The Achilles Heel In Pasture Farming Is It’s Best Foot Forward


Hardly any new idea in farming holds up in all circumstances for all time. I have learned the hard way not to make grandiose statements about it. I had just about decided, after years of experimentation, that pasture farming— allowing livestock and chickens to graze for their food rather than penning them up and feeding them grain— would in the end triumph over annual crop cultivation because it is just so much more environmentally and economically practical than all those dinosaur tractors out there tearing up the landscape. I still believe that, but I now realize that pasture farming has an Achilles heel too. Or perhaps more than one.

In the early days of this revolutionary new kind of farming which is also the oldest kind of farming, I spent a lot of time with Bob Evans whom most people know as the sausage king of America because of his restaurants but who was also a leading pioneer in pasture farming. We were both convinced that this was a low cost way for family farmers to get into food production and make a go of it. Then one day, after hearing about a giant-sized pasture farm in Wisconsin, I realized that if the idea was so practical and economical, large scale operations would jump in and take it over. When I mentioned that to Bob, it stumped him especially since he was himself an example of large scale pasture farming. Of course, because this is a much more environmentally advantageous farming method than annual cropping, doing it on a large scale is surely better than not doing it at all. Nevertheless, this was a troubling thought to me, since I was convinced that small farms distributed all over local areas, not large consolidated operations, was the only way to sustainable farming.

Now in more recent years, I’ve discovered the other Achilles heel in pasture farming which actually negates the first one. Grazing animals is not as easy as I thought at first for about the same reason that annual cultivation is not easy. There are nasty weeds out there, and more coming, that grazing animals won’t eat and which can’t be controlled by mowing either. It may be possible to handle a ten thousand acre ranch in Texas (if it rains) as in the days of the wild west, but if you try that in the cornbelt today, you better have a goodly number of cowboys riding the range on spray rigs to keep inedible weeds corralled. Or if you want to be strictly organic on a large scale, also have a bunch of plows and planters around to tear up the sod regularly to kill these weeds and then reseed with clovers and good grazing grasses.

I had the nicest stand of clover and bluegrass ever to grace the earth— you can find a photo of it in one of my past blogs. The grass and legume mixture was self-renewing. Any weeds that came in the sheep ate or I could mow into submission. Then one day I saw a clump of stuff that looked like that saw grass stuff along the Jersey shore backwaters. I still don’t know for sure what it is. The next year there were about 15 clumps of the stuff. The sheep wouldn’t touch it. The mower only made it grow faster. It was obvious that this plant would take over the field because neither pasture grass nor clover would compete with it. I tried hoeing it. That might have worked if I had done it the year before when there were only a few clumps. Hoeing half an acre of this tough turf was even beyond Superman. I got a hand sprayer and walked the field, spot applying Roundup very carefully so as not to kill the clover around what I joked was an alien invader from Monsanto Planet. I could not have done this on a large scale.

Since then I have heard from other pasture farmers beset with weeds like this. The only way to control them organically is to walk the fields and hoe at the very first appearances. That takes time and manpower and some kinds of pernicious weeds are impossible to hoe or mow. The only alternative for the large acreage operation would be to spray the whole pasture, kill everything, and start over.

There are common weeds that spraying will not control either unless you spray the whole pasture. They have to be dealt with by hand and hoe  and if you do it every year when there are only a few on a small farm, the job is manageable. Sour dock, or yellow dock, is a good example. The livestock will eat it, but not nearly enough. (In fact, it has medicinal value for humans too, the herbals say.) However it will even outgun hungry sheep and you will end up with a landscape of dead sour dock seedheads, each containing something like 3,692,460 seeds under which nothing else grows. Mowing will not control them unless you mow as frequently as a lawn. You’ve got to hoe them off two inches below the soil surface, haul them away and burn them, much to my grandsons’ dismay.

The moral of the story: if you are in permanent pasture farming to stay, you will almost be forced to have a farm small enough to handle pernicious weeds with economical family help. Otherwise you lose the efficiency that grazing promises and you’ll be spraying and cultivating almost as much as when growing corn.


