Hare Krishna Farmers Plant Eclectic Pastures in Pennsylvania
by Roger Wentling
by Roger Wentling
Reprinted from the Grass Farmer, August 1990.
Every now and then I come across a farm family with a unique approach to making the maximum net profit from grass and grazing. Ralph and Sita Laurino of Port Royal, PA are such an example. The Hare Krishna believe that cows are sacred and should not be killed for human consumption. The farm has 130 Brown Swiss cows and oxen that are used today solely as work animals.
1986 the farm had the highest butterfat average in Pennsylvania
when it was being managed as a communal dairy.
In the drought year of 1988, Ralph told me that is was only through intensive grazing management that he and his wife were able to keep the farm going.
With intensive grazing management, he said their pasture yield had gone up four times and the quality was better as well.
This year they started grazing 42 cows and 12 oxen on April 9th. By the first of May all 130 cows were grazing. Their primary grazing is 70 acres of bluegrass and white clover stocked with 80 cows.
Another 50 cows rotationally graze woodlands and Ralph uses them on the intensively grazed pastures when the grass growth gets ahead of the cows on the bluegrass and white clover.
This year he is also planning to graze standing corn in November. These corn paddocks will have previously been interseeded with broadcast winter cereal rye and yellow sweet clover.
They figure to get six grazings of alfalfa/timothy this year from an eight acre former hayfield. They make alfalfa/timothy hay, pure alfalfa hay, and alfalfa/ryegrass hay. All corn silage production has been discontinued as too expensive.
Confident that intensive rotational grazing has given new life to the farm, Ralph and Sita have committed their limited resources to new seedings of forage plants that are probably among the most sophisticated in the Northeastern United States.
Ralph said he read British dairyman Newman Turner's book, "Fertility Pasture and Cover Crops" and decided to try some of Turner's eclectic pasture mixes of deep rooted herbs and legumes.
Turner's theory was that different plants concentrated different trace elements from the soil and by planting a temporary pasture (ley) of these plants and strip-grazing them off or cutting them for silage and then letting the cows eat their way through the silage stack the soil's fertility could be increased and the animals health and production improved.
It must have worked because Turner had the highest producing herd of Jerseys in Britain in the 1960s. Ralph said he purchased his main herbal pasture mix from Bountiful Gardens/Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Road, Willits CA 95490, who imports the seeds from Great Britain.
The fertility pasture mixture consists of ryegrass, chicory, yarrow, burnet, sheep's parsley, red and white clover.
Ralph has planted this at a rate of 20 pounds of seed per acres on a 5.3 acre paddock.
He also has planted a 7.5 acre paddock with an alfalfa based mix that consists of alfalfa, red clover, timothy, tall fescue, chicory, and white clover. It is also seeded at 20 pounds per acre along with 5 to 6 pounds of white clover. Wana is not as upright as common orchardgrass and creeps low to the ground which makes it an excellent companion for white clover.
On another 6 acre paddock he has planted six acres of bird's-foot trefoil and reed canary grass at 7 pounds per acre of each. All of the seedlings were made into ground that had been plowed, disced and harrowed. The grain drill used had grass boxes and the ground was cultipacked after seeding.
This will be Ralph's third year of grazing standing corn while it is in the milk stage. Standing corn is a good insurance policy against summer heat and drought in areas with predominately cool-season pastures. Ralph said the cows vary the technique they use to graze the corn. Some will eat the ear of corn first, others will strip the leaves and start munching the plant from the top down. This year he is also planning to graze standing corn in November. These corn paddocks will have previously been interseeded with broadcast winter cereal rye and yellow sweet clover.
He also has 10 acres in an oats/Rangi rape double crop. The cows provide the manure for compost and the tillage power for the farm's acres. The two primary [commercial] crops on the farm are German Status and Staw Flowers. These are sold as dried flowers. The net form these unusual crops is around $5000 per acre.
A unique machine on the farm is an
The oxen walk in a circle and with the use of a big gear from the back of a cement truck and other smaller gears to provide torque they are able to run the saw. Ralph said some Amish in Kentucky showed them how to set up this type of mill.
The saw mill produced 100 cords of salable firewood last year for the farm. With this same gear arrangement, Ralph plans to add a wood chipper to the end of the power train to provide a low cost carbon source for the compost manure.
Ralph is thinking of using the deep treading method used by Joel Stalatin in Virginia and described by him in previous issues of SGF.
Sita is in charge of making compost and the spraying of Bio-Dynamic preparations on the crops. Bio-Dynamics is a new, and controversial, approach to agronomy and one that I ll explain in more detail in a subsequent issue.
The bottom line for me is that cows and grass, even when they provide nothing but yoke power and manure, are allowing people who care about the planet to stay on the land.
All Glories to Prabhupada,