Our Farm

Sheep on pasture

History

Lizbeth and Stephen Shafer got our first sheep in 1980 with the support and encouragement of Lizbeth’s family,  who farmed in Dutchess County NY.  Our first ewes, not purebred,  had been the subjects of the shearing demo at the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival.  At Wethersfield,  the farm in Amenia NY founded in the 1930s by Lizbeth’s  father,  we began a very small  Romney flock the next year. The first three ewes  came  from Brenda Bothe (NJ) ; the first  ram,  from Peter and Patty Drape (NY).   With the very material assistance of our friends the  Blundells and of the Wethersfield Farm staff  we built up the Wethersfield Romney flock along with a fair-sized commercial-sheep operation.  

Wethersfield Romneys got Premier Exhibitor at the Big E in 1987 and 1988; Premier Breeder in 1988.  At NAILE in 1988 Wethersfield  had  Grand Ch.  Romney Ewe (If I remember right, she was a Bellairs.)  Thus for 30  years this flock has stood well at major eastern shows; see the Shows and Sales pages for details.

In 1992 we moved to a 250-year-old farm in Saugerties,  NY and changed the flock name to Anchorage, that having been  the name of the new place since the 1890s.  The move and the re-establishment could not have been done without  the expertise  of Randy Reuter, manager  1989-2000.   Ian Stewart lent a strong hand 2002-2003.   In 2004 we were privileged to have Graeme Stewart come as manager.    Not only is Graeme indispensable  to Anchorage, but he also has had  many roles in the  Dutchess County Sheep and  and Wool Growers Association  (of which –no surprise–Lizbeth’s brother in law Roy had been one of the original organizers).  Several years ago, Graeme was named Shepherd of the Year by the Association .  He  judges  sheep shows in MA, MD, NJ, NY, PA, VT and OH. 

Our farm was cleared before 1763  by settlers of Dutch descent.  In the 19th C.  it was known as “The Brink Place” for Capt.  John Brink,  who  fought at Yorktown and whose son Andrew piloted the North River Steamboat (later called Clermont) on its maiden voyage to Albany in 1809.   On moving in we found a lot of old horse-drawn farm equipment from the early 20th  C. and before.  The barns had no electricity and no water except a seasonal spring.  The slideshow takes viewers through  four seasons at Anchorage Farm today.

Stephen wrote in 1996 “Anchorage Farm is a riverbluff woodpasture steading, with a glade, a force, a dell, a kill, an edge, a chine, a swale, a rill, a scarp, a hanger, holt, a steep, an oldfield and a sheepwalk full of sheep.”

In 2014 we had to put down 19-year old Zephyr,  the gray  cat who is seen in some of the slide pictures.  In 2015 Lava the guardian black llama had to be put down at age 14.  He, too, appears in some of the slides.  Daniel the tricolor cavalier spaniel who’s in one of the slides, died a few years ago. and this year so did Jali at age 13, leaving Felix (5).  Graeme  has Nash the cream golden.  None of these dogs does a lick of work on the farm, of course, but they grace our households.

In  2017 we described  management this way, with an overture to “carbon farming:”  Skip this if you like, go to 2018 below.

We run about 13 acres of perennial pasture, mostly rolling with one steeper hillsides. We use semi-intensive rotational grazing for the ewe flock until breeding season,   when subgroups stay in larger paddocks longer.  We  fertilize the more level swards with composted barn bedding waste.  We don’t employ chemical herbicides. We use chemical wormers regularly as appropriate to age and breeding cycle.  Mature ewes are vaccinated against Vibrio.  Lambs get lasalocid in their feed to one year of age for control of  “coccidiosis.”    Other antimicrobials by mouth or injection are given as needed for treatment of symptoms or  prophylaxis against threats like neonatal pneumonia or chlamydia-caused abortion.   A few years ago we used 4-3-3 by Amsoil  as a foliar spray mixed with liquid lime on the two main pastures for two years, but have not applied anything except barn compost in the last five years.  The liquid lime kept getting stuck in the sprayer nozzles.