I’ve found that the more species that are run together the better the pasture,one of my best pastures has Meat goats,cows,American Guinea Hogs,Geese and a few chickens.In the case of weeds just leave them alone they’re there for a reason and will leave of their own accord when their work is done which is usually pulling up a necesary trace mineral.Weeds heal the soil.

This post is fascinating as I had just finished reading Gene’s wonderful “All Flesh is Grass,” in which he writes of the ease of maintaining a self-perpetuating bluegrass and clover pasture. How refreshing to have someone who readily admits he is still learning, even after accumulating a massive amount of farming wisdom. Thank you Gene, for your important work.

Put a chicken tractor (portable chicken coop) over your weeds. The chickens will have it down to bare earth in a month or less.

Walking Your Talk in the Hayfield
I’m quite sure that the best manure is the footstep of the farmer. (Sometimes the farmers’ discussions farmers make for some glorious manure, too, but that’s another thing.)
But back to that saying: the best manure is the footstep of the farmer. I believe it. I maintain—sometimes quite righteously, or self-righteously—that those who never get out of the cab of their tractor are not fully in touch with the earth with which they are working.
The farmer who checks his crops with a pickup truck or “quad” is missing something, lots of somethings. That farmer misses variations in the crop; misses the sounds of grass, wind, bird and insect; misses most smells except exhaust.
I guess it’s similar to people who drive air-conditioned cars, or bicycle (safely!) for their health, or jog with or without a headset. All of these miss a certain connection to earth, air, soil, water. They use fewer of their senses; they may inhibit the development of their intuitive knowledge of the earth.
So when I say, the best manure is the footstep of the farmer, you can bet that I mean to practice what I preach, that I walk the talk. And I do: I try to take a walk, poking around in the soil, in the grass, peering here and there like the George Smiley of agriculture. (Or like Ratty and Mole from Wind in the Willows, if you prefer.)
But recently I had a reality check. A righteousness check. One of our hayfields is developing an infestation of a particularly virulent variety of yellow hawkweed. Left to itself, there would soon be huge patches of bright yellow flowers. . . and no hay. It was my job to control the weed in that field, using a hand-held sprayer and a nasty broadleaf weed killer.
I drove my car into the field and parked it in the centre of a section and then used portable plastic fence posts to mark off four-metre sections, each about 30 metres or longer. Then I zig-zagged back and forth looking for hawkweed and giving each clump a lethal shot of herbicide.
At first this was rather exciting. “Take that, you nasty devil.” And, “Look at that clump!” “Ah, no thistles at all.” Then the thrill of the hunt wore off a bit and I began to notice other things. I found out that the weed grew mostly in drier and more compacted soils and tended to develop where the topsoil was not deep. Where there was a thick stand of alfalfa, no hawkweed could be seen.
I also discovered wildlife. Bluebirds were feeding young in the birdhouse made by grade-six student Wesley Lillies. There were two and half zillion tadpoles in the pond we call Lake Geoff. There were also leeches in Lake Geoff. Very natural, although I doubt that “feed the leeches” will attract eco-tourists.
I discovered a lack of wildlife, too. I flushed only one ground-nesting bird. Usually I should have seen many savannah sparrows and maybe a couple Lincoln’s sparrows, but not in this field. Were the females “sitting tight” or are numbers way down? I don’t know.
I encountered insects, black flies mostly, and some mosquitos, all demanding my blood.
The footsteps of the farmer were perhaps achieving a few things, but getting a little slow by the second morning of zigging and zagging. In fact, the crisp zigs began to look more like large loops until I caught myself and tried for a more precise coverage. Somewhere about this time, I began to wish for a quad or a tractor with a spray rig, footsteps becoming something of a shuffle.
All in all, though, it was a good experience, if not one I would choose to do every day. I am much more aware of the micro-topography of that field. I am more appreciative of the role of alfalfa and a thick sward of grass in weed control. In my mind I can say, “A little more humus needed here,” or “more nitrogen needed.”
The footsteps of the farmer may indeed lead to a lush crop, but they also express a sort of rootedness: Here I am, where God has placed me.
In For the Beauty of the Earth, Steven Bouma-Prediger asks this question: “. . . could it be that contemporary ecological degradation is a result, in part, of us not knowing our places—our own specific, local habitats on this our home planet?”
My aching back and sore hips are a small price to pay if that’s what it takes to help me know my place.
Curt Gesch is a farmer from Quick, B.C. He is learning more about soil, wildlife, and domesticated farm animals as he ages, although the mysteries of diesel engines still evade him.

