What follows is my submission to become MBA Certified. That's Mineralized Balanced Agriculture. It is the idea of a very smart and influential fellow, Gary Zimmer, recently interviewed in Agri-View, and ACRES USA and anywhere else that farming, organic and dairy are discussed. I am honored that such a busy important fellow as Gary has been incredibly generous with his time to me, even as I have been 'me' which can be, ahem, irritating.
MBA Certified is an idea that those that do a great job in farming ought to be able to get more for their products, as they are superior products. Highly mineralized; of peak health. Not so complicated as Organic Certification, but an effort to recognize and brand something good, with the true value being both delivered and appreciated in a meaningful way. NOT like get your dairy as cheap as you can.
I most certainly am taking that idea in my "brand" of Wisconsin Fresh Milk.
MBA Certified, interestingly, is on towards what I want to see a lot more of in this complicated world - an intention based system, rather than on specific static unyielding and unsuccessful rules based system. I will certainly talk more about that at another time.
To 'unclutter' 'uncomplicate' yet yield the critical information that shows - not just talks about - but shows what you are doing, Gary broke his 'MBA Certified' brand - the certification specifics into two questions. Brilliant; as they can and do cover what people need to know about their food. So without further a-do, onto my response. As usual I will battle wordiness to cover clearly in what is intended as a 'paragraph' and not as a 'novel like War and Peace"....
What am I doing about the health of my soil?
First and most importantly, I have changed my mind to understand the critical importance of healthy soil. I understand and act as though my living comes from the soil, and the rest are just details. I have and will continue to give A1 priority monitoring, improving, and learning more about my soil.
Specifically, I have aggressively re-mineralized all soils we would farm; soil tests to guide, utilizing green manure crops, compost and minerals to stimulate soil life, and for building humus, stable organic matter, back to a level where our soils were found, so rich, so long ago. I have taken, from 2003-2010, 7 years so far, our home farm soils from the 2% organic matter range to the 3-3.5% plus range. I will not consider slowing down until we reach 4-5%. I will expand my interests beyond Albrecht soil ideas, striving for better and better soils.
Mineral balance - amounts and ratios between each others, as detailed by Albrecht and those (like Gary) in the 'Albrecht school', is as important as building humus in the soil. I keep an idea of a 'soil mineral ledger' in my mind, which corresponds to "Law of the return" - if I take minerals out, I need to put them back. With our use of animals, we will eventually need very little to supplement.
I am constantly on the lookout for opportunities to improve our soil, and do my best to share this information with others. Because of our soil, and our aggressive re-mineralization efforts, we have healthy, alive soils, with very little plant - or animal - disease. Our forages are lush and our weeds as we have them are generally those of abundance rather than poverty, and more reflections of mistakes in farming technique rather than soil limitations. We have found the promise of mineralized, alive soils to be true: our animals are healthy, we experience very little disease on this farm. That is because of the soil work done.
With a county average of 3 tons per acre, we just about double that, with far far less fertilization than conventional farms would use to achieve similar results. As we build organic matter and achieve better balance in our soils, our productivity will continue to increase, we believe, outpacing the poverty of conventional systems by far.
We have shown - repeatedly - in how we choose to spend our limited money - in minerals for the soil rather than in equipment for our comfort or convenience.
Our living is derived from the soil. We will never forget that. The rest is just details.
What have we done for the health of our animals?
First was remineralizing & reawakening life in our soils. All good on our farm derives from the soil, and from the work done. We have made many mistakes along the way, but getting the soil right has allowed us to make those mistakes and be forgiven them.
From the foundation, then, of the soil, we have built a management system, with carefully considered checks and balances that results in low stress productive animals, and great pleasure in the farmers and quality in the end products, meats and dairy products.
We do not derive our pride from "quantities" of milk delivered per cow, but in excellent health and body condition of our animals, along with reasonable return in milk. We strive for compensation that allows us to stay off the production treadwheel. Raw milk direct to consumers is such a way.
Changing our minds has been critical. From arrogance of imposing ON our slaves the animals, to truly an idea that we are servants TO our animals, and that our job is to 'reduce obstacles in the way of performance of their jobs'. What can we provide that respects the natural system, and allows us to participate at a profit to ourselves? We understand and continue to add to our knowledge of natural animal behavior and work towards providing more of it, and less restrictions based on our inability to provide situations effectively to support the behavior.
We provide free choice Redmond salt and kelp, which seems to be all we need in our system. We provide clean cool water, close to where they are. We move away from soiled areas with controlled grazing; we have few problems with parasites. However, we do naturally deworm at critical junctures in the spring and fall, most especially with young stock.
Three primary practices illustrate our dedication.
Bovines are 100% grass. With balanced soils, yielding excellent quality and nutrition forages, we have the discipline to seek excellent health and milk quality rather than quantity. The quantity will come as appropriate, and not forced. Breeding for our system will require time to 'undo' genetic selection for traits that go nowhere good for us. Ability to thrive - even get fat - on 100% grass, are important to us. We strive to provide diverse forage, with a proven ratio of 40% legumes (alfalfa & clovers), 60% grasses, with 6 and more different kinds of grasses to provide strategy to all weather and conditions.
Calves with cows. Caring for their young is fundamental to mammals in nature. We honor that by leaving the calves with their own mothers for at least 10 weeks (formerly 8 weeks, and quite possibly 12 weeks in the future). This works perfectly for the system we have created, we never lose calves, we need no supplements whatsoever, and our cows are content. In addition to the time savings for us in NOT dealing with sickness, cleanup, feeding - we allocate that time to other areas where we are truly needed. As our happiness is critical in our ability to serve, the most we have in our calves is the pleasure we derive in the observation of these beautiful little creatures, so happy, so healthy.
Milking once a day. Although I would say this is the one thing we do for ourselves, rather than emulating a natural system, which would be the feeding of calves several times a day. However, this too does serve our animals indirectly. We do not loath milking cows; we do it once a day, ourselves, and are happy in doing it. Time not spent milking cows a second and perhaps third time is spent in serving diversity in our farm, serving the needs of our animals and crops, and in serving our needs for rest.
We milk only enough cows that we can know each animal well; by name, names we call out several times per day - so we are acutely aware of any potential health issue at its earliest, so we are able to deal with it before it becomes a real problem.
Our excellent herd health and low Somatic Cell Count are proof that what we are doing is working. Our cows are bred in first service over 90%, 3rd year running, and zero problems calving and cleaning, no mastitis other than subclinical this year, with trend being even less. We have not even completely culled a first time for cows less suited to our system. What we are doing is working very very well, we spend almost no time with sickness.
Our systems are designed with service to our animals, not in their submission to us. We will continue to seek out ways to participate at our profit in respecting their nature. The concept of 'herd' is important; not reshuffling for our needs, but to consider their needs for consistency, and us providing as low a stress environment as is possible.
We have much to learn yet, and are dedicated to 'questioning everything' towards humility rather than arrogance.