White Oak Pastures is full of passionate and innovative employees. A project started by our recent intern, Karen Cano, has continued on past her graduation from our internship program. Her independent experiment focused on developing a biofertilizer program on the farm. We have continued this project and are excited for long term incorporation of biofertilizer on the farm.
Below: Karen trains members of our poultry crew on creating different biofertilizer concentrations depending on the application they intend to use it for.
Our biofertilizer is an anaerobically fermented microbial solution made from the rumen of ruminants. We have made large batches of concentrated solution. Depending on the intended application, we have corresponding, specific dilution formulas. Biofertilizer can be applied to a wide range of areas including pasture plants, soil, compost, added to the water/feed of livestock, and used as a sanitizing agent.
When applied directly to soil, biofertilizer increases diversity and bioavailability of soil nutrients, improves soil microbiology, and stimulates plant growth. Applied to plants, biofertilizer improves vitality, disease resistance and recovery from grazing pressure. Sprayed on compost, biofertilizer reduces odor and accelerates fermentation and decomposition. When added to animal feed and water, it serves as a probiotic to improve digestion, nutrient absorption, weight gain, feed conversion, and reduce methane production.
Below: Barrels of our concentrated, fermenting biofertilizer. We apply the dilute solution with the spray backbacks in the foreground.
Currently, we are using our biofertilizer largely as a sanitizing agent in our pastured poultry operation. The founding principle being that we are introducing a beneficial microbial community in an area where it is crucial to avoid harmful pathogenic microorganism colonization and blooms. Our biofertilizer ensures an environment where the competition is very high for harmful pathogens and therefore reduces their numbers and ability to bloom.
We spray our brooder houses with biofertilizer, as well as the residual brooder litter once we move the brooders. Loading our brooder litter with beneficial microbial life ensures a rapid rate of decomposition. Through this, we are hygienically handling our brooder litter and supporting its incorporation into our soil organic matter. Additionally, we use biofertilizer as a component in the process of cleaning our laying hen water troughs and Astroturf squares in their nesting boxes. We have also sprayed a test strip of pasture and will be monitoring performance to determine the impacts of direct application.
Biofertilizer supports our holistic approach to land stewardship and animal husbandry. We are excited to continue the use of this all natural supplement in our farm model. Again, we believe in a farm model where we do not need to vaccinate or administer drugs to our animals proactively. We would rather create a living environment which fosters a healthy immune system in our livestock and thereby avoid the need for veterinary care. Biofertilizer is an all natural, low cost tool which can help us further this mission.
Below: Robert sprays biofertilizer inside a newly prepared brooder house awaiting chick arrival. Spraying prior to chick arrival will ensure a cleaner environment for the chicks while they grow.
Above: Spraying biofertilizer on our brooder bedding after we move the brooders will increase the rate of decomposition.
Above: John sprays a test batch of biofertilizer on our pasture which we will monitor for productivity results.
Above: This fenceline demonstrates the stark difference between a pasture that was grazed (right) and a pasture left fallow (left). We own the right pasture and recently aquired the left. We look forward to increasing the bioproductivity and forage profile of the new pasture using all natural, animal impact.Read More
Farming daily reminds us that we are part of nature, not separate from it. Particularly with our holistic, natural approach to land stewardship, we respect and work with the natural world. To this end, we must face the trials that come with a natural, pasture-based system, including the presence of natural predators. We cannot be with our animals 24/7 and depend heavily on our Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) to protect our herds during the night.Read More
White Oak Pastures has based our land stewardship on Savory Institute's Savannah paradigm. In this system, the ideal composition is 20% shade, 80% pasture. We are working with our Iberian and heritage hogs to create the farm’s 20% shade, silvopasture ecosystem. Our woody polyculture will include trees such as oak, pecan, fig, pear and olive trees. The tree density will be about 40 trees per acre. This is not a dense canopy and will allow sunshine to filter through so that our livestock can forage a pasture understory. The dehesa forests in Spain on which we hope to model our Iberian pastures have a tree density of 85-120/hectare.
Our Hog Production Manager Aaron Lorenz explains the specific role our pigs play in establishing savannah ecosystems:
" Hogs love fresh pasture and cool woods about equally, and nothing as much as a nice cool pond to wallow in. As omnivores, they can get in touch with many levels of an ecosystem, and can influence that ecosystem in a variety of ways.