    Well said, Curt. You stand in contrast to “the modern man” described here (emphasis mine):

    “The one thing that modern man must believe in, lest he see the poverty he suffers in the midst of wealth and technological sophistication, is progress. It is touchingly naïve, this belief. For it corresponds to nothing in modern man’s personal experience. MODERN MAN CONSIDERS HIMSELF SUPERIOR TO HIS FOREFATHERS BECAUSE THEY SCRATCHED THE LAND WITH THE HORSE-DRAWN PLOW, WHILE HE-IF HE LIVES ON THE LAND AT ALL, AND HE ALMOST CERTAINLY DOES NOT-DREDGES IT UP WITH MILLION-DOLLAR MACHINES, COMPLETE WITH ALL KINDS OF GAUGES FOR MEASURING THE DEPTH AND TEMPERATURE AND ACIDITY OF THE SOIL. IT WILL NOT DO TO REMIND MODERN MAN THAT HE IS FAR LESS A USER OF TOOLS THAN A PRODUCT OF THOSE TOOLS; THAT HE DOES NOT SO MUCH DEVELOP TOOLS TO COMPASS CERTAIN CULTURAL OBJECTIVES, AS THE TOOLS THEMSELVES DETERMINE WHAT KIND OF LIFE HE LEADS, APART FROM ANY DECISION HE MAKES THAT SUCH A LIFE REDOUNDS TO A FULLER HUMANITY. Modern man “knows” certain scientific truths, such as that the earth revolves around the sun, but he knows them principally because he has been told them by experts; if you ask him to look up at the night sky, it is highly unlikely that he will find a planet there, as any shepherd boy of old could have done. Modern man can go to a museum, or buy a ticket to Rome to look at the churches, or play a recording of Bach; but he remains for the most part an outsider in a world that is all outside and no inside, a consumer in a world that is all consumption. He cannot sing, cannot take up a fiddle unless he has had special training in it. Modern man can click a button and see the whole of the Patrologia Latina show up on his screen; but the few personal letters he writes are childish, his newspapers demand sentences such as would not stump a fifth grader, his magazines are slick and sleazy, and his oratory aspires to the condition of a jingle for selling new and improved soap.” –Anthony Esolen, from an essay titled “Decline and Fall: Thoughts on the Meaning of Progress”

Wow, I had no idea pasture farming was so very rare in the States. Here in New Zealand, about 40% of our land area is in pasture, which is 3/4 of our total farmland. I’m employed on a 1000 acre (I think) pasture farm, stocking 3000 ewes + lambs. I don’t know if you’d consider this ‘large scale’ but here it’s about average size, and sizes are – as you predicted – always on the increase, same as the rest of the world. The top-end huge-scale ventures are frequently about as soulless and money-centric as you’d expect, and there’s more of them all the time, while those without capital or inclination for large-scale are often reduced to hobby farming.

Here there is generally a quick-fix mentality when it comes to weeds and other ‘problems’. Someone will have a product you can apply, which will require yet another implement for the shed. Hence I’ll be out with the thistle sprayer this week, and last week I was spraying gorse. I have heard, though, of people using biological methods, such as introducing (with permission) populations of weed-eating insects on their land. Much care and research is required for that, obviously, but there are consultants. I don’t think there’s a problem with not noticing weeds, even on a huge farm. Right now it’s lambing time, which means my boss and I between us go through every single paddock a couple of times a day, so you get a pretty good idea of what’s going on in your pastures, and it’s not too difficult to nip them in the bud if you’re on top of your game. In short, I think the weeds ‘problem’ if anything has contributed to the push towards larger-scale via the dictates of agribusiness, but only because we’re too lazy to think outside the chemical box.

