Chapel Hill Creamery Grazing Season

Grazing is the centerpiece of our soil building program! Ruminants with their natural diet of GRASS are responsible for building the deep, rich topsoil that once dominated the great plains of our country. As we model this natural cycle, the work of our regenerative plan for soil building at Chapel Hill Creamery rests largely the on the shoulders of our Jersey cows. How does this happen?

First, the cows eat the upper, most nutritious leafy grass growth – the tastiest as well as the most nutritious! With intensively managed grazing, we leave enough grass residue after grazing so that each remaining blade of grass serves as a solar panel to capture the sun’s energy and produce new leaf growth. Leaving this much residue also allows the root mass recover vigorously, increasing biomass in the soil. Since the cows are constantly migrating to a new paddock, they are transporting their fertilizer throughout the pasture rather than in one or 2 favorite spots. This method of grazing gives the cows the best nutrition, keeps the plants and their root mass strong and healthy, and provides evenly distributed nutrients throughout the entire pasture. Organic matter increases. Life in the soil is enhanced.

Right now our cows are enjoying a smorgasbord of ryegrass, crimson clover, oats, triticale, vetch, white clover, and a few other tasty tidbits that have made their way in

to the pasture. It’s the time of year when the best, most nutritious, and most bountiful grazing happens. The nutrients in these grasses enhance the milk, and are then concentrated in the cheese. You’ll begin to see the increased grass component of their diet by the color of the spring-made cheeses – and know that the milk came from happy grazing cows!

A Greener World, which audits and certifies us yearly as “Animal Welfare Approved” has started a new pilot program: Certified Regenerative Farm. We are honored to have been asked to be one of 50 farms worldwide to join this pilot program!

We’re excited about being certified as a regenerative farm. While we have always considered ourselves to be environmentalists, this pilot program inspires us to examine our practices in great detail, and prepare a 5 year plan to improve soils, water and air quality….ensure sustainability in terms of staff pay/benefits….plan for the future through transition to the next generation on the farm…..and more – it’s an all encompassing program!

Each farm in the pilot program writes their own 5 to 10 year regenerative plan, in accordance with the guidelines of the pilot program. Each plan will look different because each farm is different. As we work on writing our plan for Chapel Hill Creamery, we will be sharing some detail about our current situation and the goals for the future. You’ll be seeing a bit of the “underbelly” which we don’t like to brag about – but this program is so inspirational we think it’s worth it to share our journey. Stay tuned!

On a very sad note: Andrew Gunther, executive director of A Greener World, died suddenly this week. He was a huge presence within the organization, and will be greatly missed. The mission will be carried on by the dedicated staff of AGW, who will remain committed to the work Andrew spearheaded.

A huge element of our Regenerative Farm Program is soil building. Tim MacAller from Four Leaf Farm is coaching us on ways we can bring our soils to their greatest potential. He and herd manager Allison Sturgill are discussing topsoil depth, carbon sequestering, and tillage pros and cons.

For 20 years we have been improving our soil with our intensively managed grazing (more on this in a coming blog). We’ve raised the pH of the soil to about 6.8 which will produce a bounty of legumes and grasses.

We’ve mineralized the pastures for the health of the soil and the health of the cows. But we’ve never measured “life in the soil,” which is so incredibly vital to reaching the full potential of our pastures.

Now we are poised to enhance our soils with our own composted manure (more on our new Aerobic Static Composting in yet another upcoming entry!). And we’re also preparing to measure, on a yearly basis, our progress in building our soils.

We’re grateful to A Greener World for the inspiration to take these additional steps to providing the best possible nutrition to the cows! And a big thanks to Tim for contributing his expertise!

Grazing is the centerpiece of our soil building program! Ruminants, with their traditional diet of GRASS, are responsible for building the deep, rich topsoil that once dominated the great plains of our country. As we model this natural cycle, the work of our regenerative plan for soil building at Chapel Hill Creamery rests largely on the shoulders of our Jersey cows. How does this happen?

First, the cows eat the upper, most nutritious leafy grass growth – the tastiest as well as the most nutritious! With intensively managed grazing, we leave enough grass residue after grazing so that each remaining blade of grass serves as a solar panel to capture the sun’s energy and produce new leafiness. Leaving this residue also allows the root mass to recover vigorously, increasing biomass in the soil.

