Cows are rather inefficient at producing milk. When a cow eats grass, most of the nutrients from the grass is turned into effluent or waste. She produces around 3 litres of effluent for every 1 litre of milk.
Plants are very different. They don’t have any effluent or waste nutrients. When a crop is planted, the plants absorb nutrients from the soil.
When the crop is harvested, almost all of those nutrients are taken away with the crop.
There is no waste nutrients with cropping. This is the problem with cropping. Crops deplete the soil of nutrients.
The farmer has to replace the nutrients that the crop took from the soil. That’s why crops require a lot of fertiliser.
Cows are good at putting nutrients into the soil and crops take nutrients from the soil. If you have too many cows in one spot we end up with too many nutrients in one spot.
Likewise if we crop the same spot we end up either depleting the soil of nutrients or applying lots of imported fertiliser.
Cow people defend the cows with facts, figures and graphs and plant people defend plants with facts, figures and graphs.
The first hint to understanding sustainable agriculture is to look to nature.
In the wild we don’t see vast plains planted in just one plant variety with no animals.
We also don’t see herds of just one type of animal stuck in one location.
Instead the plains and fields are made up of a broad variety of plants, grasses and trees. There is a mixture of animals in herds that move across the plains.
Sustainable agriculture is about managing the flow of nutrients. Plants take nutrients out of the ground and animals put nutrients into the ground.
The solution is not one or the other, it’s how do we include both into modern agriculture.
In the past a farmer may have had a herd of cows or a flock of sheep. They would also grow crops. Modern farmers have specialised and they are either intensive cropping or intensive animals. They’ve had to do this to stay profitable.
But not all progress is progress.
At Happy Cow Milk Co we promote a mixed farming operation. Crops mixed with pastures and cows.
A paddock may be cropped in year one, then a second crop grown in the second year and then the paddock is sown back into grass. It’s grazed for the next 5 years by cows, before it’s cropped again.
We know that customers love this style of farming.