Crop rotation and stock rotation are, to my knowledge, not common here (apart from a few paddocks being in forage feeds in winter and grain in summer), though I see no particular reason why they couldn’t happen. Except that again it’s not in the interests of agribusiness, so they won’t tell you about it. But some enterprising person could surely hire out pigs as cultivators. Sounds like a win-win.

Livestock theft does occur occasionally, but apparently not enough to be prohibitive.

As for supporting wildlife such as birds… there are certainly ways it can be done, if a person cares enough. On a large farm there will generally be one or two uncultivatable areas that will be left in scrub, or, like my employer, you might leave some areas wild on purpose to encourage ducks (for shooting season), and there’ll be plenty of other species getting a piece of that pie. Then there’s the shelter belts/hedgerows, which are absolutely vital for protecting stock from the weather, and happen to also be useful to other species. A far cry from the forest that used to cover this land, but better than a wire fence. And someone who cared enough could certainly use up just a bit more space and intentionally turn their shelter-belts into micro-forests using native trees.

When I worked on farms in the UK (where pasture farming is prevalent but farms are about 10-20% the size of ours), I heard of people deliberately sowing a mixture of various grasses and wildflowers around the borders of their fields, where the hay won’t grow so well anyway. It would be cut at harvest time but then resown from last year’s cut, and during the year it would support all kinds of bees and birds.

The problem is, the big farmers do have a solution to weeds on pasture. It’s called a weed wiper. Basically, you graze your cattle on a pasture, and let them reduce the edible plants down to a short turf. Then you drive over the field with your weedwiper, set at a certain height above the turf, and let it wipe Roundup onto the taller, inedible, weeds. I’m afraid the weed issue is not such an advantage to the small farmer-but keep up the brainstorming! 🙂

One of the greatest lessons I learned from Gene’s books is that Mother Nature is a sometimes treacherous partner. I love few things more than a sea of grass, but that bluegrass clover mix is a sort of monoculture. Mean old Ma is always moving towards complex competing plant polycultures that cannot provide the intensity of usable plants we need to make a living as farmers. (until Wes Jackson has his breakthrough, which will be the greatest feat of the past 10,000 years)

In the humid east, I think the weeds are Ma’s attempt to replace our seas of grass with the forest that was here first.

I had modest success controlling weeds by running goats with sheep and cattle. The big problem with that is they also kill young trees purposely left for shade (and the smell of bucks makes my wife sick). My cousin had some success with highland cows clearing brush, and they smell better.

Weeds? One man weed is another man’s forage…
Stop worring about weeds and worry about moisture (too much, too little, wrong time, wrong type)
Weeds have solutions.
If you don’t have moisture, you don’t have weeds to worry about…

Lorenzo Levi Brown

Generations of farmers before us did NOT have to deal with weeds at the level we’re seeing and according to scientists, it’s going to get worse. USDA studies show that warming temperatures and elevated levels of CO2 result in increased weed growth rates, size and pollen production, but also a change in the plants’ chemical composition.

“Climate change fueling new generation of more aggressive weeds”

“Climate Change Impact on Weeds”

“USDA Study: Climate Change Could Benefit Super Weeds More Than Crops”

“Will Climate Change Hasten the Spread of Invasive Plants”

What I take away from all of this, including many of the comments is that God knew what He was doing. We were never meant to get so far away from the earth, the land, the “ha’aretz” or the “ha’adamah” that we could not be good husbands to it.

I don’t discount the benefits of “division of labor” and the wise use of diversifying skills and such. But there is still a real need to be close to the land. There comes a point where technology cannot substitute for the human mind and spirit (and those two things working together) to take advantage of observation and reality.