In spring 2017 Stephen and Lizbeth were introduced to “carbon farming”   when we joined the estimable environmental organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby.  CCL perceived several years ago that storing carbon in soil and trees through “regenerative agriculture” could improve soil health while removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air.  This low-tech method of sequestering carbon can make agriculture literally part of the solution to global warming instead of  its  being a part of the  problem. [Note  that crop and livestock agriculture accounts for only about 10%  of  US  greenhouse gases/year, being  a minor player in that sense.  That proportion seems outsized to many  environmentalists, especially vegetarians, as agriculture provides only 1-2% of GNP   In that sense the  sector's share of GHG is unduly high, but without agriculture  we would all starve.  The ag carbon footprint  can be made lower without long-term detriment to farmers and ranchers and without loss of productivity.   In concert with Graeme, we have launched several related projects on carbon management  here which I plan to describe more in future blogs from our web site:

  • Assessing our farm’s current carbon footprint (C-print) using our own tabulations as well as USDA COMET-farm; the English counterpart Farm Carbon Calculator; and the Scottish Coolfarm Tool.
  • Lowering the C-print immediately  We now buy  electricity for  the barns from Green Mountain Energy (100% solar or wind) through Central Hudson.  We had installed solar photovoltaic panels on one barn roof 16 months  ago, but they don’t have the capacity to supply  everything. 
  • Assessing the health of the soil under our pastures by soil samples, soil bulk density testing and forage testing
  • Assessing the pros and cons  of  how we compost barn bedding waste and spread what results
  • Assessing consequences of manure and urine  dropped on the ground
  • Assessing carbon storage in trees, which cover more than half our total acreage.

In Aug 2018 we have rewritten, added to and commented on  what's above based on observations   in the past year

On the farm are about 30 acres of woodlands, with most trees  less than 60 years old ; about 27 acres of what are now or were in as recently as 50 years ago  pasture; and about 4 acres of [barnyard plus building footprints plus farm roads plus stream area].  Some erstwhile grazing ground is now practically inaccessible to livestock and has become oldfield which we try to keep mowed amid scores of the stumps and still-standing  ash trees finished off  by the notorious Emerald Ash Borer.  See picture of oldfield, recently mowed,   below.

dead ashes

Another four or so acres that we have grazed in the past now have such a heavy growth of Japanese stiltgrass  (Microstegium vimineum, an invasive C4 plant)  competing with forage grasses that they are hardly worth the work of setting portable fencing   The picture below shows stiltgrass on turf that had been  grazed up to two years ago.  This piece of ground had been mowed twice in 2018 before the photo was taken on  Aug 27.

stiltgrass

In 2017 . sheep stood at least once on 17 acres of pasture, of which 13-14 acres are decent to good perennial pasture. mostly gently rolling hillsides with one relatively  steep  slope of about 15% .   Through 2017  we used semi-intensive rotational grazing for the ewe flock until breeding season,   when subgroups stay in larger paddocks for several weeks.  In May 2018, before breeding season,  we went to more intensive grazing management, aspiring to but falling short of “holistic grazing.”   This meant setting smaller paddocks, with average shorter on-times  than in the past. Deciding  when to open a fresh break was based on a field walk, not a pre-set schedule , but most paddocks were sized to be grazed in about 24 hours.  The ultimate in holistic grazing can have a fresh break  opened more than once a day. We did this only maybe 5% of the time.   Paddocks were bigger on the the third cycle because in a hot dry summer grass comeback was less but was still appreciable after a rainy second half of July.   We could not back-fence after every move because there had to be access to shade under trees outside the pasture reached through one of two gates.  Predictably, however, the ewe mob stayed mostly on the newest break so that ground behind them was  pretty much resting resting even when not fenced off. We have a slide show of the first four months of the new program, but to see it you have to have Power Point.

