The Importance of Recycling Energy, Part 1: The answer to feeding a growing world population

What you are about to read is a different perspective than what you normally hear about our use of fossil fuels. We have within our reach the ability to solve many of the environmental problems that we face today with the use of “non-renewable” energy sources — crude oil, natural gas, and coal. We get the impression from many scientists that our use of fossil fuels that we are removing from the earth is polluting our environment with unnatural toxins that should not be there and that we are creating a big environmental problem with greenhouse gases. But their field of view is too narrow and pessimistic. We have the opportunity of recycling fossil fuel energy back to it original form. In the process, not only can we solve many of these environmental problems, but we can significantly increase food production to feed a growing world population using organic methods. Chemical farming and GMO’s are not the answer for increasing food production to feed the world.

To see the solution, it is necessary to see the bigger picture of what fossil fuel energy really is and how it can be recycled. Fossil fuels are formed from the remains of dead plants and animals that were buried many years ago. In Pennsylvania, layers of coal can range from a few inches to 10 or 12 feet thick. To make coal or oil, plant and animal matter is highly compressed. Now try to imagine how many plants it would take to make a layer of coal that was only one foot thick.  What those layers of coal and oil tell us is that many years ago the soil was highly productive and produced vast amounts of vegetation that in some locations was likely much greater than anything we have seen in modern times.

In physics, The Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change form. Energy is said to be conserved over time. In the case of fossil fuels, when they are burned the energy is not destroyed but rather changes form. A significant portion becomes carbon dioxide. But before we go further, we need to back up and look at where fossil fuels came from in the first place and look at the carbon cycle. First,  in very ancient times there was very fertile topsoil that was rich in carbon. That very fertile soil produced vast amounts of plant matter. The plant matter was buried and over many years was converted into fossil fuels. Today, fossil fuels are being removed from the earth and burned and vast amounts of carbon dioxide are being put into the air. What we need to do is to capture that ancient topsoil that is now floating in the air as carbon dioxide and put it back into our topsoil. If we can accomplish that we have the potential to significantly increase food production.

The bottom line is: gasoline came from topsoil, we burned it in our car and put the “topsoil” in the air. It is interesting that many of the oil rich countries, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, are largely desert countries. Their topsoil is buried way below the surface in the form of oil. (It is interesting to note that the Garden of Eden, with its lush vegetation, would have been in their general area.) They are pumping their topsoil out of the ground as oil and selling their topsoil to us to burn in our cars. We are burning their topsoil and using the energy for transportation. In the process we have put their topsoil into the air where it is polluting the environment. Our responsibility and opportunity now is to recycle the topsoil out of the air and put it back in the topsoil where it belongs.

Why it is important to recycle energy back into our topsoil
Why is it important that we recycle carbon out of the atmosphere and put it in the soil? We have a great opportunity to restore soil productivity back to the way it was right before fossil fuels were formed. The carbon dioxide in the air is an important resource that we need to utilize.

The main difference between topsoil and subsoil is the carbon content in the topsoil. The carbon content is usually referred  to as organic matter. By increasing the carbon content of our soils we can increase the depth of the topsoil and make the soil much more productive. Dr. Carey Reams used to say that if he knew how deep the top soil was, he could tell you what the production would be. Research at Michigan State University indicates that a 1 percent increase in organic matter offers a 12 percent increase in crop production potential. (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1083169.pdf)

Adding carbon to the soil helps make the soil more drought proof. Carbon is like a sponge and can hold about four times its weight in water. Therefore increasing the carbon content of the soil enables the soil to hold water for an extended time after it rains and makes more water available to the plants. High carbon soil can also absorb moisture from the air during times of high humidity, increasing the water available to the plants even though it doesn’t rain.

Carbon in the topsoil makes it more porous so that when it rains the water soaks into the soil and does not run off as quickly. That is important for keeping the water where the plants can use it, but it also is very important in reducing topsoil erosion and flooding. This summer here on the farm we had an inch of rain in less than a half hour. I went to a place where we have often had water running off the pasture in the past. This time there was no run off. The soil had absorbed the entire inch of rain. That was a satisfying result of the work we have done in increasing the soil carbon content of our soils.

