When we first decided to move away from the suburbs and complete dependency on city infrastructure, we began by looking for farm properties. Our first choice was a property with around one hundred acres total, split into sixty acres of woodlands and forty acres of conventional cleared pastures. We began researching how to best use and improve the wooded acreage for both our future livestock and the creatures native to the area. I came away with a vague (though exciting) idea of a combination of raising livestock suited to forest browsing and things such as food forests to slowly and naturally create silvopastures.
But… things happen. Things usually involving money and a distinct lack of access to it. That first property did not work out. Nor did the next. And by the time we settled on our new place, we were happy to have anything with some elbow room and far enough from the city.
Today we are situated on a little over seventeen acres of mostly steeply sloping oak-hickory forest. And we love it. However, the land certainly doesn’t lend itself to doing practically anything in a conventional way anywhere. What had originally been my vague idea of using and improving a portion of our land has become an absolute necessity for every square inch of it.
Today we are continuing to work on expanding the fence around the cleared area of our property where our house and outbuildings are situated. We are more than ready to get more use out of our property. This ‘inside’ perimeter fence must be completed so that we are better able to rotate animals through for grazing and browsing while we focus on the daunting task of completing a total perimeter fence out there in the woods.
After fences are in place, the plan is to rotate animals suited for the task through the greater part of our hilly woods. We will begin with our Highland cattle who do a great job clearing thick brush and trampling down decaying trees. The walking paths that they create through the rocky landscape make areas more accessible to us (and the deer!) as they go. And you can’t dismiss the high quality fertilizer they leave behind.
The goats will come behind for keeping low brush from overtaking any areas that the cows have left behind in their travels – while the donkeys will have the job of finishing off saplings too large for little goats to dismantle. All the while, our chickens volunteer to constantly lightly till and turn the compost on the forest floor.
We have also decided to grow mushrooms using our larger felled trees and resulting compost. Not only are they super efficient at breaking down all these hardwoods – but… Free mushrooms!
It does seem like something of a pipe dream at this point. There are tons of moving parts in this plan and many things will frankly be left somewhat to chance… But it’s the journey and not the destination, right? For now we see tiny patches of success here and there… The greening of one of our valleys off to the east that was previously barren or patches of grass appearing out in clearings that now receive sunlight. We notice new song birds coming in each year and the population of tree squirrels and chipmunks has definitely increased. All the while we enjoy the experience and our animals show us what we need to do next.
Working with nature rather than simply trying to cut or trample it out of the way is NOT the quick or easy way. But we truly believe in what we are doing here – preserving a natural habitat for native wildlife while coexisting ourselves and with our poultry and livestock. Someday, perhaps, it will be something close to our vision when our children leave this place to their children. That thought makes it all worthwhile.