We  continued in early 2018 to dress the less steep sward with long-stockpiled  barn bedding waste.  It’s  not optimally aerated  but is considered by COMET Farm to sequester carbon in the soil it’s applied to.    We don’t employ chemical herbicides. We do  use chemical de-wormers regularly as appropriate to age and breeding cycle.  Mature ewes are vaccinated against Vibrio.  Lambs get lasalocid in their feed to one year of age for control of  “coccidiosis.”    Other antimicrobials by mouth or injection are given as needed for treatment of symptoms or  on schedule as prophylaxis against threats like neonatal pneumonia or chlamydia-caused abortion.

Common milkweed is listed as toxic to sheep but we don’t have much growing in the better pastures and if it’s there spare some patches   in mowing.  We also have hundreds of milkweeds around the house and garden that  mature as Monarch butterfly habitat. Our sheep are not  interested in eating weeds, not even those such as pinkweed (Persicaria pennsylvanica)  said to  be palatable to cattle, goats and (friends swear this is true) some sheep.  They would eat these, I guess,  these if there were nothing else they preferred. 

The picture shows a stand of milkweed in late August 2018.  In foreground is Big Bluestem   Large structure is an icehouse that no longer stores ice.  Small one is not what you think; it’s an old incinerator that now stores paint and fuel.  The bank is not longer grazed; it’s very inconvenient to get sheep to it.

milkweed

 

One way to promote carbon sequestration in soil is to get something — preferably forage, but even tolerable weeds– growing on every square foot of soil.  Here are two before and afters that show some success in that realm.

west of new barn seeded Jan 14 2018

         slope west of yearling barn Jan 2018 and again in Sept 2018 slope west of yrlg barn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Jan the slope above  had been frost-seeded with clover, then had 20 seedlings of common vetch planted in July,  There’s not a lot more vegetation to show for it, but there’s some.  The next pair of pictures, below,  has more dramatic  results. The left picture is of the east-west fenceline between two pastures in the North park, almost bare and beginning to gully in January.  In summer  lambs lounge in the shade along this line under the trees.  It was dressed lightly with “compost”  by wheelbarrow late winter, frost seeded with clover then scatter-seeded in late spring with annual rye sketchily  raked in.

lambpasture

       fenceline so of lamb pasture Sept 10 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What progress has there been on the   objectives laid out last year?

