People come to Wyebrook for the animals. Whether they are here to see our adorable piglets or to enjoy our amazing burgers, they are here for something related to our animals. No one comes for the sole purpose of checking out our grass. No one.
While grass may not be cute or tasty, it is the foundation of everything we do at the farm. The animals are, more or less, a byproduct of the grass. Before moving to the farm the word “grass” evoked images of perfectly manicured suburban lawns. I knew there were different types of grass – like crab grass and Kentucky blue grass – but didn’t give this much thought. My relationship with grass didn’t extend much beyond mowing the lawn.
I’ve developed a much deeper appreciation for grass during my few months here at Wyebrook. Grass is an unfortunately generic term for an incredibly diverse class of perennial plants. A perennial plant is one that grows year after year without having to be replanted. That’s why you don’t have to reseed your law every spring. On the other hand annuals like corn, soy, and wheat must be replanted at the beginning of each growing season.
It is easier to grow grass than corn, but far less practical, at least on the surface. Humans can’t eat grass. Well, we could, but not well. It is “insoluble fiber” which means we can’t digest it. It would simply pass through our gut and all the nutrients would remain trapped in the grass, useless to our bodies. That is where ruminants like cows, goats, and sheep come into the picture. These animals thrive on grass! As they eat grass, they grow, converting all that wasted insoluble fiber into meat that humans can consume.
There are dozens of varieties of grass. Some grow well in cold climates while some prefer heat. Some thrive in near-desert conditions while others love saturated marshlands. Different types of grass contain different vitamins and nutrients. Some grasses are very delicate while others can withstand being trampled by a herd of cattle. That is why all of our pastures are seeded with many different grasses. We have clover, alfalfa, fescue, orchard grass, timothy, winter rye and a host of other grasses populating our pastures.
All plants – grasses, row crops, trees, etc. – grow by pulling nutrients out of the soil through their roots. If nutrients are not put back into the soil, it becomes depleted. As the years pass, the land will support fewer plants. So an acre of land that grew 1,000 ears of corn one year might only be able to grow 800. You have to find a way to put nutrients back into the soil to maintain or increase land productivity.
That is the beauty of grazing cattle. As the cattle work their way through the pasture, they not only turn the grass into food but also into fertilizer. What goes up must come down, right? So, too, what goes in must come out. Animal manure is full of the nutrients the grasses suck out of the soil.
It’s a perfect cycle. The soil feeds the grass. The grass feeds the cows (or sheep or goats or llamas). The cows feed the soil. What more could you ask for?