Saturday, February 24, 2018
Mill Swamp Indian Horses: Building Living Soil
Program participants learn natural horsemanship. They learn to tame, train, and ride wild horses. They learn animal husbandry and biological agriculture. They learn history. They learn music.
They learn to work hard and to work together. They learn teamwork and they learn leadership.
We are converting a former pasture into multi use Silva pasture. We are doing it by hand and we are doing it entirely without modern fertilizers and pesticides or herbicides. We have cut several thousand small gum, Mimosa, ash, cherry and pine trees. The trees are coppiced. That allows branches to grow back out from the stumps that provide nutritious browse for the horses and other livestock while allowing sunlight to hit the ground which allows the grasses to take off growing. Pines are being strategically removed to both allow timber production and maximum forage growth.
Trees that have been cut down are used as posts, poles, or firewood. We have built a pole and post fence all the way around the pasture. Its interior is lined with electric fence to keep the livestock secure inside. Over the winter about twenty horses have been kept on this acreage. They have been fed round bales that we have been rolling out on the ground. Doing so allows for maximum microbe growth in the soil, while reseeding the land at the same time. Over the summer the land will be sprayed with microbe rich inoculant teas that we are creating in our vermiculture (worm Farming) project. Weeds will be kept in check primarily with our Spanish goat herd. This summer we hope to expand our heritage poultry program by moving bourbon red turkeys and cotton patch geese onto the new pasturage. They will keep weeds and insects in check while spreading beneficial microbes into the soil. Mimosas are legumes. They radically increase soil fertility while providing a high protein browse for the horses and goats.
We are entering the season of seriously confused parents of kids in our program. For everything that we do not understand we must apply the analogies that our past experiences provide us. For those who were never raised around pasture and livestock those analogies interpret pasture production through the lens of lawns, golf courses and cemeteries.
For the past three months I have been working frantically to prepare the New Land for spring. I have spent nearly no time training horses and have only spent a few hours in the saddle. Over the past week I have come to understand how poorly I have explained the importance of this work to many of the adults in our program. I did not grow up viewing forage production through the lens of lawns, golf courses, and cemeteries and I have not been accurately interpreting their misunderstanding.
From their framework of analysis I must be working so frantically because I want to improve the appearance of the property. Of course, appearance of the property means nothing to me. The ability of the land to regenerate itself and to produce maximum healthy forage for the horse while conserving soil and water means everything to me. When they look across the land they see brush piles that are unsightly and must be removed. When I look at that same land I see brush piles that are too small and too few because I need to have the brush off of the soil so sunlight can activate the grass seeds below the surface.
Our different back grounds have caused these parents and I to completely misunderstand what the other meant. This has been a very meaningful revelation to me. I am not as effective when communicating with adults as I am with children. I do not want to sound condescending so I say nothing at all. To make matters worse I assume, without giving it any thought, that others wear my lenses.
We really come from different worlds and it is something that I have to always keep in mind. When one's only exposure to animal care has been with the family cat or puppy one develops a view of animal care is based on showing how much one loves a pet by showing how much one worries about that pet's health. Any imperfection of health in that pet, however momentary, calls for a trip to the vet or at least the application of some chemical medication. In their eyes to do any less is to neglect the needs of that pet.
With that background they are unable to understand the importance of allowing an animal to heal itself. They cannot distinguish that from neglect. They cannot understand me declining to treat a trivial health hiccup that I know is of no moment. They view such benevolent non-action as a view that if the animal can survive without treatment, why go to the expense? When the reality is completely different---the animal is being harmed by compulsive applications of medicines that assault their immune systems, irritate their skin, disrupt their system, weaken their muscular system, and, in short, damage the horse.
I must do a better job of communicating with such people.
When people put horses on pastures that are resting and growing they do not understand that even a few hours of having one horse on that couple of acres does not allow the soil to heal sufficiently to create the kind of lush healthy pasture that benefits all of the horses.
I must do a better job of communicating that to people.
Which all brings me back to the original point of building living soil. Since around 1650 I have only had one direct ancestor in Daddy's line who never farmed. Although I am a prosecutor, I have grown up with agriculture. I have grown up knowing that to get better pasture one needed to till the soil, get a soil test, apply sufficient tonnage of chemicals and lime, plant the seed, poison the weeds, and repeat as needed.
And over the last few years, and especially over the last year, I have learned that everything that I thought was good for my soil was killing it. It is hard to throw away the assumptions that your "knowledge" is based on and make decisions based on evidence only. I truly felt queasy (this is not a figure of speech) when first rolling hay out on the new land. The idea of "wasting " hay like that sickened me.
It was hard to walk away from the beliefs of modern agribusiness.
Learning is hard. Unlearning is harder. I understand why there are people out there who believe that horses benefit from the abusive care advocated by the established horse world. I certainly cannot blame them for believing what they were taught. It takes a significant degree of character to put the interest of the horse first and to walk away from the established horse world.
That is a character trait that grows from the ground up.
Posted by Steve Edwards