Carbon also provides a “hotel” for the microbes and bacteria in the soil. Those microbes and bacteria in the soil are important for making nutrients and minerals available to the plants and converting decayed plant matter into soil carbon.

It is important that we complete the carbon cycle and put the “topsoil” that we burn in our cars back into the soil where it belongs. The real answer to feeding a growing world is in organic farming that sequesters carbon and builds topsoil.

To be continued.

Food Shortage – “It Will NEVER Happen” But if it does, are you ready?

Since I wrote our last newsletter, I attended three different grocery store auctions where the stores closed and they could not find a buyer for the store. The first auction was the grocery store that we went to often when we lived at our old farm before we started eating almost exclusively organic. It was a large store, Selby’s Grocery in Poolesville, Md. I was looking for a large meat grinder for making pet food and I was able to buy it for an incredible price at the second grocery store auction (the store pictured above). One guy accused me of stealing it, it was so cheap.

The prices kept dropping with each auction. By the third grocery store auction, there were only about ten people buying. Most of the freezers, refrigerated cases, and store shelving in that store were sold for scrap because no one had a use for them. Being in a grocery store that couldn’t make it, with only a hand full of bidders, and prices way below where they should have been, had a profound affect on everyone there. It is hard to describe in words.

There are a number of events that are happening that I think are important that we keep in mind as we plan for the rest of the year and the next several years. There is a good possibility that nothing significant will happen and things will continue as they have been. But there also exists a very real possibility of significant food shortages.

One event that could cause a significant food shortage is the drought in California. Statewide, the drought is getting worse. The drought could end at any time, but some scientists are saying that it is likely going to be a prolonged drought. A prolonged drought would have a significant impact on our food supply. According to the California Department of Agriculture website, California produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/
California produces (as a percentage of all US production for each food item):
Almonds 99%
Apricots 88%
Strawberries 91%
Peaches 73%
Plums 97%
Walnuts 99%
Broccoli 65%
Fresh carrots 81%
Cauliflower 86%
Lettuce 75%
Processing tomatoes 96%
Plus significant quantities of other fruits and vegetables.
http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/in-the-news/california-drought-2014-farm-and-food-impacts/california-drought-2014-crop-sectors.aspx

Another thing that could cause food shortages is high inflation. Massive amounts of money have been created in recent years without much apparent inflation. Exporting money out of our country has helped keep inflation down. The US dollar is the world reserve currency and it is used by many countries to to buy and sell with other countries. However, in the last month or so, Russia, China, India, France, and others have agreed together to stop using the US dollar for trading between their countries. A significant part of the world ceasing to use the US dollar for trade has the potential to cause higher inflation (not necessarily hyperinflation) here in our country.

High inflation often results in the government imposing price controls on certain items such as food to keep prices from rising. What usually happens then is that those items disappear from store shelves because they cost more to produce than what they can sell for. Just last month, this very thing happened in Panama, which uses the US dollar for their currency. The Panama Post reported July 21:
“During the last couple of weeks, Panama — with expected annual economic growth of 7 percent this year — has faced what hardline socialist nations such as Cuba and Venezuela experience every day: food shortages. As many experts warned, and only 15 days after newly elected President Juan Carlos Varela announced the price-control law, the empty shelves are everywhere.” http://panampost.com/marcela-estrada/2014/07/21/econ-101-for-panama-new-price-controls-bring-rampant-shortages/

Food shortages can also occur when there is high inflation, even if there are not price controls. Items with a very low profit margin such as rice, eggs, chicken, produce, and other basic food items tend to disappear from the stores because there is not enough profit margin to cover the losses from inflation. Costs continue to rise for the producer or manufacturer.

