Small-Scale Livestock Farming – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Pasture & Livestock by James4 Comments

It’s now nearly the end of August and I’m eight months into my exploration of farming. A sure test to know if something is right for you is to say you’re going to do XYZ and then look back on what you’ve done in the past 6 months to achieve XYZ. Looking back on what I’ve done, although I’m far from the finish line, I feel good about where I am. I’ve read and written book reviews for 11 different books on the topic of farming. I interviewed  one of the most well known up and coming grass farmers in the U.S. , and I’ve spent more than a few days on various farms. After all of this not only do I not have a sour taste in my mouth for farming, but my confidence and enthusiasm has only grown. There are only four months remaining in this year and with those months I’ve set a new goal to read and review six new books on farming, however these books  focus more on the type of farming I’m interested in which is grass fed or pasture raised livestock farming. Another term for this is the Holistic Management approach. In addition to reading these books I of course will be getting as much on farm exposure as possible. I have been lucky to develop a good relationship with one of Korea’s leaders in sustainable farming, Kim Byung-Soo of Hansol Farm in Namyang-Ju, and I plan on continuing to work and learn as much as possible from him. Although pasture farming is not popular or even done in Korea to my knowledge, just working on a sustainable farm I know I’ll gain valuable experience. There is one organic cattle farm I’ve discovered in the south eastern region of the country which I hope to visit in the future. I contacted them to see if they could accommodate any WWOOFERs but they said they didn’t need help. Perhaps just a weekend visit will suffice. So with all of that said let’s get onto the review. This book was the first book I’ve read that dealt specifically with the type of farming I’m interested in – aside from Joel Salatin’s “Salad Bar Beef” and “Pastured Poultry Profits.” Both of those books were fantastic reads which will be revisited I’m sure, but there was something about this book which spoke to me differently. The author, Carol Ekarius’s writing style and frankness opened up a world of true farming possibilities for me that seemed more distant in the other books. Perhaps it was the way she got her start, and the stories she tells of others who have had unconventional starts that spoke to me so deeply. After introducing herself and her husband in the preface she has a small section entitled:

Who This Book Is For

Ekarius writes: Demographics show that many people out there are like us; they want to escape urban/suburban life for the country. This book is for those people who are still in the dreaming phase, and for those who have recently taken the plunge. It’s aimed at people who have an acre of land on the edge of town, or people with 1,000 acres (406.5 ha, which isn’t a big ranch out West). Though much of the book is directed at dreamers and new farmers, there are sections that I hope may be of benefit to farmers of long standing.

I guess this is why the book resonated so much with me. It very much is a book written for the dreamer, however it’s also a thorough guide that outlines the major steps that need to be taken in order to make dream a reality.

What’s In The Book?

Carol Ekarius has broken the book up into four sections. Section one is entitled “The Roots of Grass-Based Farming” and includes subsections: 1. Introduction 2. Livestock & the Environment 3. The Holistic Management Model 4. Grass-Farming Basics. Section two is entitled “Animal Husbandry” and includes subsections: 1. Genetics, Breeding, & Training 2. Feeds and Feeding 3. Facilities 4. Health & Reproduction. Section three is entitled “Marketing” and includes subsections: 1. Finding a Niche 2. Legalities 3. Butchering & Processing. Section four is entitled “Planning” and includes subsections: 1. Farm Planning 2. Financial Planning 3. Biological Planning 4. Monitoring. The book also includes an amazing appendix which covers Animals, Feedstuffs, Figuring feeds & feeding, Grasses & Legumes, Resources, and calculations. The other thing Carol adds to the book are farmer profiles. Throughout each section Carol has added a one or two page write up about various farmers and their particular story. It’s a great addition and helps to add perspective on the variety of way one can go about pursuing their farming dreams – along with some valuable lessons about things to avoid.

A Few Highlights 

I recommend reading this book cover to cover, but I’ll share a few of my favorite parts, although it’s hard to choose. One of the sections that really spoke to me was the section on Holistic Management. A book I will later read which goes into great detail on this is written by the father of the model, Allan Savory. The homepage of this website has a video of Mr. Savory giving a Ted Talk about Holistic Management. Carol does a great job in giving the Cliffs Notes on the subject and I was happy to see that when figuring out your personal plan the first step is asking yourself about quality of life. This is very much the reason I became interested in pursing this lifestyle. I wanted a better quality of life, and a specific lifestyle. The Holistic Management model has four major parts. 1. The holistic goal: this takes into account quality of life, forms of production, and future resources base. 2. The ecosystem process: This covers community dynamics, energy flow, water cycle, and mineral cycle. 3. The tools: Human creativity, money and labor, along with rest, fire, grazing, animal impact, living organisms, and technology. 4. The guidelines: techniques for testing and managing your system.

This all seems a bit vague I know, but the book goes into details about each. For instance in talking about part one and quality of life Carol mentions her and her husband’s decision to sell their Minnesota farm and move back to the west was largely based on their quality of life statement. They wanted to be closer to family. They loved the vistas of the West, and missed stream fishing, elk hunting, and downhill skiing. This is of course a small piece of the pie, but it’s number one for an important reason. If you’re not happy where you are, it negatively affects everything else in your plan.