There truly is a realm of life that goes far beyond the scientistic. Yes, I said scientistic.

People are spiritual. We ignore this at our own peril. There are things that technology and things called science cannot tell us.

There is no substitute for a warrior on the ground who can see the situation, get a “feel” for what’s going on and react accordingly.

Gene, Ive been trying to be faithful to Contrary Farming since I moved on this small farm 4 years ago, remember, did the haystacks, etc.
Now I’m seeing the weeds are gaining on me. 10 one acre paddocks, like you, some permanent some for occasional grain crops in a rotation. (I look out the window and see for the first time the sheep have discovered I took down the fence into the veg garden which has been fallow all summer; what a lovely sight to see a dozen Dorsets in their new-found candystore!
Ive got scotch thistle, yellow dock, burdock, and a few I don’t know but those are the big three. I’m going to have to get the hoe or the sprayer or I’ll have lost the battle before I knew there was one.
Ian in Dundas ON

I learned another Achilles heel of pasture farming late in my decade at it. I was proud of all the white clover in my pastures, too, and the sheep loved it. To foster clover took strategic abuse of the tough tall fescue pasture grass base. Then came a dry year and another. I lost most of the clover and in the many gaps got thistles. Lots of thistles. The answer, too late, was probably lespedeza seeded annually into the pasture.

In wet years, it would be a waste of money because grass and clover would shade out the seedlings. In dry years you’d need such a warm season species before you knew it. So I figured the answer was to borrow the soil conservation service’s seeder every late spring, just as soon as the ground was firm enough, and seed in lespedeza. Of course, in a fairly wet spring it would be hard to keep the existing vegetation under control to foster the lespedeza, and suddenly it could turn completely dry and the seeding might have been lost. Maybe the answer would have been to seed later, just at the point when the growth curve of the cool season species was stalling.

I never did get to try my lespedeza insurance, just another farming gamble that might or might not have worked. Some years yes, some no. The weather always keeps things unpredictable.

Years ago I had a couple of sows that spent the spring out with the cattle in the pasture. They got fed a tub of leftovers daily but they really rooted around out in the pasture. They really enjoyed the early growth of the thistles and many of the other weeds in the early spring stage. The ruts they created were not a plus but I really noticed a reduction in some weeds. On the downside free range pigs can wreak a lot of havoc … pulling the wires out of stock trailers,denting pickups,uprooting young apricot trees, and chasing the Jehova Witnesses back to their car.

I totally “dig” the discussions here.

I suspect every weed has its Achilles heel as well. It may be grazing livestock, which I understand does a dynamite job on kudzu. Never had to contend with it, so I don’t speak from experience. Star thistle is one of the most pernicious weeds out here in California, but it bows before water — irrigate the dickens out of it, and it will rot and die. Even Medusa head, which is loaded with silicon and is thus hard to burn off, is considered edible by our livestock when it’s in the green stage. I guess the key is spending enough time out there, walking or (my personal favorite) just sitting on a rock or log and watching what goes on. Sooner or later, you find something that works.

The pigs at our farm did just the job that Russ mentioned. It’s a bit of manual labor to put it back to pasture in the smaller spaces that I’m working with, but so far so good! You can see a picture of their work this summer at our blog
I did the same thing with another pasture last year and hand seeded wheat and oats over it. That pasture came back with a lot of weeds in it. So this years feeders will “pigtiller” that pasure again and I will try handseeding something different this time! It’s got to be a matter of fine tuning!

I have a potential solution to your weed problem that may amaze and delight you: mixed-species grazing!

Whenever I come across such a “problem,” I wonder how Nature handles it. (And if Nature doesn’t handle it, I reconsider it as a “problem.”)

With bison, elk, deer, and various other ungulates, everything gets eaten. Perhaps if you mixed some goats and cows in with your sheep, the “mystery grass” would go away.

