea. I know moving animals is a lot of work, but if it grows good feed for them, that you don’t have to buy, isn’t that a good thing? And as much as I like hay season, it is hard work, building fence and calling animals is a little more enjoyable.
The other part of our fertilizer program is the feeding shed for the cows with deep bedding. The outside temperature is 38°F.
It’s already heating – not full compost temperature because the cows weight packs it pretty tight, but coming along nicely.
Like our food, livestock food too has become a mass-produced product of the marketing machine. We are looked down on as backwards because when we upgraded our baler and bought a new one, we bought another baler that makes small squares. Round bales or large squares are getting to be normal, but only because the equipment salesman did a good job. A disc mower will cut that grass even with the dew on it, but a disc mower takes a lot of horsepower, so you need a bigger tractor, then you need air conditioning, then you need a round baler, then you need bale forks, then you need a round bale feeder, and then you can’t hire those few teenagers that might just haul those square bales for you because the bales are too big. I know it is more efficient, but gee making that equipment payment is hard when the guy down the road can’t buy hay from you to easily either because he only has a car or dinky pickup and a couple goats and a steer. Pretty soon the small holder has to buy the round bale feeder too, and he puts out his round bale and then he doesn’t have to feed his stock every day or even look at them. And he doesn’t know that the disc mower that enabled the farmer to cut the damp grass when the Brix wasn’t high in the plant made the hay a poorer quality. See how just a few changes make a difference in animal husbandry. There are only a few people in my immediate area that have cattle still and make their own hay. But the hay sellers that make most of the hay that is sold in my town, do not have livestock. They are only concerned with the mechanics of hay making. It is a job plain and simple. But it could be so much more.