Another event that could cause significant food shortages is Walmart going out of business. The first thought of many is that Walmart will never go out of business. But if we have high inflation, it could potentially put Walmart under. Walmart has put many smaller grocery stores out of business in recent years, such as Selby’s Grocery in Poolesville, as they have expanded their grocery departments. Grocery sales now amount for 55% of all of Walmart’s sales. Forbes magazine reports that Walmart now has 25% of the US grocery store sales. http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2013/05/20/wal-mart-cleans-up-on-poor-america-with-25-of-u-s-grocery-sales/

Walmart’s business model has worked very well for them during periods of low inflation and low interest rates. However, Walmart is currently facing a difficult retail environment. Their same store sales have declined in each of the last five quarters. Their CEO recently stepped down and a new CEO was appointed. Walmart does not have much inventory in warehouses, but buys most of their products just as they need them. Their trucks on the road making deliveries are a significant part of their “warehouse” inventory. Low inventory, coupled with very small profit margins, could be a recipe for disaster for Walmart if high inflation and high interest rates occurred. In other countries that had high inflation, many businesses were able to keep going by using their stockpiled inventory as a hedge against inflation.

What should we do to have food if there is a food shortage?
Don’t become a paranoid “prepper” that has a year or more of freeze dried food stashed around the house. But I do think it would be wise to not have the current “Walmart inventory mentality” in which you have less than six days of food on hand and need to run to the grocery store several times a week for food. Having a month or two worth of food on hand would give you a nice cushion. There is a certain satisfaction knowing that you have food on hand at all times and that you don’t have to run to the store to stock up every time they are calling for a snow storm.

A freezer is a good investment. It is a simple, easy way to stock up on food without it going bad. It is also a way to save money even if there is never a food shortage. For example, you could buy larger quantities of chickens from us at a time and only come to the farm several times a year rather than every month. The savings on trips to our farm and to the store could add up quickly. With a freezer you can also save significant amounts of money by buying in larger quantities and stocking up on items when they are on sale or when you find them at a really good price.

Historically, price controls are put on items sold by large corporations. If that were to happen here, knowing local farmers, such as our farm, could also be an important source of food. We will do all we can to be here for you. Hopefully there will NEVER be a food shortage, but if there is, be ready.

When “Antibiotic-Free” Isn’t

A month or two ago, someone gave us a used egg carton from another egg company. On the front of its full-color label, the company proudly advertised: “No Antibiotics!”

Technically, they were right. Technically, however, they were very wrong. In 2010, Monsanto patented glyphosate (commonly known as “Roundup”) as an antibiotic. Glyphosate is the #1 herbicide in the US, with 180-185,000,000 pounds of glyphosate used in 2007 (the latest year that the EPA gives statistics for). To put that in perspective, “regular” antibiotics used in agriculture totaled almost 29,000,000 pounds in 2009. In other words, over 6 times more glyphosate was used than regular antibiotics.

But glyphosate is no ordinary antibiotic. It might be called a “reverse antibiotic”. It kills good bacteria, such as those that inhabit our intestines—and stimulates harmful bacteria. And it was this antibiotic that was being fed to the chickens who laid the “no antibiotics” eggs!

For years, Monsanto advertised Roundup as “safe” and “biodegradable” and told us it was neutralized when it touched the soil; that is, until they got in legal trouble because the facts didn’t line up with their claims. Roundup is a chelating agent that binds with other substances and makes them unavailable. When glyphosate binds with clay particles in the soil, it is immobilized and remains attached to that clay particle until it either breaks down (a process that can take years) or is released in the soil. Therefore, repeated applications of Roundup have the potential to accumulate in the soil.

In 1996, genetically engineered crops hit the market, and by 2012, around 90% of the corn and soy grown in the US were GMO. Most of these crops are designed to be sprayed with Roundup while they are growing to kill weeds growing in the field, without killing the crop. Now, instead of only spraying their fields prior to planting, farmers could spray Roundup at any time they desired. What this means is that a systemic antibiotic (glyphosate/Roundup) is being sprayed directly on our food, absorbed by the plants and spread throughout their tissues. Roundup is also sprayed pre-harvest on crops such as wheat, barley, sugarcane and lentils to control weeds and to get uniform dry-down of the plants.

And? Does it matter?

In 2012, Gilles-Eric Séralini and his team of researchers shocked the world with graphic pictures of rats with huge tumors from exposure to Roundup Ready foods and Roundup.
Seralini's GMO Maize and         Roundup Research
From left to right: a rat fed GMO corn grown without Roundup; a rat fed GMO corn grown with Roundup; a rat given non-GMO corn, with a trace amount of Roundup in its drinking water.

