Pasture-Based Products to Support Family, Community and Environment
Farmers Nate Lewis and Melissa Barker have been involved in farming for a number of years and in many ways. Their impact on the farming community was evident in the number and diversity of attendees they attracted to the farm walk hosted at their farm August 26, 2013 in Galvin, Lewis County. Many came from around the southwest Washington region to learn about their pasture systems and livestock operation.
Throughout the day, Nate Lewis described their decision-making process, assessing the bottom line, impacts to the farm, and the family’s lifestyle. In past years they had raised hogs and broilers for income, but considering rising feed prices they chose not to raise hogs and broilers this year, realizing that the numbers would not calculate to profitability. He also explained that they did not want to grow a business that relies on one commodity. Nate acknowledged that the hogs are hard on the barn and equipment, but they are an effective, living, ‘compost machine.’ And when they sold the sows it was the saddest day of the year. They will be looking to fit them back into the system on some scale.
Nate names their current assortment of animals a ‘flerd’ – mixing species for a combined flock and herd. He described the health and attributes of their heirloom Jacob sheep. They are smaller than standard sheep, can be kept on pasture longer into the wet season, and turned out earlier in the spring, due to their smaller stature and impact on the field. Their lighter winter weight (~55lbs/ 20 kg) also makes them less costly to feed in the winter time. WSU extension specialist Susan Kerr, DVM, PhD, PAS, affirmed that Nate and Melissa’s organic practices contribute to outstanding hoof and herd health.
Next, visitors moved to the barn area where the farmers discussed the concrete pad and rain gutters that they installed with the assistance of National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The pad and gutters are a system aimed to reduce mud and compaction, address the flood zone, move water off the barn yard area, and away from the compost. Jennifer Kubell and George Riley of NRCS described how their agency helped to identify manure management as a critical piece in mitigating impacts to the nearby stream, a managed resource. NRCS looks at resource concerns and helped do the design and contributed funding. They described the cost share arrangements which vary according to farm size, how long you’ve been farming, and what is practiced on the farm. NRCS services are available to farmers and addresses resource concerns, for example, enhancing and protecting salmon-bearing streams, like the one at Lincoln Creek Ranch.
Nate and Melissa manage the compost pile to follow organic regulations; they find that composted manure does the best job for their resource and pasture management. They learned much from attending a workshop taught by the Washington Organic Recycling Council, helping them gain an understanding of the rules as well as the workings of a compost pile, learning to “live into the pile.” In building his own concrete pad he learned the value of long-term planning, considering future wiring and plumbing needs before the concrete is poured. Jim Fullmer from the biodynamic Demeter Association mentioned biodynamic preparations and practices for compost piles.
They gave a tour of the barn where they make many uses of each space, assessing and adapting to ‘flerd’ needs. Nate delights in a second-hand fork lift, a worth-while purchase, and the aid it gives for lifting feed bags in and around the barn. Out in the pasture, Nate and Melissa described the movement of their flocks, using pens, nets and electric fencing. The success of their pastures relies on a diversity of forages, including planning for late-season perennials and timing in the field. They cited learning from Steve Fransen’s work at WSU using many types of forage innovations. They demonstrated their irrigation system provided by Irripods, dispensers with easily-moved hoses for ease and cost control. Attendees asked many questions and took copious notes, as they learned about the Lincoln Creek Ranch’s techniques and perspective. These farmers repeatedly asses and adapt what they are doing for the good of their family, herd, and the environment.
As we finished our walk, we learned about Melissa’s plan to train oxen at Lincoln Creek and begin raising oxen for sale. Compared to draft horses, she finds cows more familiar to work with, more economical, and readily available. Recently, while attending a course at Tillers International in Kalamazoo Michigan, she made a yoke for her first pair of oxen.
Nate and Melisa described how they share information, practices, and even customer lists with other farmers in order to promote small farming and improve the relationships and health of their community. They want farmers to help each other and create a cultural mindset of sharing. This was clear in the way they shared their time and information on the educational walk of their farm.
Summary by Jacqueline Cramer
Funding for this farm walk and other Tilth Producers educations programs are funded in part by the USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program.
Farm Walk booklet: HERE