I've spent the last two days talking about moving laying hens and pigs from outside quarters to comfortable inside quarters for winter. When we talk about pastured livestock, this is absolutely part of the pasturing part, even though technically during the winter these animals are not on pasture. How so? Because having these animals on pasture in the winter dormant season destroys the pasture.
Compaction, manure toxicity (because the soil life is not functioning to metabolize it) and pugging (stomping around on damp soil, destroying the vegetation) all take a heavy toll on pastures. Removing the animals during this vulnerable period is as important as putting them on during the virulent period.
The single biggest element that makes this indoor pasture protective procedure sanitary and hygienic is the carbonaceous diaper. Deep bedding. I mean 12-48 inches thick. This carbon bedding soaks in the manure and urine and approximates what the soil does when it's fully functional during the growing season. After the winter period, all of this bedding composts and we spread it on the fields to feed the soil. This whole bedding protocol, then, is part and parcel of our fertility program. We don't buy fertilizer, but we do invest heavily in fertility.
Of course, any carbon will work. If it's brown, it's fine. But the lion's share of our carbon is wood chips. Not sawdust, not bark mulch, but wood chips. The beauty of wood chips is that they concentrate from the tips of the plants (the branches and growth buds and leaves during the green season). The tips are where most of the biological activity is; where the growth occurs.
I adhere to the permaculture and silviculture concept that our forests are far too crowded, or weedy. Fewer trees in our forests would promote health and vigor, grow more timber, increase genetic superiority, reduce fire risk and drop more mast (nuts and fruit) for wildlife. In fact, weeding the woods would return them to the vigor of pre-European centuries when carefully planned and routine fires took out the weak, crooked, junky material leaving the most vigorous and often the largest trees to continue taking in sunlight and converting it to biomass.
Of course, people who use wood stoves for heat begin thinking about their winter stockpile this time of year as well. We have an outdoor water stove to heat our house and Mom's house and all our hot water. At 96, she keeps her thermostat at 78, so it takes some wood to keep her comfortable. This is a central system just like any other, except the furnace is outside the house and not inside. We also sell firewood. On a Saturday in November it's not uncommon to see half a dozen pickup trucks backed up to our for-sale pile.
We also have a sawmill here at Polyface so we mill our own lumber for all sorts of projects. As things begin to cool off and the snakes find winter quarters, we devote increasing amounts of time to working in the woods. It might be thinning for pig acorn glens, opening up an acre for pasture, opening up an acre to restart a new forest succession, cleaning out an overgrown fenceline, or whatever. Lots to do in the woods. That work yields firewood, saw timber for milling boards, and chips.
We purchased our first wood chipper more than 40 years ago--once Dad and I observed that we didn't get any fertility boost from manure spread during December and January. That's when we developed the carbonaceous diaper concept. We've had a couple of different chipper models over the years, but we've finally upgraded to a serious commercial Vermeer that can handle 19 inch diameter material. We got an excellent price on a used one a couple of years ago--remember, this is our investment in fertility (compost and winter nutrient leverage), pasture protection, winter animal comfort, and woodlot upgrading.
In all, we use about 20 tractor trailer loads of wood chips a winter. But with this machine, we can chip more than a tractor trailer load a day. You should see it eat up a 40 ft. pine tree. It's the ultimate man toy--noisy and powerful. In our big scheme, however, it's the ultimate machine to create a viable carbon economy.
If all the money spent on chemical fertilizer were diverted to forestry management integrated with livestock to generate mountains of compost, we would have far healthier forests (and yes, I'm especially including wilderness areas, national forest, and state forests in this because they are the most unhealthy forests in the country), healthier soils, more nutritional food, and a brand new vocation to employ thousands of skilled landscape masseuses. This sacred and noble work would affirm people who like to work with their hands, who enjoy calluses and splinters, and who have been recently marginalized by society.
So the food you're eating, does it support a carbon economy?