“Séralini designed his 2012 study as a direct followup of a previous study on the same NK603 maize conducted by Monsanto to support its application for regulatory authorization…

 

Séralini’s findings were alarming: both GM maize NK603 and Roundup caused serious kidney and liver damage and an increased and earlier development of tumours, leading to an increased rate of mortality.

“These serious effects had not shown up in Monsanto’s 90-day test because it was too short. Serious diseases like organ damage and tumours take time to develop and become obvious…

 

“…in Séralini’s study the first large tumours were only seen four months into the trial in the case of males and seven months in the case of females. Most tumours were only detected after 18 months...

“Ninety days in a rat is equivalent to only 7–9 years in human terms – yet human beings could eat a GM food and residues of Roundup over a lifetime.” (emphasis mine)
http://www.gmoseralini.org/faq-items/why-this-study-now/

By the beginning of the 24th month of the study, 50-80% of all female rats had developed tumors in the GMO- and Roundup-exposed groups—with some rats having up to 3 tumors.

It is important to note that increased tumors and organ damage were found in rats who were given Roundup in their water with no GMO feed. In other words, Roundup by itself, without GMO grain, has the potential to do great damage to the body, even at very low doses. (The lowest dose was intended to mimic the minute trace amount found in some tap water.)

But the potential damages of Roundup go beyond tumors. As noted earlier, Roundup is very toxic to gut bacteria, which are important for proper digestion of food. Glyphosate also inhibits enzymes that the body uses to detoxify itself and produce bile acids for digestion of food. This means that, by destroying the body’s natural defenses, Roundup can enhance the effects of other toxins we absorb from our food and environment. It also means that Roundup can cause the digestive system to work less effectively than it should.

In other words, we see a one-two punch here: destruction of gut bacteria and reduction of digestive function. When the bowel is malfunctioning, we are unable to absorb all the minerals and vitamins that we need from our food. This can lead to all kinds of disease. Researchers Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff have shown the great possibility of a link between glyphosate and many different diseases, including gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. (See link at the end.)

But is this actually happening in our society? Is Roundup actually causing disease, or is this empty hypothesizing? Nancy Swanson, former staff scientist for the US Navy, has plotted the rise in the use of glyphosate against the rise in various diseases. The graphs are significant:

Graph of children with autism

Graph of deaths from Alzheimer's

Graph of diabetes cases
Compare this graph with the following one showing the total amount of sweeteners used over the same time period (top, purple line). The total amount of sweeteners used has actually dropped while diabetes has risen:

Graph of sweetener use

Graph of deaths from renal (kidney) disease

Graph of the incidence of liver cancer

The last two graphs are very interesting, because they go right along with the findings of Séralini’s rat study: liver and kidney damage. The renal (kidney) disease graph is particularly interesting, because it shows the disease rate dropping right before the introduction of GMO’s and increase in glyphosate usage –with a sharp spike afterwards. I encourage you to look at all the graphs:
http://www.examiner.com/slideshow/gmos-glyphosate-and-neurological-disorders
http://www.examiner.com/slideshow/glyphosate-gmos-and-disease
http://www.examiner.com/slideshow/incidence-rates-of-thyroid-cancer-new-cases-reported-per-year-per-100-000

How much glyphosate are we actually getting in our food? After all, the government has set limits on the level of glyphosate in our food. But how do we know if anyone is actually abiding by those standards? Samsel and Seneff state:

“It is difficult to get information on actual amounts of glyphosate present in foods, due to the perception that it is nontoxic to humans [1,6]. The USDA Pesticide Data Program (PDP) is a voluntary program which randomly monitors agricultural chemical residues in the food supply. A search of the most recent data for 2010, published in May 2012, found statistics for the most popular agricultural chemicals except for glyphosate and glufosinate, another organophosphate. Residue data for the most popular herbicide on the planet were not available, but, interestingly, information on atrazine and other herbicides were readily available. Communication with USDA revealed that no data were available due to lack of monitoring. However, in 2013, for the first time, the USDA will be releasing a small amount of data for glyphosate residues only in soy. Lack of program funding was cited as the reason for this lack of data.” (emphasis mine)

