Snow Pastures

 

From Our Archives January 2008
GENE LOGSDON

For many years I have had an impossible dream for which I give credit to both my now deceased friend, Bob Evans, who made a fortune with a chain of restaurants, and to the American Plains buffalo. What could Bob have in common with the buffalo? Both believed fervently that animals could thrive on year-round grazing, come hell, high water or snow, without any soil cultivation for grains at all. Once Bob and the buffaloes got that notion lodged in my mind, I could no more deny it than I could deny that one plus one equals two.

Millions upon millions of buffalo roamed this land of ours for centuries, providing food, clothing and housing for native Americans without benefit of one plow, one stalk of corn, one irrigation ditch or one environmentally-blind human transplant from Europe. Bob Evans understood what the American bison and the Indians had tried to tell us. He decided that what the wild buffalo had shown to be eminently practical for a sparse population of humans could be made eminently practical for today’s denser populations, using domesticated farm animals and verdant farmland where rain is plentiful to grow more grass that the dry plains ever dreamed possible. Always a farmer, even after becoming a fast food tycoon, he created a pastoral paradise in southern Ohio to prove his conviction. By and by he led me, practically by the nose, all over his farm to show me the proof. Pastoral farming could produce milk, butter, eggs, and meat just as well as plow farming and a whole lot cheaper. (You can find a profile of Bob in my book, All Flesh Is Grass, page 47ff.)

I spent the next 20 years seeing if I could mimic his efforts in northern Ohio on a very small acreage. Turned out to be easy in spring, summer, and fall once I rid my mind of thinking that farming was about growing annual grains and making the Chicago Board of Trade wealthy. But winter grazing in a harsher climate than Bob’s proved to be a real challenge. Northern pasture farmers were planting annual crops of turnips, winter rye, and grazing corn to beat the snow. Since my goal was to get away from the whole frightening cost of cultivating and harvesting crops, I wanted to avoid even this much annual cultivation if possible.

After trying about every pasture plant that would stand above snow or endure being covered with snow temporarily, I learned from a rancher in Kansas, about the snow pasture possibilities of that old standby, red clover, supplemented by fescue which is a grass not as nutritious as clover but capable of providing some grazing all winter in more southern climes. Red clover is also a favorite hay crop of farmers here in Ohio, but I had never realized how it could be stockpiled for winter grazing (alfalfa works well this way too). I simply needed to let it grow in late summer and fall, not cut it for hay. This was hard for a farmer with ingrained traditions of European husbandry to do. Let all that nice hay go to waste, turn brown and dead, and get buried under the snow? Hard to believe that.

But I did know that red clover was the easiest of all the legumes to get started simply by broadcasting the seed on top of the ground in late winter. That meant no annual cultivation. Then agricultural researchers came out with findings indicating that late hay crops left standing in the field were still fairly nutritious even when grazed in winter when they were more or less dead and brown.

So I gritted my teeth and let the late hay in one paddock grow two feet tall, blossom, go to seed and die. Being fairly upright, the plants would bear the weight of quite a bit of snow and still be semi-erect and therefore easily grazed. After we got our first five inches of snow in December, I turned the sheep in. First they ate off the dead blossoms and stems above the snow. An old herbal of mine says that red clover blossoms and seeds are “…one of God’s greatest blessings to man … a wonderful blood purifier…excellent for cancer of the stomach … and various spasms … very soothing to the nerves.” I wonder if the sheep know that.

Then they pushed down through the snow and burrowed along, grazing just like buffalo do, bulldozing the snow out of the way with their heads. Amazing grace. A second five inches of snow fell the next week. Same story. The plot, which is hardly an acre in size, fed 20 sheep until Christmas and is still providing a little clover and some fescue to nibble on as I write this. If I had a couple more acres of snow pasture, the sheep could graze until the middle of January, maybe longer, maybe until the bluegrass in other pastures starts to grow in March. Being basically a disbeliever, I’ve never had the guts to stockpile enough clover in the fall to find out. A side benefit: some of the clover seeds missed by the sheep or passed through the sheep in the manure, will sprout in the spring and make a new stand.

