Good Dirt

On many farms across the country, soil is in bad shape. Because of industrial agricultural methods in use today and over the last half-century, we’ve lost half of the topsoil in the United States—the living earth washed eroded and washed into streams and estuaries (along with pesticides and nitrogen). Once degraded, soil loses its vibrancy and nutrition-giving qualities.

Fortunately, we’re able to tell a different story of soil at Stone Barns. Last year, an independent soil test conducted by Agro-One Soil Analysis found that the organic matter in our fields and pastures had increased 1.5% since 2007. Organic matter helps the soil retain moisture and nutrients for better plant growth. Soil scientists calculate that our 1.5% increase in organic matter allows the soil to hold approximately an additional 2,400 gallons of water per acre, as well as to hold an additional 30,000 pounds of carbon. “The increased organic matter is due to the animals rotating through the fields plus the organic feed we give them,” says Livestock Farm Manager Craig Haney, noting that the main source of food for the sheep and geese comes from the grass in the pastures. A typical rotation begins with sheep, which like to graze high, followed by geese and then egg-laying chickens in the shorter grass.

This past winter, Craig and his team have been going one step further in their pasture management by introducing pigs to 1.5 acres plagued by fescue, which isn’t good for sheep. “The pigs are like little rototillers,” says Craig. By the end of March, when the ground has been nicely churned up, the farm managers will sow new seed to rejuvenate the pasture. By high summer, we expect the sheep will be in high heaven.

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