Taylor Malone owns a native nursery and edible landscaping business. As Project Manager for a nonprofit community group Build It Up he coordinates the food forests (public parks planted exclusively with edible perennials for the community) in urban Johnson City. Here is his blog post about the 3rd session of the Field School, held January 21st, 2016.

Integrating Animals / Animal Enterprises for Small Farms

Videos of the 4 presentations given on 1/21/16 are viewable at the ARC&D’s YouTube Channel: Anthony Shelton, cattle farmer & agent with Washington Co. Extension, “Getting Started With Beef Cattle”;  Tony Slaughter, Kingsport, farmer who has raised lamb, poultry, beef, pork; direct sale eggs, pork cuts and pork sausage; Matt Dobson, Telford, farmer who has raised broilers and turkey; Ed Bowman, Gray, farmer, on raising sheep for wool (and meat).

Handouts: alternativepoultryprod from ATTA / sheep & goat 101 from ATTRA / smallscalelivestock from ATTRA

As a beginning farmer without ownership of land, I have not yet had the opportunity to integrate animals into my farming enterprises. I’ve had brief and casual encounters with animals on friends’ farms, and most of the time everyone seemed to be quite happy with the arrangement.

In my garden, on the other hand, all is not as idyllic. The animal most integrated into my garden is a single marauding rabbit that ate over half of our sweet potato crop last year, snips off select fruit and nut trees at their bases in a pattern I can’t understand, and I swear once climbed a stalk of my hickory king corn to get an ear.

Nevertheless, I have not lost hope that animals can interact with my efforts to grow in a symbiotic relationship with myself and the community I serve, and thus I attended the Field School’s Integrating Animals course in late January ready to learn.

Four speakers from the NE TN/SW VA region covered in-depth information on cattle, sheep, chickens, pigs, goats, and turkeys in the space of two and a half hours. We dove in head long, and what I quickly learned from each of these individuals is that it’s not all roses even when you invite the animals to your farm. Disease, predators, feed prices, birthing complications, market fluctuations, theft, and profit margins can all be difficult challenges to maneuver. But with a lot of legwork, a good plan, a balance of conservatism and experimentation, and plenty of trial by error, integrating animals into your farm can be a healing and profitable path.

My personal farming passion is fruit and nut trees, and so I sought to connect everything that was said with how best to integrate animals with a tree crop based farm. At all the talks and conferences I’ve been to, I’ve learned that fowl eat grubs and bugs like curculio, who plunge their proboscis into stone fruits which later causes brown rot; that American guinea hogs are great for running under apple trees for post-harvest cleanup to reduce the presence of bugs and disease; that fruit and nut trees planted at wide spacings in pasture provides much needed summer shade for ruminants and produce for market; and a lot more buried in my notebooks. But at this course, I learned some of the most important and basic nuts and bolts of caring for each type of animal that somehow I hadn’t heard before, and I’m thankful that all of this was captured on video on posted on to Youtube for reference.

I felt a sense of reverence for these individuals who spoke, having a lifetime of experience living on the land with their animals, and felt clearly that, at the end of the day, despite all the challenges, what they were really saying was, “Go for it!” So hopefully soon that elusive piece of land will find me, and some farm animal friends too.