My pasture cocktail and fire

I am using a new formula for my pasture recovery and beef fattening. One third grasses, one third legumes and one third brassicas. Plus sunflowers and pinto beans and turnips,   I think that cows and pigs (like humans) need a more diverse range of  foods – they are healthier and fatter. Plus we need deep rooted and nitrogen fixing plants for soil health.  Many of the pasture mixes that are available seem to carry only two or three different species, theya re designed for animal growth not pasture balance  – I am sowing fifteen  different species of plant into the fields this year.

So today the salad bar paddock was sown in my new cocktail, plus Daisy’s paddock was top sown in it as well.And all the little pig fields too.  Daisy’s paddock was one of the first sown when I began to farm and is worn out.used up

These fields were in a rotation of corn and beans and constant tilling for almost eighty years before I took them back to pasture.  I try to resow each pasture every six years at the most and  I have brought two more acres from monoculture monster machine cropping back  into the farm each year.


Yo can see where the seed drill cuts a shallow slice into the ground and sows a collection of different seeds. These were mixed by my patient seed rep who I have had to encourage to let go of all his conventions and education in typical modern pasture management, stop trying to sell me pre mixes and  use his knowledge of the actual plants and soil recovery to help me design these fields. I will take a shot of this section of Daisy’s paddock once a week (if I remember) so we can see any changes.  So you and I can watch the grass grow.


The health of my fields is as important as the health of my animals. In fact they need to be in balance to enhance each other so I was thrilled to find worms in the ground yesterday morning. When I began to recover these fields from years and years of intensive industrial horticulture I found that the earth smelled like it had been buried under tarmac and there were no worms at all, no insects or little animals, no micro-organisms, nothing. It was inert.Dust. Even rain crusts the top like sun on sand.  The constant tilling and introduction of some pretty strong and damaging chemicals has taken a terrible toll on these huge plains. Thousands of years of fertility and soil structure has been plundered from the earth. At this time of year when they begin burning the fields and tilling the ground we are surrounded in dust and smoke. The monster machines that roll over the earth tilling the little bit on the top compact the soils, creating a hard pan a few feet below that becomes like a sheet of iron, drainage is interrupted and the grounds flood in the smallest of rains. Then they bring in bigger machines to dig trenches and lay pipe to drain the earth and so the rain immediately flows into all the ditches and creeks and the land is sodden and backed up and flooded anyway.  The trees have been pulled out and burnt so there are no deep roots to help drain the fields, and bind the top soil to the earth. Neither corn nor beans go deep enough to help.

I wish they could find a way to grow field corn and soy beans without using soil. It seems such a shame to literally destroy our soils in such a grim and dogged manner. I would like to see these crops grown in high rise car parks or something. Off the ground.

I have yet to see a farmer or owner of these lands get out of her tractor or his truck and kneel in the soil and pick up a handful of soil and smell it. Or dig into it and examine the structure. Or even plant a tree. Or just sit in the middle of this waste land they and their fathers and grandfathers created and think about what they are doing.

This is not my land. I will never own more than what surrounds our house. But I weep for it and long to have the ability to save more than the acres we rent.  To protect it. One of the field fires got out of hand last night and whipped right down the length of the bank across the creek. John fought it at one end so it did not burn our hay fields. But it ran straight across the far fellowship forest right through where the poles for the zip line are.  My little path is gone. The nesting birds flew away.  I have not had the heart to check and see if the beaver dam caught alight. This morning I will  know.  The ground is now all black, scorched. I went into one of my furies.  I will have to wait and see if the trees recover, these grass fires move very fast so there is a chance they will be ok and fire often activates new seeds.  And with a big breath  I will go back to my seed man tomorrow and taking advantage of the empty ground I will sow wild flowers into the blackened ground. Not a lot, as the seed is expensive, but a little.

When I was at school we were taught that a field should be rotationaly  cropped for three years then rested in a cover crop in the fourth year. No-one rests the soil anymore. No-one even uses a cover crop for the winter. They would lose too much money.  They even burn off the corn husks. But I cannot fix these things, I can only look after the areas I rent  from John’s family for the lifetime of my stewardship. My choice is to use  pasture as a means of recovering the soil and feeding my family. We have to work together with the soil. It is a delicate balance.  It is also an act of faith in the earth. The wild flowers are an act of faith.

And at last after maybe six years of management the worms are returning. This is good. DSC_0091

The peahens are laying again.


Check out the family resemblance between mother and daughter.
cow and calf


Still waiting of any  real sign that Poppy is pregnant. Though I sense a wee belly here. It could be my wishful imagination. I have every reason to believe that she may go another month to her third date.


