Today was a beautiful day. Mandy Corry invited us to visit her family farm and see her new lambs and we jumped at the opportunity. The lambs were very cute, especially the two premies, who were barely as tall as the grass they were in and had to keep bounding around to find their mom.
The sheep were great, but my favorite part of visiting the Corrys’ farm is seeing how well they use the space. In the same pen as the sheep was a llama used to discourage predators. Behind the sheep are the chickens, with their own llama to drive away hawks and owls. The sheep eat the grass down enough that the chickens, who don’t like tall grass, can forage happily. Next to the main chicken corral, both for meat and eggs, we saw the chicks that Mandy and her husband Matt had put out just this afternoon. If I’d though the premie lambs had difficulty with the tall grass, the chicks were absolutely swamped! Still, they’re bravely clearing away a little of the grass jungle around them. You can see where the chickens have been because that’s where the grass is greenest (by a lot!). The chickens eat pests and fertilize the land, leaving it even better than they found it. In a more permanent area is the sow, along with some chickens for company. There are also two steer and the boar in a pasture toward the front of the property. Mandy is also working on a patch of garden, but it’s early yet for that.
For those keeping track, that’s sheep, pigs, chickens, heritage chickens, cattle, grass (for hay) and eventually more tomatoes than they will ever be able to eat. It’s on a lot of land, so it’s not something Maggie and I could do, even if we wanted to. The good thing is that we don’t want to. The Corrys have a great farm and I love visiting, but that’s not the life I’d like to lead.
On the way back home from visiting the farm (it’s only about ten minutes from our place), I realized what attracts me to the concept when I don’t actually want to do it. The Corrys have a full-fledged system. It’s not perfect and they’re tweaking it all the time, but everything they do is purposefully cyclical. They don’t need fertilizer because they have chickens. They don’t have to mow (as much, anyway) because they have the sheep. They don’t need more hogs because the chickens keep their sow company.
They’ve expanded a lot even in the short time that I’ve known them, but they still approach things as a balancing act. Mandy was telling us that they were given the opportunity to rent 40 acres. They could have used it, but that would have unbalanced their work. Too many sheep, not enough of everything else. Eventually, maybe, they’ll be ready for that space but for now, that’s not what they need.
It reminds me of Michael Pollan’s work where he talks about how bad it is to buy foods that are “fat free” or “sugar free.” When companies focus on removing fat or sugar, they dump in a bunch of other stuff that can be even worse. It’s much better just to buy overall good food. I view the vegetarian argument that animals are inefficient in a similar way. How can you look at a farm like the Corrys and call it inefficient?
In my own life, maybe I’m guilty of doing the same thing. I’m focusing on a “plastic free” and “trash free” and not enough on leading an overall good life. I’m beginning to agree with Andy’s comments that a week or month of cutting something out isn’t the right tack to take.
Instead of removing plastic from my life entirely, perhaps I should be looking for an equilibrium that uses less. Less plastic, less trash, whatever I want to change. I’m starting to value the balance more than the specific items balancing.