The National Pesticide Information Center confirms this:
“Glyphosate was not included in compounds tested for by the Food and Drug Adminstration’s (FDA) Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program (PRMP), nor in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP).”
http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/glyphotech.html

It’s strange that the government is not testing for the #1 agricultural chemical in America! Obviously, if you don’t look for it, you won’t find it. With glyphosate being sprayed all over our food, there’s no telling how much the average American ingests on a daily basis. Those 185 million pounds of glyphosate have to go somewhere.

One thing is certain: we are eating glyphosate. A recent German study found glyphosate residues in the urine of dairy cows, rabbits and humans. These people and animals were not just consuming glyphosate-contaminated food, but were actually absorbing the glyphosate into their bloodstream and circulating it throughout the whole body. Not surprisingly, glyphosate residues were significantly lower in people eating an organic diet than those eating a conventional diet. One very interesting finding was that chronically ill humans had significantly higher levels of glyphosate in their urine than healthy humans.

Furthermore, this study also found that glyphosate accumulates in animal tissue. Tests of kidney, liver, lung, spleen, muscle and intestinal tissue all revealed similar amounts of glyphosate residues. Glyphosate is accumulating in the meats that we eat—to be passed along for our second-hand consumption. The logical conclusion is that glyphosate residues are also accumulating in our own bodies. (See more at http://omicsonline.org/open-access/detection-of-glyphosate-residues-in-animals-and-humans-2161-0525.1000210.php?aid=23853)

What are we to do? If the government won’t protect us, who will? You. We must each take our own health in our own hands and get serious about removing this toxic antibiotic from our diet if we don’t want to be included on those graphs of disease. This starts with the cereal you eat for breakfast, the sandwich you eat at lunch and the chicken you eat for dinner. If it’s not organically raised, assume it has glyphosate residues. This includes the tortilla chips that are made with organic corn and fried in conventional, glyphosate-treated vegetable oil. Since the glyphosate residues are part of the food itself, they cannot be washed off, and they are not broken down by cooking.

It is important to cut through the chatter and find truly organic food. Be discerning and ask questions. One farm about an hour from us claims to “go beyond organic”—yet they told us that they used GMO feed for their animals. Other farms, recognizing the dangers of GMO’s, use non-organic, GMO-free feed. However, GMO-free is not necessarily glyphosate-free. It is standard practice for many farmers to spray their fields with Roundup before planting to kill weeds. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, “Lettuce, carrots, and barley contained glyphosate residues up to one year after the soil was treated with 3.71 pounds of glyphosate per acre.” Given that the Séralini rat study showed increased disease in rats who consumed only 0.1 parts per billion of Roundup in their drinking water (i.e., one drop in over 130,000 gallons of water), even a small amount of glyphosate residue is problematic.

Some organic farms, due to the cost of organic feed, feed their chickens conventional feed. They cannot call the chicken or eggs organic, but they can say it was raised on an organic farm. Take nothing for granted!

Fourteen years ago, during our first year of farming, we switched to organic feed for our chickens. This currently means paying over three times more for our feed than if we used conventional feed, but we don’t regret our decision. It is part of our quest to give you healthy, nourishing food that helps you to live better and stay out of the doctor’s office.

I encourage you to make the hard choices. Stop feeding yourself antibiotics that kill the “good guys” and help the “bad guys”. Buy real. Buy healthy. Buy glyphosate-free!

