A Positive Feedback Loop

It is true that “one person’s garbage is another’s treasure,” as Beth's obsession with thrift stores proves.

But with Mother Nature, the greater reality is that one animal’s pest is another being’s nourishment; the literal shit produced from one is the next’s food source. I pick worms off of the kale to feed to the turkeys, the goats eat the plants the cattle will not touch. Chicken shit fertilizes the garden (and if you want to get into it, so does human pee) and cattle poop is the perfect nursery for flies laying eggs. We learn this lesson in books and by watching movies – but to see it in action makes you really stop and question our reaction to the world around us. If ragweed is a nightmare when trying to grow corn but is a delicious and nutritious treat for cows, why fight it with herbicides instead of feeding it to cows? If invasive species like multiflora rose and asian honeysuckle are plants high in protein content, why do we spend countless hours mowing and spraying, trying to kill it, when goats can be raised on it and produce meat?

An untouched multiflora rose stands untouched in a pasture.
A young multiflora rose stands untouched by cows in a recently grazed pasture.

So, here on our farm, we are trying our best to change our mindset. But while it is all about balance, making these changes are also about labor and time. The reason most farmers do not allow nature to do the balancing for us is the ginormous amount of labor needed to maintain a fairly natural balance while producing enough food to survive on. Giving the plants in a pasture what they need for health and diversity might be a wonderful thing to watch, but it also requires moving the cattle daily during the growing season, a sisyphean task that allows no vacations or sick days. And how many years of NOT using chemicals will it take to get dung beetles back on the farm in the numbers needed to help break down the cow shit for us, thereby eliminating that perfect nursery that the flies so love? Isn't it "easier" to just spray the cattle with insecticide and call it a day, even if we are also killing off any dung beetles in the vicinity?


A cow pie, unmolested by dung beetles.
A cow pie that has been worked over by dung beetles.

Balance is not something you can just snap your fingers and have. It takes work, time, and money, even if all you are trying to do is restore balance to your own life, to find time for both work and play. Farming with an eye to maintaining a natural systems is a full time job, and by full time, we do not mean a 40 hour work week. The farm can consume as many 14 hour days as you care to put down its gullet, always with room for more. We are beginning to come to terms with this as a truth. We can only put in so many long days before we need a break, want a vacation. Wait too long and you risk burning out, which so many farmers trying to take the holistic route do. So what can we do besides take the odd vacation? I'm glad you asked. Our next venture is what we are calling the 'South Central Shindig', a meeting of like minded farmers and prospective farmers, coming together to try to find ways to help each other. It is clear to us that while we might be able to do this all on our own, we don't want to. Having other farmers, other businesses on the farm could give us the help and time off that we need to be able to keep going, and do the same for others in the process. If our cattle can produce enough fly larvae for a large flock of chickens, I'd be happy to watch those chickens for a week if their owner would watch my cattle for a week. And we'd both be happy to work in a garden that a third owner might plant, and even provide some of the much talked about shit to produce excellent veggies. What is important is making it work for everyone. We are on a course to stop competing and start cooperating. If this sounds like something that works for you, come on by.


The South-Central Iowa Shindig will be held at Whippoorwill Creek Farm, July 31,2021 near Lovilia, Iowa. Participants are welcome to camp overnight on the farm.


Contact Beth at bethaudio@gmail.com or Tommy at hexterth@grinnell.edu for more details and to reserve your spot!


Recent Posts

See All