True Husbandry Begins With Provender
Pastoralists from time immemorial have understood the ancient principle – that provender for the goat is also sustenance for the goat walker. Together, they are the mutual companions and fellow stewards of the land.
Provender – Now there’s a word that imbues the ideal of pastoralism. Provender is an Old English word defining food for animals also described as fodder. Pastoralism is the most authentic expression of the goat walker’s relationship with their herd. Being intimately engaged in the daily task of finding and leading to provender. The essence of our existence as living men and women is in part our relationship with the earth, the land and fellow creatures that call this place home. Pastoralists from time immemorial have understood this ancient principle – the need of provender for the goat is also sustenance for the goat walker. Sustenance for the goat walker in that superior dietary intake coupled with beneficial stimuli will always produce better milk, meat, fiber and herd members.
The disconnection to our food, how it’s sourced, and even our own production of it is a new phenomena. The soil, the garden and field have been replaced with a box and a plastic container. There is a modern threat to the expression of living and breathing beings. This threat is veiled in technology, commerce and materialism. I hope to help bring awareness to and advocate for the responsibility we have to rediscover and restore the venerable ways of pastoral husbandry. Emulating our Creator through its life-giving, life-sustaining principles.
HOW PASTORALISM DECLINED
I would like to preface this entry, by reassuring the reader that this is not a rant on meat consumption verses veganism. Nor is it a discourse on whether one should have a goat in urban settings versus a rural one. There are no blanket accusations, or stereotypes, labels and condemnations here. I am not the sniper, but simply sounding the alarm! Though I strongly, shamelessly and resoundingly advocate for the humane treatment of animals, this post is not spearheading that ideal. There are numerous other voices that are credibly bringing attention to these discussions. Turning our sole focus to any of these current dialogues would overshadow, squelch and drown out the legitimate and urgent need for the this discussion, on the restoration of pastoralism and symbiotic husbandry in modern farming and homesteading today.
The loss of this truly amazing form of husbandry had its beginning with the advent of modern, confinement based, industrialized livestock management. Pastoralism declined, touted as being outdated, ineffective and not profitable. Pastoralism is still practiced the world over, and since the beginning of man’s relationship with domesticated herds. It is still successfully in use today in many cultures, without the compromise of the animal’s welfare. The awareness of the stark, inhumane treatment of animals in factory farms has become a scourge that many are unable to ignore. This has created repercussions in agriculture and farming that has literally destroyed economies of entire generational farms.
Over the last 100 years small farms and homesteads disappeared from the American landscape, replaced by factory farms for the purpose of industrial food production. In our pursuit of the conveniences of urban development, we lost our connection to the land and to the animals. In the last 25 years there has been an awakening. Or can I say a revival of our role as care takers of the earth and of the creatures that dwell here with us.
Thousands are embracing homesteading and farming on their journey home, returning onto land. For my husband and I, that meant overcoming a 70+ year disconnection with our ancestral roots of farming. In that exodus out of the cities, we have unknowingly adopted the husbandry methods of industrialized, mechanized production and factory farms. We didn’t know any better. Much like novice homeschoolers that eventually discover it’s not home schooling, if you try to bring the school home. Two totally different systems of education, share several common elements, such as educators and students. Yet they have completely different outcomes and distinctive goals. The variables between the 2 dichotomies in farming, and homesteading today is similarly no exception.
Goat Your Land is an intentional message directed to the community of goat keepers, with the sole purpose of addressing a crucial need. The need to resource goat herders who genuinely desire to reduce the negative effects of full time confinement and who have a desire to put their animals back on land. Pastoralism is a modality that history and research have shown, that goats like many other animals, do thrive in, because this is what they were designed for.
Though not directly related to pastoralism, one recent study by Frontiers In Veterinary Science, overwhelmingly supports the relationship between behavioral outcomes and environment that ungulates are exposed to. As well as attesting to their high degree of intelligence. Two strong factors supporting pastoralism and why those who engage in it succeed. These are a few highlights:
“…This…environmental enrichment is supposed to elicit a higher degree of behavioral diversity by increasing the physical and social complexity of the livestock environment.”