  • Assessing our farm’s current carbon footprint (C-print) using our own tabulations as well as USDA COMET-farm; the English counterpart Farm Carbon Calculator; and the Scottish Coolfarm Tool.  I  have plugged our data into all three of the established publicly available programs  as well as our layout cobbled from various sources.  The two programs from Great Britain look at a set of variables quite different from ours in the USA and are hard to apply thought their managers have been very helpful.  COMET has to date thrown us an un-hittable  curve by declaring that mowing pastures even once completely negates  any GHG  benefits from rotational grazing and spreading stockpiled barn bedding.  Stephen does not want to believe this until  he sees  more evidence, but it may be true.  Stay tuned.  Above-ground biomass cut and left lying may not return its carbon into the soil unless trampled in harder than our sheep  do compared to bison or cattle.  And of course if hay is made
    (we don’t) ,  a lot of carbon is taken out of that field’s soil.  Thus, we are hanging fire on our farm’s carbon footprint, waiting for a verdict from COMET.
  • It’s worth noting, though, that if carbon sequestration in our trees is counted, our farm’s CO2 footprint would be negative; probably the CO2-e footprint would be , too.  We  have about 7000 trees here.  Assuming conservatively that the average one is a 20 year old sugar maple, these are sequestering about 100 tons of CO2/year .  We can’t be complacent about the offset and are working to lower gross CO2-footprint .  It looks looks to be about 65 tons CO2/year, but this figure is in flux as I wait for more   guidance from COMET in estimating methane and N2O emissions due to  enteric fermentation and manure management.  A farm’s “carbon footprint” must take these into account, even if that farm does not use synthetic nitrogen fertilizers
  • Lowering the C-print immediately  We now buy  electricity for  the barns and the manager’s house from Green Mountain Energy (100% solar or wind) through Central Hudson.  We had installed solar photovoltaic panels on one barn roof in 2016 months  ago, but they don’t have the capacity to supply  everything.  Jan-July 2018 the panels generated about 1700 kwh.  Our new diesel truck gets about 13 mpg where the previous one got 9.  Our ewe flock is about 20% smaller than two years ago; so, grain and hay carriage and consumption are less. 
  • Assessing the health of the soil under our pastures by soil samples, soil bulk density testing and forage testing  In 2017 we did several score soil and forage tests and one CASH (Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health).  This taught a lot about sampling methods.  In a one-line summary, SOM (Soil Organic Matter)  was a pleasing   5-6% in most of our pastures and grass clipped from most was 14-15% protein on a dry matter basis.   There were problems with soil bulk density testing methods.  We   used slow air-drying instead of microwave, got some remarkably low number like 1.2 gm/cc.  This needs more work  in fall 2018.
  • Assessing the pros and cons  of  how we compost barn bedding waste and spread what results  Good help here from Mary Schwarz at Cornell and the Agro-1 manure lab.  Overall, our method (stockpiling barn floor waste uncovered in a wide rectangular pile for 6-9 months without turning) is not optimal,  but yields what looks by the numbers useful top-dressing of carbon.  There’s an awful  lot to learn on how to  use livestock barn floor waste.  The secret won’t be in the C:N ratio or the tonnage of organic matter  thrown on per acre.  The work of Prof David C. Johnson at New Mexico State  makes it clear that it’s the  mycorrhizal funghi in the compost that do the magic of carbon sequestration.  Our rather anaerobic composting technique will not maximize  these good microbes.  Learning curve here.
  • Assessing consequences of manure and urine  dropped on the ground I will drop this (pun intended).  It may be important for cattle on pasture; they  poop out much more and and trample more than do sheep. I suspect sheep manure on pasture gives up its carbon and nitrogen to the air.
  • Assessing carbon storage   in trees, which cover more than half our total acreage  With the essential help of foresters from The Black Rock Forest Consortium in Cornwall NY we made a start in  2018.  The team tallied  what species (both native and non-native) are here now, which ones predominate in various  mini-locales (limestone ridge, bottomland, waterside)and provided figures to estimate the current carbon storage and the annual rate of carbon sequestration.in the definitely-not-old-growth woods here.  We have more than 50 species identified on the place. Norway and sugar maples are the most common species of big tree.  Black jetbead
    (Rhodotypos scandens) is the most common bush that’s more than a foot high.  It’s an exotic invasive that we started noticing about ten years ago.
  • We have also begun efforts to get more deliberate diversity of desirable species  into what grows in our pastures.  An inventory of what’s there in 2018 is off to a slow start because Stephen finds it so hard to identify grasses despite books, you-tube lectures etc.  So we can’t tell you yet what wanted grasses predominate and where but promise to work on it.  Identifying weeds in pastures is much easier than differentiating grasses.  “I have  a little list,”   which will become a blog post someday.   Weeds, I have learned, can themselves be good for the soil even if sheep don’t eat them, as long as they are mowed before gaining ground, which is easier said than done.  We frost seeded very successfully  with two kinds of white clover late last winter, not visibly successfully with chicory.  We did some small test seedings in May  of Ray’s crazy mix, a cocktail from King’s,  along with annual rye.  We’d like to use more of the Ray’s mix but need a seed drill.  Tried also some plantings of big bluestem and common vetch in trouble spots; can’t say yet if either took well.

In early 2018 Stephen wrote a series of blogs about carbon and agriculture that are on the web site under News and Views