Which is fine. Though I am going to have an awful lot of piglets here at one time if Molly and Tahiti breed as well.

Another beautiful day is unfolding in the gardens.  I must gird my loins and go out to inspect the damage in the daylight – that fire was still burning until late in the night.

I hope you have a lovely day.



46 Comments on “My pasture cocktail and fire

  1. You will have to follow up on this in regard to the sunflowers in the fields with your critters. I have never seen our pigs or cattle eat sunflower plants…the birds (chickens etc) will go after the seeds from the heads, but not the stalks. All the rest of the things you are putting in, i know they will love!! I also love the momma-baby pic…sooo perfect!!! That’s a pic for framing -nice job!

    • The other reason I am introducing sunflowers is for the pollinators, I need more wild bees in the fields.. Though my pigs love them, especially when they are young..but the seeds are eaten by everyone.. however they are annuals so they will not become much of a problem.. c

  2. Oh gosh! So sorry to hear about the fire. Hopefully the damage will be minimal. It is a pity that not more people care about their land as much as you do. It is our future.

  3. It is said that we animal farmers should not call ourselves sheep farmers or ranchers, etc., but grass farmers. The only way to really raise meat the right way is by having the right grasses that they are meant to be eating and digesting. It’s so nice to hear that you have brought some of the land back from the desert of its life! It must be difficult to be surrounded by the industrialness of the farms there. We are a little luckier in Maine, not so many big tracts of flat fieldss, but lots of small, more sustainable farming is going on here. I definitely feel your pain. So sorry that the fire spread.

  4. Sorry about the fire, I hope things are not too bad. Fire is a frighting thing.

  5. We drove 90 minutes across south east Iowa yesterday. There were many farmers out practicing their craft of monoculture.

    Have you seen the news about the large grass fires in Kansas?

  6. Yes, it’s such a horrible thing that has been done to the soil over the decades. It’s wonderful to see you bringing your acres back to life once again. It will be great to see the weekly pic of the pasture with the new cocktail mix planted. We are always on the lookout for mixes that are good for our animals! Here, too, when we started our gardens there was not a worm to be found. And no bees to pollinate anything. With our raised beds, and growing our soil with compost, compost tea, other nutrients, and cover crops the soil has become more fertile, thank goodness! But it is a continual process, as precious soil is hard to come by in these Ozark Mountains.

  7. Tears were pouring down my cheeks on reading your reminder of the rape of the soil. Your post should be read by every “factory” farmer in the world.
    The fire is probably less serious – it often leads to a dramatic upsurge in growth. I pray that will happen in your case.
    Tziki has her mother’s eyes.

  8. Wonderful that the worms are back, they are the best workers on the farmy. I too am interested in seeing how the pastures develop and grow. Sad about the fire and the damage to the trees. I had to cut down a 40yr old Acacia this week. It had contracted the disease and was rotting from centre out and dropped a widow making branch – luckily nobody was hurt this time. There is now a huge hole in my sky, I miss it. I will attempt to find a couple replacements but hesitant because of our on going drought and water restrictions. Laura

  9. It would be nice if you could teach what you do en masse to our farmers and future farmers. The burning is lazy farming and so are all the chemicals. I see no use for so much corn and soy as they are both mostly contaminated now anyway. I know you are trying to teach each person that comes and works with you and hopefully, they can pass it along. Tziki does look just like her mama in the face. I will hope for the best in the fire damage.

  10. I drive through western Iowa regularly, and it is sickening how many trees I’ve seen cut down and burned in the past 10 years, just to clear another acre for corn and soy beans. My grandfather was a farmer in Iowa many years ago, and I think he would be appalled at what farming has become. It gives me hope, though, that there are farmers like you, and you are helping to teach and inspire others.

  11. I have two thoughts after reading this – the first is admiration… such admiration… for your love of the animals and of the earth. And after reading this, I’m so upset to know there aren’t any little animals, insects or worms in the soil of those large, industrial farms. Soil without all those things is NOT soil. It’s just ‘dirt’. The soil are our farm in Quebec was rich and dark chocolate brown. Everything grew beautifully – esp. my veggies and flowers. (The fields were not my department.) It’s such an abuse of nature to ruin the soil. And now you’ve had to endure a destructive fire…. I’m so sorry for you – and for the animals and birds which made that land their home. Luckily you have new babies and all the ‘newness’ of spring to look forward to! ; o )

  12. Digging your hands in loamy soil is such a live affirming thing. I hope the fire didn’t hurt your farm too badly. It will be nice to watch the grass grow.

