Organic farming can be cost effective as well as environmentally conscious, but it requires quite a bit of proactive planning in order to be successful. Planning an organic farm, particularly if you are intent on raising livestock, should be done with organic maintenance as well as crops in mind. Organic maintenance is just as important as keeping away from the use of harsh chemicals as much as possible, even when cleaning stalls, pens and troughs. A smart organic farmer will invest in a high quality pressure washer to get rid of grime on pieces of equipment. Using a pressure washer is an example of effective organic farming without relinquishing your organic intent for the sake of maintenance.
Planning an organic farm with grazing animals such as cattle requires also being an adept forage farmer. This maximizes the use of your land to feed livestock by using adapted species of plants that are matched to the grazing needs of each type of animal. Livestock, unlike plants, require food every day, even in the winter months and the best economic approach to meeting this need is to maximize the duration of the grazing season. Growing crops that provide immediate food as well as growing those that can be stored for feeding livestock in non-growing months allows you to have supplies in storage. In addition, having a thorough understanding of rotating annual and perennial feed crops ensures you always have something available on which livestock can graze.
An organic farmer also needs to consider the rotation of feed crops in relation to the planting and rotation of other types of crops. Forage quality crops such as legumes and grasses have individual growing requirements, specific approaches to pest control and an optimal time for harvesting. Food crops for human consumption have similar requirements but these, too, will differ for each type of crop. Each crop also goes through an individual growth phase that may fluctuate as the plant grows.
Simultaneously, the quality of a food or feed crop will vary in nutritional quality as it develops. Initial growth is generally slow, increasing significantly until it reaches maturity and then slows once again. At their most active stage of growth, both food and feed crops are usually ideal for grazing. You also need to consider, however, the time needed for each feed crop to recover after it has been grazed. Recovery for a grazed feed crop is dependent on factors such as temperature, quality of soil, the amount of plant grazing and the amount of livestock traffic the plant encounters.
Like any other type of farmer, an organic farmer needs to either test their soil or have it tested on a regular basis. A lack of one or more important soil nutrients won’t affect the quality of the resulting crop, but it will curtail the size of the crop yield. In addition, each type of feed crop for grazing has specific nutritional requirements. Harvesting or allowing livestock to graze must be monitored closely, because allowing grazing to go too far can destroy the subsequent crop yield and require a complete and expensive replanting. Conversely, waiting too long to harvest or graze a feed crop can also lead to crop loss and competition between crops that can impair the quality of the yield.
Organic farming of livestock involves the challenges of planning and knowledge of crop rotation, grazing schedules, harvesting and pest control, all without the quick repair of immediate problems that is afforded by non-organic methods. Despite the inherent challenges, organic farming produces meat and dairy products that are free of chemicals that pose health problems as well as alter the taste of the food.
Danielle is an avid gardener and composter. She blogs on behalf of Sears and other brands she uses about all kinds of things green, organic and mud covered. Danielle doesn’t have a tote bag, but she has a wheelbarrow, which is much more useful.