Rooting Around for Inspiration

By Chris Freeman


Whether you're a a writer, a painter, a schoolteacher, an engineer, or a farmer, we all need a little inspiration from time to time. Anyone who has visited Walpole Valley Farms knows that we have a lot of creative solutions to the many challenges of sustainable agriculture. Even so, we're still mortal and, like anyone else, benefit from a fresh flow of ideas. So what do we do when we find ourselves in a slump of imagination? To date, we've not come up with a better way to get our creative juices flowing than getting off the farm and surrounding ourselves with other farmers -- like-minded people who are taking different approaches to reaching the same goals of land stewardship and humane handling. 


This week I had the privilege of attending a pastured pork workshop organized by the Granite State Graziers and hosted by The Farm at Woods Hill in Bath, NH. The small size of the workshop -- about 25 people -- turned the presentation into a friendly discussion about how to deal with various aspects of managing swine. Two or three people offered up questions about problems they were having with their pigs, and several others jumped right in with solutions they'd come up with after having similar experiences. Two hours later, I felt like I was ready to strike out and start my own pig breeding operation. And who knows? With piglet prices sticking at record highs, maybe it's not a bad time to get into that business!


Following the seminar, we changed into our work boots and hit the fields for a tour of the farm. The focus was on their pig operation, but there was plenty of inspiration to be had even in passing. The system that Amber and Justin (Farm Manager and Assistant Farm Manager, respectively) use for moving their broiler chickens around caught my eye from a distance. After asking a few questions about the daily care of these birds, I was convinced that we should incorporate certain elements into the system that we have here at WVF. Some of these components, such as automatic watering systems, are huge time savers. We installed them in our chick brooder this year, and managed to free up about 4 worker hours per week -- time that used to be spent cleaning and filling fountain waterers that can now be spent observing and interacting with the animals to make sure they stay in tip top shape. The Farm at Woods Hill makes use of a similar nipple watering system for their pigs (see photo below). The closed design helps keep the water clean for the pigs, and the design is fun for them to play with!

I'm always excited to see how other farms manage their livestock, especially when I get the chance to stop and ask questions about what works well and what doesn't work so well in a given management scheme. When I leave a new farm, it is always with an eagerness to keep improving our already awesome (if I do say so myself) way of doing things. I'm very grateful to people who put the time and energy into hosting events like this, as I feel that they really bring the agricultural community together. What do you do when you're looking for inspiration, and how can you help other people who are working towards similar goals? Share your thoughts in the comments section below! Who knows, you might just inspire a whole new round of brainstorming!

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