We have something here that sounds a bit like your mystery grass, locally called “reed canary grass.” Sheep won’t eat it, but goats treat it like candy. The goats love curly dock and thistle, as well. (Actually, they prefer thistle that has been cut and dried for no more than a day — picky beasts…)

I wonder if you could solve the problem by grazing goats in rotation with other livestock…

Oh another thought…what about burning off those dried seed heads in the fall? Seems like fire is not used much, at least here in Ohio. Is it too wet?

Goats eat stuff other animals won’t touch. Canadian thistle is candy to them. So is burdock, multiflora rosa, and almost any other prickly thing out their. Don’t know if they’d eat your saw grass though. I have watched goats walk through gorgeous stands of clover to eat a bull thistle. I had an experienced pasture consultant tell me that many of the weeds and despised grasses had much higher nutritional values than the best pasture forage and seeded clovers. I remember that when my goats chomp away on stuff that looks inedible.

My sheep never read the manuals either. I had Katahdins which would routinely eat things like milkweed. They did love the pasture/clovers, but ate other stuff as well.

Maybe we just need to find the animals that’ll eat the stuff we have growing in our fields?? Bison?? Elk? Mastadon??


Implicit in what you have written above is the answer to the problem. In the 4th paragraph lie the words “…then one day I saw…”. That is why, I believe, many in modern agriculture whether it be homesteading or large scale operations have major problems. Basically they do not take the time or have the time, as you did, to walk their land on a regular basis; and I mean walk it and not just hop on a quad bike or SUV or even a tractor. It is only by walking do you have the time to see what ‘weeds’ are growing where, how the soil feels, maybe hear a leaky water pipe or see a sick animal under a tree and so forth. Besides just seeing these things and because you have the time (since you are walking) to think on the ramifications of why this is so it is only then you get to understand how your land is functioning. I fully realise how impractical this is to most but to be honest I see no other way around it.

If you wish to farm, care for and have your land supporting you and the environment then you need to walk it and be a part of it. To those who ask me about it I usually reply “try it. You may just like it!”

    It’s funny, but this talk about “walking the pasture” just made me realize something. When I was little my grandfather would ask me, practically every day, to go with him “patroling for elephants”. He had a .22 revolver he said was an “elephant gun.” I guess he had a practical reason for those walks. Good memories and male bonding are other advantages of walking the pasture!

Please allow me to point out a most delicious irony. My “reply [to Gene’s current post] is awaiting moderation.”

Think about that: moderation required on Logsdon’s blog. Lovely.

About walking over the pasture, I am reminded of what Allan Nation frequently says in his writings about pasture farming: walk your pastures regularly. Not easy to find the time, but what better thing could you be doing? And because dreaming is encouraged in your columns, Gene, how about dreaming of a course in pasture-walking, pasture horticulture, etc., at a community college.

My opinion is that the real Achilles heal is decline in wildlife and plant diversity. Let’s say one does intensive rotational grazing. Where is the old-growth grass for ground-nesting birds? Single electirc wires don’t provide those hedgerows that wildlife needs. I think that intensive rotational grazing may provide more botanical diversity than a corn field or soybean field, but what if you compare it to set-side land, for example?

A question or 4:

The Midwestern prairies before Europeans plowed them under – would they represent a model of a sustainable grazing ecosystem, more resistant to invasive weeds? Or would only bison be able to graze a prairie? Have we lost the chance to go back to prairie because we have so many alien weeds infecting our pasture lands?

Would we be able to make a new pasture eco-system with more species than just bluegrass and clover as a way to occupy all the available niches, so no weeds can gain a foothold?

    I don’t know if this says anything one way or another to your questions, but in what is (IMHO) the absolute best story Willa Cather’s ever wrote the main Character dies at the end fighting thistles:

    …..The spring came warm, with blue skies,- but dry, dry as bone. The boys began ploughing up the wheat-fields to plant them over in corn. Rosicky would stand at the fence corner and watch them, and the earth was so dry it blew up in clouds of brown dust that hid the horses and the sulky plough and the driver. It was a bad outlook.