References and recommended reading
Website about the Séralini rat study:
http://www.gmoseralini.org

Articles by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff:
http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/Entropy/entropy-15-01416.pdf
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945755/

A Mercola review of Samsel and Seneff’s findings:
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/09/monsanto-roundup-herbicide.aspx

Analysis by Nancy Swanson:
http://sustainablepulse.com/wp-content/uploads/GMO-health.pdf

Glyphosate residues in urine:
http://omicsonline.org/open-access/detection-of-glyphosate-residues-in-animals-and-humans-2161-0525.1000210.php?aid=23853

International Poultry Producers Expo

In January, Cathy and I (Myron) attended the International Poultry Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a huge event with 28,000 attendees from all around the world. The Poultry Expo was located in two very large buildings and it took us an entire day to look at the exhibits in each building. Most of the expo was geared to the big poultry growers and processors, but not all of it. For us it was a very profitable trip. We were able to find some good products and suppliers as well as other helpful information to be able to provide you with even better eggs and chicken.

After we left to return to our motel, our first day at the Expo, we got caught in the snow storm that paralyzed Atlanta. Fortunately, our side of the highway was not blocked and we were able to make it back to the motel. At 9:00 pm there were still 99 school buses stuck in traffic. Some school children spent the entire night on their school buses! The second day we were not able to attend the Expo because the highway was still blocked with tractor trailers.


The International Poultry Expo, Atlanta, Georgia


This is a cage system for laying hens. Each cage is divided into about 4 cages which hold about 4 or 5 hens. This cage system is only four levels high.


This was a picture at the Expo showing the cage layer system with hens in it. It is how most grocery store, restaurant, and fast food eggs are produced. These cages are stacked five high. Each cage is only wide enough for 4 hens to be side by side. This is the way most hens live their entire life and shows part of the reason why we feel it is so important to provide our hens with a better living environment. As I look at this picture some of the descriptions that come to my mind are: “jail birds”, prison labor, and mechanical egg laying machines, as well as inhumane, heartless, and greedy.


The organic and pasture based farming movements are making an impact on society, and the big pharmaceutical companies are getting concerned. Two large poultry and animal pharmaceutical supply companies have launched a campaign to combat our influence with this fancy, expensive tractor trailer rig that they had at the Expo. Inside is a theater where they show movies knocking organic and pasture based farming, claiming that in order to feed the world we must use large confinement animal facilities (and of course their drugs and antibiotics).


Read the egg label carefully. It is not misspelled. We saw these eggs at a booth promoting pasteurizing eggs (similar to pasteurizing milk). Egg companies know that consumers want eggs that come from chickens on grass, not from chickens stuffed in small cages. They often design their egg cartons, like this one, in a deceptive way to give the impression that their chickens are happy hens that roam in the outdoors on grass.

We Have Sequestered 162 Tons of Carbon!

In the first seven years here on our farm, we have sequestered over 325,500 lbs of Soil Organic Carbon on 35 acres. We have sequestered as much carbon as the yearly CO2 output from approximately 146 cars. That was accomplished by increasing the soil organic matter on most of the farmland by almost one percentage point. That is without spreading organic matter or fertilizers other than lime. The only manure was the droppings from chickens when they are on the pasture and from the sheep and cows while they are grazing.

The method that we used to sequester the carbon was letting the grass grow a foot or more tall and then grazing or mowing the grass and letting it decompose into the soil. This is a method that we discovered as we mowed the grass in the American chestnut orchard located here on the farm and observed the significant increased growth of the grass and the increased growth, vigor, health, and blight resistance of the American chestnut trees. Grasses have approximately the same amount of root mass and depth as the mass and height of grass above the ground. When the grass is mowed from a height of 24″ down to 4″, the roots slough off from a depth of 24″ to approximately 4″. As these roots decompose, they build organic matter in the soil to the depth the roots had been. It is not just organic matter on the surface of the ground from the mowed grass.

The soil tests that we took are just of the top 6″ of soil and do not represent any increase in organic matter below 6″. It would be interesting to test the soil at a greater depth. The soil test from A&L Eastern Labs tested at the end of 2013 shows that the front pasture closest to the road had an organic matter percentage of 4.6%. A soil test from the small parcel of ungrazed fallow grassland adjacent to the road was used as a control to compare with the front pasture soil test since we do not have soil tests before we started managing the farmland. That small parcel of fallow grassland in years past had been part of the front pasture. That area had soil organic matter of 3.8%. 3% organic matter is considered good soil and 1% is not uncommon on cropland. The soil tests show an increase of .8% organic matter in the front pasture.