Since the cows are constantly migrating to a new paddock, they are transporting their fertilizer throughout the pasture rather than in one or two favorite spots. This method of grazing gives the cows the best nutrition, keeps the plants and their root mass strong and healthy, and provides evenly distributed nutrients throughout the entire pasture. Organic matter increases. Life in the soil is enhanced.

Right now our cows are enjoying a smorgasbord of ryegrass, crimson clover, oats, triticale, vetch, white clover, and a few other tasty tidbits that have made their way into the pasture. It’s the time of year when the best, most nutritious, and most bountiful grazing happens.

The nutrients in these grasses enhance the milk, and are then concentrated in the cheese. You’ll begin to see the increased grass component of their diet in the color of the spring-made cheeses – and know that the milk came from happy grazing cows!

Yes, we like to keep our infrastructure as simple as possible; and yes, we want the cows to deposit their own “fertilizer” evenly across the pastures as they graze. But there’s a considerable amount of manure that gets plopped in places where it needs to be cleaned up. The cows come in for milking twice daily and poop in the holding pen. When they’re in the barn they add nitrogen (poop, pee) to their bedding (wood shavings, high in carbon) and that bedding makes a great start for composting.

We’ve been working since January on our aerobic static compost pile. We build the pile with perforated pipes attached to a pump to push air into the material: the necessary ingredients are carbon, nitrogen, moisture, and air. Jordan has been installing our system, tweaking the mix of ingredients, taking temperatures to assure good composting action – and we are producing some terrific soil amendments for our pastures!

This program dovetails with our Regenerative Farm Plan. We’re using waste materials – bedding and poop –  to make a valued soil amendment. The resulting compost circles back to build organic matter in the soil, sequester carbon, produce more nutritious food for the cows, and in the process mitigates a fly breeding problem. For the time being, all compost is going onto our pastures – in the future we may add compost to our product offerings.

Participating in A Greener World’s pilot program for Regenerative Farm Certification is an inspirational experience for us at Chapel Hill Creamery. While we have always thought of ourselves as good stewards of the land, and conscientious environmentalists – we had not yet put into place specific goals for regenerating our little piece of the earth or the targets and timelines for achieving those goals. In accordance with the required standards of the pilot program, we develop our own plans for excelling in environmental stewardship and regenerating our own farmland.

Water and air quality are of course part of our regenerative plan, as is soil building, carbon footprint, and waste management – but so is social justice, community involvement, financial stability, humane animal treatment, biodiversity, and habitat preservation – all things that made Flo and me want to start Chapel Hill Creamery 20 years ago.

Many thanks to the great team at A Greener World for encouraging us on this journey to make CHC the best we can possibly be.  To support this new certification program on Earth Day week, we are donating 10% of our Saturday, April 24 market sales (Carrboro, Durham, and Eno) to A Greener World so that the program can be extended to more and more farms.  Come shop with us!

Here’s a great read: Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy! He’s written two others I can’t wait to get into. These books explain how each region’s own native plants and the region’s insects evolved over eons in conjunction with one another. Most insects are extremely dependent on specific native plants.

The insects, especially caterpillars, support the bird population, and on up the food chain. If the insect population is dwindling (which it is), then of course the bird population dwindles, along with all the other life supported by insects. Choosing native plants over exotic ones can make a real impact on preserving biodiversity!

At CHC we have a rich opportunity to enhance wildlife habitat on our 50 acres. Mixon, who was formerly with the NC Botanical Garden, is putting in a hedgerow along one of our fence lines – native plants for supporting wildlife, cover for birds, reducing the need for energy consuming and labor-intensive mowing – and, by the way, some berries to munch on during the evening walks along the roadway. This is one of the most exciting and fun parts of our regenerative farm plan!

But Tallamy’s point is that we ALL have a great opportunity to increase habitat, even in urban landscaping! If we and our neighbors join in the movement to use primarily native plants in our landscaping, we will create contiguous spaces which will support butterflies (and therefore caterpillars), birds, and other wildlife.

Check out Tallamy’s books, and also the native plant finder for our area, which lists in order the plants that support the greatest number of butterflies.

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