“Farm animal welfare is a major concern for society and food production. To more accurately evaluate animal farming in general and to avoid exposing farm animals to poor welfare situations, it is necessary to understand not only their behavioral but also their cognitive needs and capacities. Thus, general knowledge of how farm animals perceive and interact with their environment is of major importance…..”
“Research in the socio-cognitive domain indicates that ungulate livestock possess sophisticated mental capacities, such as the discrimination between, and recognition of, conspecifics as well as human handlers using multiple modalities.”
“Thus, cognitive research on farm animals has the potential to highlight mismatches between current husbandry practices and adaptive abilities of livestock.”
“…each species has a set of capabilities which are intrinsically valuable, meaning that behaviour based on these capabilities is a value in itself and does not just have an instrumental value. Carrying out such capabilities is essential to the flourishing of members of that species…However, carrying out pro-social care behavior in housing systems that isolate and restrain animals might be impossible. The same might be true of social animals that are frequently separated and regrouped according to productivity and reproductive state.”
“Livestock housing conditions are often structurally simple and offer limited possibilities to exhibit species-appropriate behavior. These limitations can lead to boredom and frustration, which promotes the appearance of abnormal behavior, especially that which is related to stress and reduced welfare….”
After reading this study, one has to ask an obvious questions. Why settle for imitating ideal habitat, when one can just as easily train a herd to go out and tap into what is already out there?
IS CONFINEMENT HUSBANDRY DESTROYING FARMS?
The Frontiers in Veterinary Science, cognition study by Nawroth, et al, isn’t revealing anything new. But it is emphasizing what pastoral goat herders, goat walkers, goat packers intimately connected with their goats, are all well aware of. We will discuss more of the aspects of goat behavior in an upcoming entry. For now let’s continue the focus of restoring pastoralism.
The fascination with goats of all sizes has been good for caprines. Many keepers of caprines have a close bond with their goats. Others are able to resource their farmsteads, by venturing into a stream of income that has been very lucrative, be it from milk, cheese, soap, meat or fiber. Even so, this explosion in goat raising has ushered in expected complications. For every good story there are numerous more of abuse, neglect and exploitation, and ongoing rescues.
Contemporary livestock management all too often revolves around the creature existing within the parameters the keepers choose to provide for them, but not what the animal needs. I don’t subscribe to the hubris that these are “just” animals. Many treat their pets with exceptional care and attention that they do not extend to hard working farm animals. Why not? Goats are our fellow companions – helpers endowed with an exceptional gift to work the land. I am sure when The Creator tasked Adam with dominion over this earth, His words to Adam were not, “Here they’re just animals, do whatever you deem fit to do, to your advantage and bottom dollar.” There is a sobering sense of responsibility that comes with caring for creation designed, inspired and gifted to us by the Creator. Anything less is shear arrogance.
We cannot continue to disregard the rampant neglect and abuse of children and animals among us. The decline of pastoralism, has given this sub-human form of behavior towards other species, a foothold to thrive among us like a cancer, for a far too long of an uncontested existence.
“…systematic animal cruelty is the currency of a soulless industry that has shattered American rural communities, poisoned our soils, air, and water, made family farmers an endangered species, and undermined our democracy.” ―Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
WHO REALLY CAUSED THE EXODUS TOWARDS VEGANISM?
Let’s not get our feathers all ruffled now. Recall the findings of Frontiers In Veterinary Science, quoted above? If this matter is irrelevant, or non-existent, then why is it so prevalent? On another note, why are farms nationwide, either throwing in the towel or teetering on bankruptcy? There’s a reason for that.
1. The enormous inputs required in confinement management exceeds the returns. Compounded by the less than ideal nutritional intake, which diminishes the quality of products derived from animals under duress. The difference in pasture raised eggs, meat, and milk is astoundingly apparent.
2. Furthermore, the awareness by consumers of the cruelty in production livestock has created a critical slump in the consumption of milk and meat. When America’s largest producer of milk is filing for bankruptcy, one can read the handwriting on the wall, so to speak. Yet the industry doesn’t get it. They blame the millennial’s with their vegan revolution. When veganism and vegetarianism goes back for thousands of years. Many Buddhists and Seventh Day Adventists are vegans or vegetarians.