Our goal is to build enough organic matter in the soil to try to “drought proof” the pastures and to make the soil like a sponge so that there is very little water runoff when there is a heavy rain. Carbon acts like a sponge and holds moisture and other nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous and keeps them from being leached out of the soil into the Bay. The carbon then releases the water and nutrients to the plants as needed.

One method that we have experimented with to increase the carbon content of the grasses was to spray the grass with a mist of a mixture that consisted of water, raw milk from our cows, a little honey, and some eggs. The milk, honey and egg mixture increases the photosynthesis of the leaves and increases the brix/sugar (which is high carbon) content of the grasses about three percentage points. The sugar is transported from the leaves to the roots. In theory, if we can increase the sugar/carbon production in the leaves of the pasture grasses we should be able to increase the amount of carbon that we can sequester in the soil. We want to experiment with this some more. Last year we did not have enough milk.

Silvopasture Demonstration Plot

The Forest Service Department of Maryland Department of Natural Resources has asked us to work with them in developing a Silvopasture Demonstration Plot on 10 acres adjacent to the farmland that we are currently farming. It will combine timber/trees with pasture and will give Maryland landowners an example of how they can use their own land to produce timber and at the same time receive income from the land by grazing livestock while the trees grow. The silvopasture will consist of rows of trees planted in a pasture with 50′ grass spacings between the tree plantings. We will provide the livestock to graze the grass and we will also mow as necessary.

The silvopasture concept appears to be an excellent way to increase carbon sequestration on farmland without totally removing the land from food production. We look forward to working with the Forest Service on this project and applying some of the things that we have learned in carbon sequestering to this test plot. There will be some other tree plantings on adjacent parcels that will be used as controls to compare with the silvopasture experiment.


Daniel and Joel cutting up a dead tree at the edge of the silvopasture to get ready to put up a fence for the sheep.

Our Quest for a Better and More Humane Way to Produce Eggs on Pasture

One hundred years ago, most eggs were produced by true free-range hens on family farms. But as egg production became more mechanized, the chickens were put into confinement chicken houses, with many of them in tiny cages stacked three or four high to get as many hens in a chicken house as possible. In the past 50+ years, much of the knowledge of how to produce eggs on pasture on a larger scale has been lost. In many ways, we feel like we are trying to reinvent the wheel again in regards to pasture-raising chickens because so many of the important little details have been lost. What works for a small family flock of less than 50 hens becomes far too labor intensive when you have 3,000 hens on pasture.

Why would a farm want to have 3,000 hens on pasture? The reason is that in order to have 100% of our income from the farm, and to be able to pay our sons a living wage for working full time on the farm, we have to have enough income. Most small, pasture-based farms receive a majority of their income from off farm sources and are stretched thin making a living off-farm and trying to give adequate care to the farm and animals too. For a farm to try to make a living from only 200 hens would be like a doctor who is a general practitioner only having one or two patients a week,  or a mechanic trying to make a living by changing oil in only two cars a day.

As we looked around at the various methods of raising chickens on pasture, we were not pleased with what we saw. The main promoter of pasture raising eggs, Joel Salatin, recommended the use of moveable hen shelters that one moved on a regular basis to new grass areas. It is a method that makes a good story and that works in the warm months of the year, but when winter comes it is a method that becomes very labor intensive with frozen water hoses and difficult access to the hens through mud and snow. In the wintertime, the pastures quickly get torn up and muddy moving the chickens around. If the hens are kept in one spot the ground gets totally denuded of grass and turns to mud with likely manure runoff and erosion. Salatin’s solution is to move his hens into confinement chicken greenhouses for five or six months during the winter with no outdoor access for the hens. The eggs then are no different than white confinement chicken house grocery store eggs for about half the year. That was not acceptable to us.

To learn how to best raise chickens on pasture we did a lot of research. We visited both the Library of Congress, and the National Agricultural Library several times and researched books and publications that were written in the early 1900’s. Then, taking a blend of old technology and modern technology, we developed, over a number of years, a system that provides a good living environment for the hens, protects the soil and grass from being destroyed, and provides you with a high quality, nutritious,  excellent tasting pasture raised egg.