  13. So glad you are reclaiming and healing some of that prairie. There is nothing better than good healthy soil and your pasture recipe should really help it. Though, many of the farmers up here are raising only corn for their cattle (which I hate, grass is better), they do rotate fields with legumes, but they never sit with cover crop for a year. They don’t till, they overplant.

  14. You versed so bravely what is the reality of our Midwestern plains. I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. My soul weeps for Mother Earth and Father Sky. I have watched my Nebraska homeland become this big agricultural corporate monster in my lifetime. Even here in the South I see the mistreatment of land used for livestock production. I observe the flagrant waste of water resources, chemical treatments for soil, and contamination of our air, rivers and lakes – the natural environment. My fear is that (not in my lifetime) the plains states will be a desert land, and Monsanto and other toxic giants will pull up and move out. Just recently here in Oklahoma we are beginning to see the results of decades of oil and gas production and the catastrophic aftermath of fracking and erosion. Only when rock bottom is hit, will man see the err of his ways.

    • People really need to take notice of what is going on in western AZ and parts of eastern CA. Foreign countries who are facing drought and lack of hay/feed in their own countries are buying thousands and thousands of acres of dry desert land, drilling deep wells, and irrigating fields and fields of crops which are immediately shipped out of the US to their countries. You can easily see the long strips of green among the sand from satellite images.
      In certain counties /states there are laws limiting water use/over use of wells in some areas/traditionally cultivated or populated areas – but not the entire state. You’d think citizens who deal with rationing and strict water regulations would be storming their legislatures – concern is growing and bills are being introduce, but the entire country needs to keep an eye on this.

  15. We soon will be getting the smoke from the MX fields burning. Didn’t know they still burned where you are. Not done on purpose here except “controlled” burns in wetland/prairie conservation park areas – only lightning has managed that the past few years.
    Field management is terribly interesting – I recall farmers who owned the very old tractors walking their pastures and fields checking the dirt texture and quality in the winter to decide what to do in the spring. There was a lot more care given to small local farm lands and fields did rest – and grazing was rotated as well as crops. Factory farms may supply a big product, but of lesser quality and damaging the soil.
    Worms are good! Bees will come – along with all the rest. It will work. (and the path will return along with the birds) Go Farmy Ci!

  16. Variety is not only the spice of life, it is the very foundation of it. Without the kind of diversification you are practicing so carefully and wisely, the earth, as you note, dies—and eventually, all of us with it. I thank you for your part in fighting the longtime tide of ignorance, both in practice and in print. You are an example to us all. May your post-fire inspection bring you far better news than any of us dreams possible!

  17. I hope the fires didn’t destroy everything. Your thoughts here echo my own, and I applaud your VERY meaningful work towards restoring the land and fertility. What we have done to the earth is appalling, and I am hoping within the next generation we will see a revival of the old ways of restoring the land after/during planting. Factory farming is not good for man nor beast, nor land, of course. Do you have Conservation Districts there? My local CD has great classes and information on restoring pastures, pasture rotation, mud management (a HUGE issue here in the rainy Pacific Northwest) and protecting our water from runoff. When I first got my property a representative came out and helped me with a farm plan (no fee – just part of what they do!) for managing the animals, pasture, etc. It was a great help!

  18. I’ve never understood the short sightedness that ignored the need to let pasture rest and give it a cover crop to be slashed and mulched in, to sow helpful plants with deep, deep roots to bring up the nutrients and open pathways for the worms, to spread good manure from healthy animals who are not fed a constant diet of antibiotics and vermifuges, and building soils that will hold and absorb water instead of creating hardpan where the precious stuff runs off because it cannot penetrate and there are no water management systems to keep it where it’s needed, like swales, or berms. Celi, thank you for doing what must be done in your small patch of the agricultural desert which our world is becoming.

  19. So sad about the fire, such a shame that others don’t have the same love and respect for the land that you do. Thank God for farmers like you.

  20. You are truly a steward of the land, and what you wrote today is so very sad. Overwhelmingly so.

  21. You really can tell a lot about the soil by smelling it. Worms smell just right. I made a worm bin at work to feed the leftover tortoise diet to, and the castings are going up into the sterile red clay on my hill to try to improve the soil to prevent erosion. Worms work magic.

    And that is the prettiest little calf I have ever seen!

  22. i think then you are using a No Till Planter? can you talk more about that, show us what it looks like?

