Farmer and homesteader, Darren Bender-Beauregard shares his thoughts with EthicalFoods.com on climate change and how last year’s drought impacted his permaculture based Brambleberry Farm in Paoli, Indiana.
Has your farm been affected by the drought or any other changes in climate?
Yes, we were affected by the drought but not as severely as most local farms. The only real problem we had was some pinkeye in our cows and a few calves, which likely came from the extra dust and possibly the extra coarseness of the tall grasses during the drought. Our only water source this year was a spring which we piped across the property and tapped into with hoses and a moveable stock tank to water the cattle herd.
I’m actually grateful in a way for the drought since I know now that this spring has some serious staying power. If I keep increasing organic matter in the soil with intensive rotational grazing and even some keyline swales and subsoiling in the future, the spring should only get better.
Another interesting affect of the drought was actually in the nutrition of the tall, seeded-out pasture. Drought can actually up the feed value in forages (if they are properly rested/stockpiled and not overgrazed), and I have a hunch that it helped our herd maintain good condition during my first year of learning how to section out fields into 1-3 day grazing paddocks. I learned how understocked we are on our property this year, but I was also glad that we never had to feed hay during the drought.
I’ve been seeing how much better condition the cattle are in when grazing on standing forage versus hay—I think our animals are actually gaining weight while nursing big calves all winter. Normally you count on cows losing a little over the winter with hay.
One of the ways that livestock farmers responded to rises in feed prices was to turn to candy and other unusual alternative feed sources. Do you have any comment on the use of this sort of feed?
From a larger-picture perspective, I totally admire anyone making use of the waste stream. That said, I personally would prefer not to eat lots of candy-fed meats simply because of possible bioaccumulation of slight toxins like dyes and preservatives (if a hog is eating 1,000 bright blue sour candies, and then you eat the hog, it’s sort of like you’re eating 1,000 of those candies).
Any other thoughts on how climate change is affecting agriculture?
I think it is one more reason to create resilient farm systems that can adapt to climate extremes each year. Creating too rigid of an operation can prevent you from adapting to a drought year and then an overly wet one the next. Diversity of crops, forages, and species all help to buffer climate-based losses in any one enterprise in a given year.