3. Blame is also cast onto the alternative milk industry for stealing consumer profits. I for one, never fed cow’s milk to my family. Both of my sons, now adults, were raised on alternative milk. That was a decision I made 32 years ago. Though we all drink my herd’s goat’s milk today. There are millions of consumers who prefer cow’s milk, but have stopped drinking it due to the onset of numerous physical ailments that were not present in the past.
4. Could this “last straw” so to speak, actually be that more consumers are choosing not to consume milk or meat as their loud declaration of not supporting any industry that inflicts harm for the sake of consumerism? The lifestyle choice of eliminating milk and meat for countless others has proven to actually improve their health and ease their mind. There is a keen awareness as to meat and milk being a root cause for allergies, adverse affects to the digestive system, and a multitude of other ailments. Though milk and meat have been with us for thousands of years, a staple of nourishment for ages. We should be asking, what diminished the beneficial properties that were there before? These are the symptoms of 21st-century livestock management, not true husbandry, all pointing to a systemic problem. A problem that is literally changing our ability to provide food for ourselves. Unless we halt, and change it.
MISERY, A BY-PRODUCT OF MODERN HUSBANDRY
Goats produce far more than just the sustenance to humans of food or fiber. One of the most overlooked benefits and key advantages of goats is their symbiotic relationship with the land, in their ability to help maintain it. Present day farming and agriculture will have us confine the creature, and haul in bags of heavy grains and cheap hay, to later harvest from the animal what we desire. It has falsely represented authentic husbandry, with a harmful modality, that is actually an imposter to real husbandry. One that entitles it to reap as much from the earth and animals that it can consume. This system emphasizes that success equates to investing as little as possible with time and resources and then maximize one’s profit in the end. Regardless of who or what was used or misused to attain that profit. This is the “mamonification” of the spirit of the living man and woman. To do all that thee wills for the sake of money=mamon?
In my humble opinion, this is not husbandry, this isn’t even agronomy. These are deceptive impressions of true farming. A mutated invention that belches forth the consumption of its machinations. Churning out meat and dairy processed in the loveless, lifeless, and un-nurturing environments of their industrial assembly lines. Animals improperly culled, many maimed and abused before slaughter. This is the meat we bring to the table, to our children, to our bodies. Meat and milk devoid of beneficial sustenance, from animals that are no longer a representation of the revitalizing gift of nourishment they were meant to provide.
The full-time confinement system is plagued with a litany of problems. Arising from lack of clean space little to no fresh forage, insufficient natural stimuli or exploration, underdeveloped sensory skills to engage with the land, very little ambulant exercise, minimal exertion by walking (walking is not pacing in a paddock), and a demonstration of aggressive behavior because it prevents them from exhibiting natural behavior. Dry lots and paddocks providing a life-time of confinement does have negative affects on their health and psyche. Ushering in numerous physiological and cognitive problems like hoof rot, constant worm infestations, digestive complications, weight loss, destructive and injurious behavior, etc.
Pastoralism prevails upon first giving the goat what it most needs, before proceeding to take anything or expect anything from it. A foundational principle inherent in pastoralism is never to take, without giving back or first putting in. This is the precept that enables symbiosis in the process. It applies to the earth as well and when the system is allowed to work how it was designed, it is not difficult to see that both land and animal respond to the beneficial results.
THE REMEDY IS IN NATURE, WITH NATURE
There are numerous mindful herd managers and farm owners that are indeed doing an amazing job at raising their livestock in the most natural, nurturing environment available. Joel Salatin, has single-handedly inspired thousands to return to the land and start small farms. Voicing his success came, because he did not copy the principles of factory farms or industrial agri-business. Salatin advises is to establish enterprises that sell directly to the consumer, abstain from co-ops, government grants, and to love the land and the animals, to share the dream, be clean, be transparent and stay local. Joel is the founder of Polyface Farms in Virginia. An enterprise that generates more than a million dollars in revenues per year through a small farm, practicing and teaching pastoral and symbiotic principles, who serves a customer base of more than 2000 individuals in and around his community.
