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Pasture Management: Benefits of Biodiverse Forage

Pasture management for livestock far too often falls to using artificial stimulants, and not by selecting the right plants and managing the soil. But the latter is by far the better way.

Cows and calves in the pasture.

The resurrection of interest among graziers in medicinal plants seems to parallel the burgeoning movement of livestock operators in organic (and ecological) meat, milk and egg production, rotational managed grazing, and the stockman’s increasing interest in reducing dependence on pharmaceutical drugs — due to their costs, side effects and concerns over residues in meat, milk and egg products. There are numerous books available on the medicinal properties of various plants, many of which are considered weeds in pastures and meadows on farms.

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Bats for Natural Pest Control

Bats have a bad reputation. In reality, bats can be a farmer’s best friend by providing free and effective pest control services over farm fields and orchards.

A Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida rasiliensis) eating a moth. Courtesy Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat
Conservation International, www.batcon.org.

Most bat species in the United States are generalist insect predators, which means they will consume most medium-sized flying insects. Determining exactly what insects bats eat is often difficult, since bats feed in the sky at night. Until recently, scientists studied the diet of bats by dissecting fecal pellets under a microscope and identifying insect fragments, such as pieces of exoskeletons or legs, that survived the digestive tract of the bat.

With the exception of hard-shelled insects, including some stinkbugs and beetles, this rarely allowed for identification of insects to species level. Scientists could confirm that bats ate moths but could not confirm that bats were consuming specific pests of economic interest.

Modern techniques in the field of genetics now allow scientists to recover DNA from fecal samples and identify the insect remains found in bat feces by sequencing the insects’ DNA. Using these modern techniques, bat researchers across the country have identified to species level almost 200 insects that are consumed by bats, and many of these insects cause substantial economic loss.

Most of the insects consumed in the United States are beetles and moths. While it is generally the larval form of moths that damage crops, bats are benefiting the crops by consuming the adult flying forms, therefore preventing the insects from further reproducing.

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Industrial Agriculture Versus Biological Agriculture: An Ethical Debate

Industrial agriculture and biological agriculture differ on one very fundamental point: ethics.

A free-range pig.

Sometimes it behooves us all to step back and look at the foundations of our own paradigm in order to give us a greater conviction in its defense. The philosophical underpinnings of our views are often easier to defend than specific details.

For example, I have debated agri-industrial darling Dennis Avery, author of Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic, three times in public forums, and he is no dummy. A retired USDA big-wheel economist, a Ph.D. and spokesman for everything genetically engineered. irradiated or confinement reared, he is articulate and likable.

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Soil Minerals: Nature’s Sunken Treasure for Health and Fertility

Soil minerals not only can help your plants, but they can help your health too. 

Periodic Table of the Elements with atomic number, symbol and weight.

Readouts from high-priced instruments tell us that ocean water contains 92 elements — give or take a few, depending on location near ocean vents and extraction methods — which appear as the first 92 entries of Mendeleyev’s periodic table. We rely on paleontologists and archeologists to tell us what happened with the North American continent. One single event suggests recall before we move forward to place ocean minerals under the microscopic eye. About 55 million years ago an asteroid crashed into the shallow sea near what is now the Yucatan Peninsula. It had been traveling at perhaps 85,000 miles per hour, give or take, and lost its way for reasons only speculation can supply. The crash terminated the age of dinosaurs, literally leveled most of the continent, extinguished species, annihilated woodlands, and prepared the way for mountains to rise, savannahs to form, and, not least, for mineral dusts to be distributed worldwide.

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Organic Weed Control: Cultural and Mechanical Methods

Organic weed control methods are often debated and dismissed by large chemical sprayers. But organic weed control methods do work, and work better for your field’s health.

Organic weed control

Weeds happen. Knowing how to work with them can save you a lot of time and effort.

Weeds happen. That is a fact of life for organic farmers, and therefore many of our field operations are designed to make sure that the health and quality of our crops are not jeopardized by the inevitable weed pressure.

Planning an effective weed-control program involves many different aspects of organic crop production. As farmers begin to explore organic possibilities, the first two questions invariably seem to be: “What materials do I buy for soil fertility?” and “What machinery do I buy to control weeds?” We asked these questions when we started organic farming, but we rapidly realized that this is not the best way to understand successful organic farm management.

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Chicken Breed Selection

Chicken breed selection can be a confusing prospect for the modern small farm laying flock. Sex-link birds will give you a great many light brown-shelled eggs of fair size right now, but they won’t build a sustainable and enduring flock.

Locate the purest possible sources of a breed’s genetics. The longer a particular flock’s history is, the better.

Small producers often need to do a better job of presenting their eggs for sale. Even if a flock is made up of all heirloom breeds, a badly mixed-up flock will not produce uniform eggs for sale, produce predictable replacements or foster a positive image. A friend says such flocks look like “grandma’s chicken yard.”

An egg is an egg once the shell is removed and no one will prosper by fostering and spreading old wives’ tales and misinformation. The white-shelled egg deserves the small-scale producer’s consideration every bit as much as the brown-shelled variety.

A good laying flock with a purebred basis is a long-term pursuit. Don’t take up heirloom birds on a whim and then neglect or let them go after a season or two. Such birds seldom make it to another set of caring hands with any sort  of commitment to their preservation as  a breed.

Heirloom breed producers can and should function in a number of different roles. Yet, even with a single focus, be it meat, eggs or seedstock, each flock and producer will have its own unique nature. A part of the task is to know your breed or breeds fully and even more so the birds that make up the actual flocks. A White Wyandotte and Rosecomb White Leghorn have a great many similarities, but all must admit that they were bred and refined for two rather different tasks in life. If you have a good market for light brown eggs in fair numbers and some demand for broilers or roasters, then the White Wyandotte should be your choice of the two breeds. While Leghorn cockerels were my grandmother’s favorite choice of young birds to fry in her day, the Leghorn must be your breed of choice for eggs in greater numbers.

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