    The big alfalfa-field that lay between the home place and Rudolph’s came up green, but Rosicky was worried because during that open windy winter a great many Russian thistle plants had blown in there and lodged. He kept asking the boys to rake them out; he was afraid their seed would root and “take the alfalfa.” Rudolph [Rosicky’s son] said that was nonsense. The boys were working so hard planting corn, their father felt he couldn’t insist about the thistles, but he set great store by that big alfalfa-field. It was a feed you could depend on,- and there was some deeper reason, vague, but strong. The peculiar green of that clover woke early memories in old Rosicky, went back to something in his childhood in the old world. When he was a little boy, he had played in fields of that strong blue-green colour…..

I saw a quote the other day to the effect that knowledge is acquired by instruction and learning while wisdom comes from observation and reflection. There is significant wisdom in your observations here. Any system of agriculture that doesn’t allow for a high degree of flexibility and adjustment to unique circumstances is unnecessarily vulnerable. Our culture seems to value great effort and investment to circumvent circumstances rather than first looking for opportunities to respond advantageously. I wish I remembered and could give credit to the person who wrote that “ hogs have a rototiller on one end, a manure spreader on the other, and a whole lot of good eating in between”. If I were ambitious and energetic enough in the circumstances you describe, I would find it interesting to see if overstocking that area of the pasture with hogs and then leveling and reseeding would provide a minimal use of dinosaur bones while providing some good bacon in the process. A good plan makes for a good beginning but adjusting on the fly seems to be both the blessing and the curse of agriculture.

The information on sour dock seed heads was appreciated. I enjoyed your Progressor Times column this week on the “Magic Box”. Is that where you got your seed count?

I’ve mentioned the sociological side of modern farming before, and I suspect people thought I may have been joking, but I was speaking from experience. Forget the weeds, large scale pasture farming’s largest handicap would be that it would be a target for livestock thieves. In last Sunday’s paper I read about hog wranglers in Minnesota, going into large feeding floors and stealing a couple hundred ~#250 hogs, ready for butchering. Officials respectfully said these people knew exactly what they were doing; a possible suspect was another farmer trying to fill a futures contract.

Thirty five years ago there was a family in Alger, Ohio, who supplemented their income for a couple years before they were caught. They’d take the animals up to Michigan to sell. They were very good thieves: if there was a watch dog, it was shot. They’d cut a hole in a barn to load steers out of sight from the road. They were in and out in a flash; they did their homework. There was a grudging respect for their competence as thieves; it took some time to catch them.

I’m not a territorial person, and I’d not hurt someone who was only stealing things (violence is another subject), but here’s where I agree with Qhartman’s theory of people: I try to make it too much work for someone steal my stuff, and most of my stuff requires sweat to operate. It just wouldn’t be efficient for them.

    Security, in particular computer security, is part of my day job, and what you mention is actually one of the core tenets of most practical security models. Nothing can ever be perfectly secure, so the goal is to make it “secure enough”. In practice, that means that it either costs more to get than it’s worth, or getting at your stuff is harder or riskier than getting at your neighbor’s stuff, so the thieves hit them instead.

Amen, there is no one answer in farming, it takes work, no matter how you cut it. If it didn’t everyone would be doing it.

You’re conclusion makes sense. It seems to me like everything (or at least an awful lot of things) point toward small being better.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the closer I stay to trying to feed my family, the higher the quality food I produce, the better I can work with nature, the fewer inputs I need, the more manageable things are, the more at peace I am. The more I look at things in terms of trying to expand and grow for others and sell—everything goes in the opposite direction. We can’t live without farmers and without some trade and exchange, but it just seems like things would be better if more people grew more of their own food. I realize that is not an original idea.

I guess on a personal level, thinking about all of this, takes me back to the fact that my heart is really in what I would describe as “homesteading” which, when I use the term, means the primary aim is more on growing for the family and doing as many things for myself as is reasonable. Then growing for sale is secondary, and as far as paying the bills—well, there are then fewer bills to pay.

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