Restoration: Cattle in the South Field

Our cows (a total of eight) grazing the South Field on July 21st, the day they arrived at LSF. 

Our cows (a total of eight) grazing the South Field on July 21st, the day they arrived at LSF. 

When it comes to the regeneration of neglected land, cattle are the cream of the crop. Their prickly tongues wrap tightly around long grasses, pulling the food into their mouths where their powerful jaws reduce the grasses into a paste (they only have one set of bottom teeth, like other ruminants). The intricate digestive tract of the cow eventually produces well-worked organic matter that is then deposited behind the animals to fertilize future growth. In addition to their clever biology, the weight of a typical cow (roughly 500-1000 lbs.) causes their pointed hoofs to dig deep into the soil, aerating and opening the ground so that more water and oxygen can enter the subterranean beneath them.

The youngest cow (2.5 months), takes his very first nibbles of fresh grass in the pasture.

The youngest cow (2.5 months), takes his very first nibbles of fresh grass in the pasture.

Cattle have traditionally been kept as sources of meat and dairy and their roles as agents of regeneration is no mystery, despite that fact that in the current climate of conventional agricultural practices, cows are seen as a product-producing animal and not as managers of land. When it comes to our specific use of cattle at Lily Springs Farm, we see them as an essential tool in our emulation of the pre-industrial ecosystems that our land once supported. That is, instead of viewing these beautiful animals as meat or dairy (though those are important uses and our cows will return to the conventional dairy once our field is thoroughly grazed), we appreciate them most for their eating, digestion, and excrement processes. They are here to clear the way for a thousand hazelnut trees. They are here to help us aerate and fertilize the soil that has been neglected for decades. They are here because the original herbivore of this bioregion, the Mastodon, no longer is. They are helping us to return this land to its healthiest, most self-sufficient state: a state of regeneration.

The youngest calf, searching for an udder to suck. He had never been on grass before!

The youngest calf, searching for an udder to suck. He had never been on grass before!

The  presence of these beautiful animals on our land signifies our commitment to something integral within the alternative agriculture movement: using conventional tools (in this case, grain-fed dairy cattle) to solve unconventional problems (grazing an untouched field to plant perennial polycultures). Moreover, as we encourage the transition to holistic, well-managed systems that allow for cows like the one above to begin eating what they are biologically designed to consume, we are changing the conversation about the use of these animals from the products they offer (meat and dairy) to the lives they live and their positive effects on the environments in which we choose to keep them.