Our first hen shelter design was the one pictured below. It was stationary. The pasture was divided into six paddocks that radiated out from the shelter. There was a door on each end of the shelter and on each side. Each week we let the hens out a different side of the shelter into a new paddock and let the paddock that they were just in rest for the next five weeks.


This shelter and setup had many problems. The picture was taken the last day we used it. The shelter was too low, and too small for the hens on rainy and cold days. There was not enough space to keep them penned up when it was too muddy for them to be outside. The dark sides encouraged them to lay eggs on the floor. The feed and water were outside. In rain, snow, and the bitter cold, the hens had to go outside to eat and drink. As a result the grass got killed and they tracked lots of mud in and onto the eggs.


We worked with a Soil Conservation consultant, and he helped us design a heavy use area for the hens. We call it the picnic area, and it has wood chips on the ground like a playground. It gives the hens a place to scratch, dust bathe, and dig.  The picnic area is an important management tool that we use help protect the pastures from becoming destroyed and denuded of grass. In the picture above, it is the fenced areas to the left of the shelters. The picnic area is always open for the hens 24 hours a day so that as soon as it starts getting light they can go outside. During the warm months of the year, the hens are let out into the pasture about 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning and the gate is closed again at dark to protect them from night predators. The hens are confined to the shelter and picnic area any time that it is too muddy and their little feet would trample the grass into the mud. In the winter time when the grass is not growing, the hens are only let out on the pasture for two or three days a week. This protects the pasture, while allowing the hens to have some grass throughout the winter to help keep up the nutrient content of the eggs. Each week we also bring home 10 to 15 big boxes of organic vegetable trimmings from the stores where we sell eggs, and feed the veggies to the hens. This helps them get their greens when they can’t be out on pasture as much. We also significantly increased the size of the shelters to make it more roomy for the hens. We raised the height of the roof to make it easier to work in the shelters and to let the heat rise and escape from the hens on those hot summer days.


This is inside our new hen shelters. The sides are open at floor level so that the hens stay cool in the hot summer months. In the winter, we cover the sides and one end with clear plastic. The light that comes in the sides close to the floor helps to discourage the hens from laying eggs on the floor.


These are our hen shelters in the winter time. Each flock has about two acres of pasture. The small sheds along the lane beside the shelters are the nest houses where the hens lay their eggs. The nest house concept was an idea that we got from a book written in the early 1900’s. The central lane makes it efficient for hauling feed to two shelters at each stop and also for gathering eggs.


We designed geo-thermal waterers for the hens. The blue barrel, with the bottom cut out is buried halfway in the ground. The waterline from the well is buried in the ground to keep it from freezing and it comes up through the bottom of the barrel. The geo-thermal heat from the soil keeps the water in the small two gallon bucket on top from freezing on all but the coldest nights. The most that it freezes is about an inch on top, which we remove in the morning when we check on the hens. These waterers also help to keep the water cooler for the hens on the hot summer days. Also, for those hot summer days we installed fogger nozzles under the peak of the roof to help keep the hens cool.


We developed a predator-resistant fence that has made life a lot simpler because we don’t have to move the fence like the electronet fences have to be moved. The wires of this fence are electrified. It does a good job of keeping out foxes and other predators and keeping the hens in.


This is one of the nest houses that we designed and custom built. In the nests and the trays are blue astroturf nest pads. The hens lay their eggs in the nests and the eggs roll out into the tray. This design helps keep the eggs clean and simplifies egg gathering.


Inside the nest house. The hens access the nest house through a covered ramp from their shelter. The floor is slatted to discourage them from laying eggs on the floor and to make the nest house self cleaning. That is also important to keep the eggs clean.

Our method of raising eggs on pasture is part of what goes into making some of the best tasting pasture raised eggs you can buy. We do not feel like we have “arrived”, but we continue our quest to have the best, most humane, environmentally sensitive method of raising chickens that we can. We also are continuing our quest to produce the most nutritious meats and eggs that we can for your health and ours. As our slogan says, we are: More than a farm — A living laboratory researching the secrets of food, health and life.”