Bless you, Bob. Bless you, buffalo.
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Gene Logsdon’s Lovable Fable, The Man Who Created Paradise, Just Out in Paperback…

 

The Man Who Created Paradise was originally published in a hardcover-only edition back in 2001. Ohio University Press continued to field requests when the book was no longer available, but it was a difficult reprint thanks to the square format and the halftone photos. At long last, we’re proud to bring Gene’s inspirational fable back into circulation in an attractive paperback edition.

The Man Who Created Paradise: A Fable, is a short, inspirational book, 72 pages, that tells the story of a landscape despoiled by strip mining. In the book, the narrator drives from Cincinnati to “Old Salem,” Ohio, to meet a correspondent. Along the way he is depressed by the scenery and its industrial heritage. But he ends up meeting a man who has begun reclaiming the land with just a personal mission and a single tractor. The encounter is a tonic to the narrator—he sees the land turned back to fertility and attractiveness, and realizes the man (Wally Spero) is on to something. Many years later, he revisits and finds that the little gem of green Spero created has spread, and now there’s a community of like-minded farmers and craftspeople who have created a vibrant, sustainable local economy.

Available from your local independent bookstores here.
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What Kind of Tree Do Acorns Grow On?

 

 

 

From Our Archives – October 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

A teacher friend called recently with a strange message. “I just found out that a lot of people don’t know what tree acorns grow on.”

He (I will call him John because that’s his name) first became aware of this strange phenomenon after another teacher asked him the question. The other teacher didn’t know. John got to wondering. So he asked one of his high school classes to raise hands if they knew where acorns came from. About two thirds did, so John, long experienced with high school students, asked one of them for the whereabouts of acorns. The student, embarrassed, said he didn’t really know. John addressed the class again: “Perhaps you didn’t understand the question,” and then he repeated it. This time, with the threat of being asked hanging over them, only a handful of the students raised their hands.

Perhaps this class was an exception, John thought. He had the opportunity a little later to ask the question of a larger group— about 250 people. Only a handful knew the answer. Asked John of me: “Are we supposed to believe that people are getting a good education?”

The truth is, many of us, perhaps most of us, are illiterate about the world of nature. Our attention in life is focused elsewhere. Perhaps the way to resolve this kind of ignorance is to make up computer games based on natural history. But electronic games might not be the remedy for this kind of illiteracy. The problem is that the knowledge achieved would be almost entirely virtual. You could have a game based on identifying bird species— call it “Guess The Bird” — but the knowledge gained would be like that of many birdwatchers. They can name the bird they see, or even hear, but they don’t know the least little bit about how that bird fits into the ecosystem, which is the most important part of learning about them. For instance, which birds depend on acorns for an important part of their food supply?

There is nothing wrong with not knowing something that ought to be common knowledge. It is only wrong when people don’t know that they don’t know. Everyone today likes to spout off about how we should manage nature but very few of us know enough about the issues (like population carrying capacity, like climate change) to discuss them intelligently. Not knowing where acorns come from is symptomatic of something very perplexing. A culture which is that ignorant is going to be unaware of a great many more facts about nature and that could lead to environmental suicide. A culture that doesn’t know where acorns come from obviously doesn’t know much about trees at all, and so will go heedlessly on destroying forests until it destroys the ecosystems of about half the earth. If you don’t know where acorns come from, you won’t know that acorn flour was once a staple food of native Americans, especially in California, and could be a staple food again. If you don’t know where acorns come from, do you know where oil and coal come from? Do you know where a healthy environment comes from? Do you know, for instance, that a mature shade tree gives off 60 cu. ft. of pure oxygen every day? Do you know where most of the building material for houses comes from? Where good furniture and tool handles come from? Where most fruit and edible nuts come from? Where rubber comes from? Where coconut, varnishes, nutmeg and turpentine come from? Where millions of acres of fertile land came from? Where hundreds of species of wild animals come from, some of which were probably our evolutionary ancestors? Where the life-saving fuel for many millions of people comes from?

Will a society that doesn’t know where acorns come from really know where humans come from?
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