“Perhaps more to the point in light of recent Wall Street and economic developments, ….what values are more important than growth? Especially since cancer is growth….I’ve seen way too many successful small businesses gobbled up by deep pockets with shallow values…At this juncture of our culture’s reality, I would like us to immerse ourselves for a few minutes in an alternative innovative business philosophy. For context, please understand that we don’t do anything conventionally. We haven’t bought a bag of chemical fertilizer in half a century, never planted a seed, own no plow or disk or silo—we call those bankruptcy tubes. We practice mob stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization with the cattle.” Joel Salatin
Now there’s a mouthful. Yes, there are droves of herders providing ample acreage, and moving their herds using expansive grazing. Numerous others, if having small plots, are providing access to their goats time outside the paddock with long walks for forage within their surroundings, goat packing and hunting excursions. They bring branch cuttings and bags of leaves, provide sufficient apparatus’ for the goats to romp, climb and leap, and exert pent up energy. My hope is that these men and woman are not the exception, but become examples of the rule among goat herders the world over. That we become so keenly aware of the make-up and resonance of how goats thrive, that it will be common dialogue for us to easily and openly share these practices, without feeling like we are so different, or that we best not speak so as not to offend the common practitioners. The series Goat Walker that is featured here on this site is devoted to sharing glimpses of the lives of goat keepers that have chosen to take this path. In Goat Walker, we will bring you their stories as they implement and restore pastoralist methods in their herds.
A rather interesting arrival on the scene of goating, is the recent trend of the urban goat. Fueled by the positive elements of the goat’s friendly nature, and their herd instinct to belong, to love and be loved. They are very affectionate, and thus make excellent companions. However, this too with it’s noble stories has had its fair share of mishaps and complications due to a misunderstanding of the species, and what their inherent needs are. Goats make cute pets, but they are not couch potatoes. Pastoralism however, also lends itself as a useful modality in providing pet goats in urban area the stimulation they need and thrive in.
Regardless of the lifestyle or environment, I am addressing the common denominator which is the inherent make-up of the goat. The intrinsic design and innate quality that every goat has – to be on land, among the trees, on trails, in the fields and in the woods. The most vivacious specimens are among those nurtured with the wholesome ability to express this innate nature, yet still be a productive member of your family or herd. Whether urban or provincial, their resilient nature is well adapted to serve their goat herders, i.e. their companion goat herders, in nature and with nature.
PASTORALISM: A SOLUTION FOR THE CRISIS IN MODERN FARMING
Regardless of size of herd, from a handful to to a thousand goats, pastoralism is the essential element missing among goat herds today. Benevolent to the goat, advantageous for the goat herder, and for the land, it is the most ancient and beneficial form of goat husbandry. Though it remains a little known practice among American farmsteads and production enterprises. Yet the world over, this unrivaled method of raising goats still endures and is regularly employed every day. Goat Packers today are among the adventurous, successfully utilizing pastoral principles in training their herds, achieving reliable line dynamics, enabling the goat to be and do what it was designed to do, as assistive land stewards.
The South African government has partnered with The Herding Academy to begin training shepherds. They provide a year-long Herding Academy course, also backed by Conservation South Africa, that is intensely practical and field-based. Only 20% of the training is done in the classroom. “The demand for trained herders is phenomenal. In the short term, we literally need thousands all over southern Africa,” explains Johan.
The latest enterprise of commercial goat keeping is the goat grazing business. It too, is fundamentally based on the elements of pastoralism. If it works for the goat grazing enterprises having hundreds of goats, why not on our homesteads, farms, and in our urban neighborhoods with a handful of goats? Lani Malmberg, The Goat Lady has discovered the resourcefulness of her goats and has implemented them successfully into her business model. Check out her story and that of others pastoralists, in the video linked below.
If you have an interest in learning more on how to implement regenerative husbandry practices into your herd or want to learn how to implement the pastoral method, give us a holler. You can connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our email updates, or just check back here as we will soon be adding our next entry in describing the basic elements of pastoralism.
LINKS TO RESOURCES:
- Find all the pastoralism posts here on GYL Blog
- Frontiers In Veterinary Science – Animal Cognition Study, Linking Behavior, Welfare and Ethics
- Polyface Farms Principles – Joel Salatin
- Farm Health Online, Animal Health and Welfare
- Shepherding Nature Back Into The Future
- Pack Goats.com
- Goats Eat Weeds – Goat Grazing Today
- Herding Academy