Rustaret Farm is a work in progress. When we bought the land, it was woods and cropland, the latter planted to grain crops, soybeans and hay in rotation with potatoes. We built a house and barns, put up fences, and planted grasses, forbs and legumes for pastures and wooded pastures.
Maintaining open and wooded grassland reduces erosion, creates a healthy environment for birds and for microbiota in the soil, and helps with climate change mitigation. We turned to heritage breeds for livestock that were hardy enough to live outdoors, required minimal care, and could fatten and raise their young on pasture.
Our Belted Galloway cattle live outdoors year round; the American Milking Devon and Kerry cattle have access to shelter in winter. We barn the sheep in winter, beginning in early November, when we divide them into seven or more breeding flocks. Our sheep breeds, Wiltshire Horn, polled Wiltshire, and Katahdin, all shed their wool naturally and do not require shearing or tail docking, nor do we have to deal with foot rot.
Our livestock graze our pastures for as much of the year as possible, and directly fertilize them with their manure. As forage growth diminishes in the fall, we supplement live forage with baled hay. Rustaret Farm currently has 200 fenced acres used for pasture and hay, including wooded pasture, all accessible by shaled lanes.
We use a no-till drill to maintain an appropriate mix of perennial species and to enhance the grazing possibilities by seeding in annual forage crops. We use rotational strip grazing to manage pasture growth, to ensure that the livestock spread their manure evenly, and to disrupt parasite cycles.