Family Friendly Farm

It all begins with the soil

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

It all begins with the soil at Family Friendly Farm.  When we moved to our farm in 2003 we were disappointed in the soil fertility of the hills in Cape Girardeau county.  Having grown up in southern Minnesota we were spoiled by excellent soils used in gardening and agriculture.  We made it a goal to improve the soils with compost and animal manures.  As we started grazing animals we realized that they can easily work into a system to improve the soil and pasture health.

Most farmers think about improving the soil by adding a chemical fertilizer.  We have all seen the ammonia tanks and fertilizer buggies out in the spring.  I understand why many go this way, it is a quick way to get a boost in yield.  In our current agricultural economy many think it is the only way they can be profitable and provide a living for their family.  I just never felt comfortable with this method.   The normal fertilizing method is hard on soil organic matter and soil life, I want a different approach.

Good soil is full of organic matter which feeds microbes, fungi, and small critters.  Without organic matter, the soil will be dead.  With organic matter, the soil can have a rich diversity of life.  We all know our food ultimately comes from the soil, but if we have dead soil how can we have healthy food?

We improve our soil by making lots of compost.  The animals are an important component in our compost making.  To make compost you need materials with the right carbon to nitrogen ratio.  We use old hay, straw and wood chips as our carbon source.  We mix that with nitrogen rich animal manures.  In the winter we find an area of the pasture that needs improvement and use it as a sacrifice area to hold the cows.  We add wood chips and straw bedding.  We then feed hay to the cows in this area.  Cows don’t worry about their waste products and leave their manure all over the bedding in this area.  As the winter proceeds we keep adding new layers of bedding to keep the cows cleaner and to keep the carbon/nitrogen ratio in balance.  When spring comes, the cows go back to grazing and the bedding/manure pack is left in place for the soil organisms to turn it into compost.  By rotating these winter holding areas around the farm we are improving the soils in those areas each year.

cow bedding pack, manure, compost

Our cow bedding pack from last winter (2015/2016).

Pictured is our cow bedding pack from last winter.  It has a long way to go before being compost.  The carbon and nitrogen ingredients are there and nature will work on the pack for the next couple of years.  Thanks to all who bought milk from us last winter and contributed to this future compost.  Without you consuming the milk, we wouldn’t be able to make all this compost.  You can make a difference with your food choices!

compost, manure, bedding

Compost from our cow bedding pack from winter 2011/2012

Also pictured is compost from our cow bedding pack from the winter of 11/12.  The soil organisms have turned the straw and cow manure into beautiful compost full of nutrients.  The plants growing in this area look great and the cows love eating them.  It will produce wonderful milk for years to come.  If you get milk from us now, you can thank customers who bought milk back in the winter of 11/12.  Their past support is benefiting all of us now.

I could go on and on about making compost on our farm.  It truly is the starting point for improving our soils.  If you would like to know more about our compost or steps we take to improve our soils I would be happy to answer questions sent to matt@familyfriendlyfarm.com.

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The farm, the food and the myriad of connections to health.