Another highlight from the book I enjoyed was in chapter 10 which talked about the various legalities farmers should be aware of. Carol recalls a run in she had with some state bureaucrats who were harassing her about getting a Retail Food Handler’s License.

I’d done my research on the laws in Minnesota before I called the state to inquire about licensing, and it yielded an interesting little nugget: The state’s Constitution (Article 13, Section 7) clearly states that a farmer does not need a license to sell “The products” of his or her “occupied” farm. But the employee I spoke with said I needed a Retail Food Handler’s License. I then asked, “What about the Constitutional proviso that clearly states I don’t need a license?” and read him Article 13, Section 7. There was dead silence on the other end until, after a few minutes, he said, “I’ll call you back.” The employee did call back a little while later; he hemmed and hawed and said, “Well, um, we think you need a license.” I said thanks, hung up, and never got a license. During the ensuing years, anytime state employees said, “You need to get a license,” we recited the Constitution to them and told them that state Department of Agriculture would have to take us to court if they wanted us to get a license. The subject was always dropped like a hot potato.

Unfortunately the story that Carol described above happens all to often to small farmers. A dairy farmer recently was found not guilty by a jury on state charges that he was operating without a license. Battles like these are ongoing and knowing how to avoid them if possible are invaluable for any small farmer.

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer

This book really does have it all. Anyone who is interested in farming with livestock should really give this book a read. And even if you’re not interested in working with animals it’s filled with other gems new farmers will find useful. I’m sure I will come back to this book again and again throughout my journey. As I mentioned in the opening of the review that perhaps the greatest thing about this book aside from its practicality is its inspiration. Up to this point I had been reading books written by farmers who were born into farming. Hearing Carol’s story (she’s a Jersey girl) and other’s like her was something we need more of. If it’s true that the majority of future farmers are going to come from urban areas and non farming backgrounds these future farmers need to hear these stories, and of course tell their story once they achieve their goals.

Buy the book via Amazon by clicking HERE (It’s an affiliate link so I get a little kickback if you buy. Thanks!)

 

 

Comments

  1. Addye Thole

    James, really enjoyed this book review. Glad to hear you are still feeling inspired to move towards a life path that stirs a sense of adventure & purpose in you!! I placed an order for some grass fed meat cuts 2 weeks ago & my order won’t be ready until mid Nov. I found this out just the other day. The rancher explained that the herd had to be rotated more than usual because of the lack of rain, then the lack of grass volume in various pastures resulted & so they simply would not be ready for slaughter & processing for a while yet & after they are butchered the meat must be cured for 15 days, then cut & packaged. I found it very informative & moving how he seemed to describe his herd so personally & then with pride. I thought of you as he took great detail in explaining the time delay. When you understand the process it’s more like waiting for a wonderful part of life to unfold just for you. I am excited that your wanna be journey is moving & glad Carol’s book opened up some clearer aspects for you!! Please keep on informing us all, along your way!!! Great book review!!

    1. Author
      James

      I’m glad you enjoyed the book review and happy to hear you’re on your way to enjoying some grass finished meat. That’s great that you were able to connect to the farmer and hear what’s going on with your food and how it’s being raised. That lack of connection is what has destroyed the environment and people’s health over the past century. I really think knowing your farmer is the future for food security and human health. And of course a great byproduct is a healthy planet for the future. Thankfully people are waking up to this and we’re seeing a resurgence in people who want to increase the quality of their life and that of the planet. Paradigm shifts are never easy for people to accept, even when the evidence is overwhelming. Enjoy that beef! 🙂

  2. Dad

    Great book review. Happy your exploration of farming is growing. I am familiar with holistic management and the Allan Savory system. I know he introduced his holistic management in africa many years ago and it is a very intense system. The Forest Service really pushed the cattle permit holders to adopt the system. It invoved mainly moving the cows herds to different pastures on a schedule. The grazing system was really promoted here in arizona and the southwest. The current gila county supervisor Tommie Martin was contracted by the forest service to train forest service and local ranchers on the savory system. She is the daughter of ranching pioneer family in star valley.

    1. Author
      James

      Oh glad to hear you’re familiar with the Holistic management system. I thought you might be. I was amazed when I saw Savory’s Ted Talk and he showed all the before and after pictures of how managed grazing reverses desertification. It turns out mob grazing with a dense herd and using daily or even twice a day rotations into new paddocks or pastures yields the best results (for the cows and the land). It’s the combination the the trampling, fertilizer (cow poo), and cows stimulating plant growth by only taking the tips off. If you leave them in there long enough they will take it all. The system completely mimics nature. Animals in nature mob graze in tight packs due to the threat of predation. The beauty of using this system as a farmer or rancher is the animals do all of the work and if you do it right and build your soil and grass varieties you end up not having to feed hay during the winter, or very minimal. A farmer named Greg Judy who farms in Missouri is feeding hay 8 days out of the year. The cows eat the grass through the snow with no problem. The only time he needs to feed hay is when it’s too cold and the snow becomes too hard for the cows to break through. Pretty amazing stuff. Feed the world with great tasting clean beef and heal the planet at the same time. It’s the ultimate one two punch. It’s the one thing that can bring hippies and good ol’ boys together. 🙂

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