The rooting behavior of our hogs disturbs the soil and allows for the germination of new seeds, especially the forage cover crops we plant that will become food for birds, bees, cattle, sheep, goats and especially hogs.
Our hogs clear out underbrush in forests and scrub on pasture, allowing more productive species of vegetation to thrive, such as our pasture grasses and legumes, as well as the young trees that will eventually be mainstays of White Oak Pastures' savanna style ecosystems, all the while depositing manure into the soil that will become food for the billions of microorganisms that lie at the foundation of every terrestrial ecosystem.
Our hogs have an important role in the ecosystems of White Oak Pastures. They clear land and create space for other species to flourish, from cattle to crickets, and birds to bees. Plants from grasses and the sapling that grows into the tallest pecan tree 100 years from now may have hogs to thank for being able to claim their place in a healthy and diverse ecosystem."
Herding our hoofstock is not an easy task. Our animals are raised on terrain ranging from brambled woodland to open pasture. We often need to sort and separate the herd into smaller groups based on factors such as age, gender, and genetics. We find our herding dogs indispensable in these complicated tasks, especially when moving our goats and sheep which are notoriously hard to work with. Dogs are an efficient, finessed, low-stress way to move large groups of livestock.Read More
Topics: Herding Dogs
White Oak Pastures had a wonderful Saturday evening with the Albany Museum of Art and Albany Technical College Culinary Arts Department putting on a benefit dinner for the museum. Our very own chef Reid Harrison prepared the first four courses with White Oak Pastures protein- duck, goat and lamb. He also helped direct the enthusiastic culinary students. This evening was a great success for everyone. It was the biggest fundraising event of the year for the Museum, the Culinary Arts students were able to experience the organization and care that go into a large, on-location, fine dining event, and White Oak Pastures was able to share our unique pasture-raised products as well as several of Chef Reid's most popular recipes which we are very proud of. The event featured local chefs Todd White, Kurt Rouse and Kelly Taranto. Read our recipes for the duck confit, goat meatballs, and leg of lamb.
We use animal impact daily to improve the health of our soils and forage. However, we also use our livestock as landscapers. We frequently use our goat herd to clear shrubbery from vacant lots in downtown Bluffton. If you have visited the farm store, you’ve likely driven by our goats hard at work. This March however, we have been busy with and excited to used our cattle to help clear some of our newly acquired land.
During this month, our cattle moved through the pecan orchard and several of our new, overgrown vacant lots. They grazed what they could, but we insured they had adequate nutrition by supplementing them with our high quality, organic haylage. The more woody and fibrous plant matter which cattle are not evolved to digest- they viewed as a playground. Our cattle clearly enjoyed themselves as they rubbed their heads and necks against pine saplings, trampled underbrush, and explored the thickets.
In Will Harris’s 63 years living in Bluffton, he has never seen cattle grazing these pieces of land before. We are excited to share the stark before and after photos which show the landscaping power of ruminants. We can only wait to see the benefit their animal impact has imparted to the soil and we are always excited to aquire more pasture for our herds.
Lot A BEFORE
PECAN ORCHARD BEFORE
PECAN ORCHARD AFTER
“Damn, that's a nice bumper”. It was a rainy, muddy, cold weekend in December 2007. Will Harris had just finished showing Brian Sapp around the farm, which, at that point, Brian describes as “just feeding cattle and the plant was a concrete floor”. Brian’s lifelong passion for fabrication led him to craft replacement bumpers as a hobby. When Will kicked the bumper on Brian’s 2004 Chevy pickup, his eyes “got big as half dollars”. Will then told Brian, “You may never strike an arc on this farm, but I know from that bumper that I want you to work for me.” Will could tell from how well the bumper was made that Brian would put effort and hard work into everything he did.
October and May typically mark the change of season here in our Southwest Georgia subtropical climate. Historically, these months are the driest months and the months when the warm season perennial grasses and the cool season annual grasses swap dominance. This year the seasonal change was delayed due to our recent severe drought. However, thanks to the later-than-normal rains which finally arrived, our cool season annual grasses are sprouting in our pastures.Read More