  23. Take heart Celi, on a small scale the family I buy meat from is slowly but surely bringing back the health of the soil in his fields. He moves his chicken tractors and aerates with his pigs and plants things like daikon and turnips to bring up the minerals and the beef, pork and chicken has wonderful flavor. I’ve had many many really thoughtful discussions with them. On a side note, the steers his daughter shows in 4H must be raised on grain to bring them to a size comparable to those shown by other competitors but after people have tasted the meat from his pasture raised beef he has a hard time selling these grain fed ones! On a larger scale our state weekly, Wisconsin State Farmer, has more and more articles in it about more and more farmers planting deep rooted plants in their fields and using cover crops as ‘green manure’. There are also many articles about the farmers transitioning to organic production which is a big job considering all the hoops they must jump through. Even though I pass by fields with horribly desiccated, dusty soil on my daily walk I am encouraged that many are sitting back and rethinking their methods. There is hope yet!

  24. Glad for your care. I have a tiny garden plot at a community garden–maybe 15’x15′–and sometimes I wonder if what I do makes a difference. Bu then someone else adopts the practices, and the gift is doubled. Each inch is precious.

  25. Goosebumps! As quite a few have said: your writing re our rape of the land should be mandatory reading to all! Every schoolchild in the US and around the world should understand that when one takes one also has to give in return. You do. It is said that from small acorns large oak trees grow: somehow each one of us has the obligation to plant an acorn in our own way, literally or figuratively, to make this world a better and more natural and productive place . . . meanwhile kudos to you for still being a teacher . . .

  26. What a beautiful post. I feel uplifted every time I visit you. I would love to live next door to watch this incredible transformation. Your love of the land and the animals who provide your food gives me goosebumps – good ones.

  27. I haven’t seen fields burned since I was a child, until I drove to Melbourne (from country NSW) recently. It’s ugly and unnecessary . I had thought it was one of those archaic practices from my childhood.

  28. I feel such great heartache reading your description of how the land has been damaged. I am teaching a course called ‘Sacred Earth’ online, and would love to use this description when I’m talking about my grief. And also when talking about what one person can do. Not change the world, but certainly change a patch of it. (May I? — with full acknowledgement of course) I rejoice at the return of the earthworms because I know what this means — such a sign of good health. I rejoice at what you are doing and the Power of One plus Woofers. Maybe the worms will start crossing the border and your good soil will creep out into other farms. It is fantastic and heroic that you are doing this, and that you are documenting it. I look forward to those photos of the seeds coming through, because as you know, I’m a Taranaki girl and I’ve been brought up to appreciate grass.

  29. As Joel Salatin says…We shouldn’t be treating our soil like dirt! 😦 I love that little brown cow!

  30. your photo of Mom and baby is so fabulous- what a great mother! Sorry about your fire- it’s so scary. And you are tending the land with such loving and intelligent care – my hat is off to you today and everyday!

  31. I agree with everything you said here. I thought everyone knew, after the Dust Bowl, that taking care of the soil is just as vital to farming as water and sun and seed. It seems more of the same attitude that lead us to global warming, ‘Not my problem, it won’t be bad until I’m dead. Someone else will fix it.’
    Glad you are that someone else, and yay for worms!

  32. It will be fun to spend more time watching grass grow! 😉 Txiki is a mini Alex! Your post reminds me of a quote that one can’t do everything, but they can do something. You are making your mark on the land. I would think John’s family would be proud to see the land nurtured. You work so hard to do it right.

  33. My husband and I have 5 acres and raise 10-15 pigs, 400-500 broilers a year plus have a 12 member dairy goat herd including a buck and 48 layers and Fred, a cat. All raised outside (with shelter!). We have an absolutely, ridiculously large garden and have managed to get the worms back also. It took years since part of our land was a “corner” where the machines turned around. That’s where our garden is. Nothing, and I mean, nothing grew right for at least 5 years. I wish I knew how many 1000s of pounds of stuff we put on our garden to repair it. Our pasture is still in repair mode as we didn’t utilize it for several years. Would you b willing to tell me what you have in your pasture mix? We are constantly overseeding in hopes of adding more nutrition in the mix but with only 5 acres it’s a challenge. We are slowly fencing in every square inch we can and slowly turning the rest into food production. As far as I can guess, I live directly east of you in eastern Indiana. The last couple years have been extremely challenging due to weather. I have a love/hate relationship with northern Indiana. I’ve lived here my whole life and on our farm 25 years. AND, I absolutely hate what is being done to our earth and land. I try not to think to much about it but it gets hard, especially now, when the wind brings the smell of chemicals and dirt as the fields around me are “planted.” I love reading your blog as it feels like I’m reading a “soul sisters” blog. Have a great day!

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