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Working WITH the Land


"Hell yeah I eat small trees, what about it?"
There’s a few things we’ve chosen to emphasize with our farming model, one of which is to work WITH the land, not against it. Among the multitude of problems we see with so-called “conventional” or “industrial” ag is the unsustainable approach of forcing human technology and infrastructure on mother nature simply because we can and because it’s cheaper and “more efficient” in the short-run. Early memories of dirt feedlots full of cattle eating corn in the deserts of New Mexico come to mind. Those farmers work hard and that’s the way the American milk industry has trended, so I don’t blame them, but that approach just doesn’t make sense to us. So with each decision we not only ask ourselves what it means for the animals, but also for the land.

Because of this we have to remain highly flexible. As we get to know the land better and as it evolves over time we have to adapt our business to make the best use of it. The more time we’ve spent on the farm the more we’ve come to appreciate the fact that right now the land is more suited for dairy goats than it is for dairy cows. Our land is full of wooded areas, cedar saplings, and blackberry bushes. Years of pasture negligence have led to nearly complete erosion of soil organic matter and a rapid increase in “weed” growth. Well, it just so happens that goats tend to prefer many of the “weeds” we're growing and we want to use that to our advantage.  
 
"Hey, what about me?"
The original vision for our raw milk cheese production was to use cow’s milk. It’s the milk Sweetbreads has the most experience with and we envisioned open pastures where cows could thrive. We have about 40-45 acres in wooded/rocky land and 35-40 in pasture. A good mix for grazing animals and woodlot animals (pigs). Over the past month or two, however, we’ve slowly adapted our vision to the current state of the property. We asked ourselves what would work best and we let that guide the decision-making process. Rather than forcing cows onto marginal pasture and risking a bad situation we’ve decided to invest in dairy goats. Goats will thrive on the land as it currently stands, while cows would most likely struggle. The cows would almost certainly need substantial feed and minerals from outside sources. Depending on how our soil samples come back we may need to provide minerals for the goats as well, but at a minimum the goats should be able to forage the majority of their diet from our land.  
 
As Little Seed evolves we envision having multi-species milk production with a combination of cows and goats. It will require more man-hours, more attention to detail, and a broader skillset, but we ultimately think it’s the right thing to do for all of our stakeholders (us, the animals, our customers and the earth we live on), so that’s the direction we’re going. Along with our decision to team up with a herd of goats comes the investment in goat milking equipment and the time to develop and perfect goat cheeses. It wasn't a light decision, but we think it's the right one. 
 
Eventually the pasture will be cleared and back in good shape, which won't suit the goats quite as much, but will be great for cows. The goal is to strike a balance for both, which should be doable given the number of small wooded and brushy areas in various pockets across the land. The combination will also give Sweetbreads a lot more room for creativity (mixed milk cheese is out of this world) and will ensure our land is used efficiently and effectively. We’ll continue to stay flexible along the road, but that’s the vision for the time being.
 
It was a long-debated and researched decision. We’ve been discussing the details for months now and eventually it weaved its way into the fabric of our lives without ever really making it onto the blog. Goats have a reputation for being rambunctious, but I’m really excited about them. The majority of the creameries we've visited used goats either exclusively or in combination with cows and I'm really excited to try fresh goat's milk. Oh, and all the goat people we’ve met in Tennessee (and everywhere else for that matter) are awesome and have been a huge help. We can't wait to get out there and get going! 
 
Goats happily browsing down

 

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