Grazing cattle good to maintain pasture

  • Stan Fry of Peterborough moves some of his cows from pasture to pasture on a Peterborough farm. Fry hopes to use public land to graze his cows. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Tuesday, July 10, 2018 2:37PM

‘I am very surprised” responded Mr. Fry on June 27, inadvertently speaking for us all who till and toil for preservation’s sake, when hearing the Peterborough Conservation Commission denied his munificent offer to husband cattle on public land for the common good.

This past spring, one of New England’s founding principles affording citizens the use of public land re-sprouted here in the Monadnock region. This foundational practice of a shared resource, the “common,” was immediately and curiously characterized as “unprecedented” and “setting a dangerous precedent,” though I doubt history or one blade of grass would agree.

On May 1 of this year one of our enlightened entrepreneurs and connoisseurs Mr. Fry gifted $50,000 to Peterborough in order to rehabilitate, restore, revive and resuscitate a 20 acre previously pastured field deeded to the town in 1986 by enlightened citizens such as Mr. Richard Fernald to preserve it from development.

Both Mr. Fry’s and Mr. Fernald’s actions beg the most relevant question, namely, how does one preserve a field that is inherently foreign to New England? As any hiker stumbling over stonewall fences in our darkened forests knows well, New England fields do only one thing naturally: they grow trees.

In order to prevent treedom and preserve a New England field as a field, or a pasture as a pasture, you must repeatedly ravage it. Our modern weapon of choice is unfortunately the fossil fueled CO2 belching two-ton tractor which, while mowing or haying, destructively compacts the soil year in and year out removing its own natural fertility while seasonally whacking the seedlings of the mature forest sure to come.

Then there is Mr Fry’s revolutionary machineless alternative which astutely captures the sun’s natural bounty in the restorative power of enlightened animal husbandry. Mr Fry’s proposal would do no less that what has sustained humanity for millennia, namely, rotational grazing.

Historically and presently in our great land we hold dear, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and the Midwest’s great plains were and are the nation’s bread baskets for one simple reason: rotational grazing. As vast now-vanished bison herds by the millions grazed on extended migrations, they grazed, they manured, they ravaged the soil, and they moved on, bison after bison, field after field, year after year, for millennia.

This “despoiled” earth was in fact regenerated yearly with unimaginable fertility and a re-expressed soil-bound seed bank creating a natural richness only nature makes palpable with deposits as much as 50 feet deep.

Mr Fry is proposing nothing less but on a smaller scale. With only 10 to 25 head of cattle managed holistically and rotationally, nature’s bounty manifest over millennia can be recreated with comparable results: a rehabilitated pasture, the solar conversion of grass to beef, and the incomparable nutrition of beef raised, as they should and must be, as herbivores.

There is no question that rotational grazing is the necessary antidote to the unspeakable shame of the modern industrial cage-and-corn based meat production that now feeds the unwary, and the devastation by synthetic fertility of our once great soils with armada’s of corn and soy now toxicly fed to cattle to beef them up for display in your friendly neighborhood grocer. In our time of enhanced sensitivity to unnatural separations, almost nothing compares to the gross shame of denying cattle their essential ruminate digestive capacity only available on their necessary and natural grazing habitat, the pasture.

Thus, as in so much in our modern era where technology dillusion appears to solve need, we have a moral decision to make: allow technology at great cost to synthetically distort and denature our food supply; or recreate nature’s fertile abundance at minimal cost allowing cattle the ultimate solar conversion to graze grass and thereby produce the healthiest food imaginable while regenerating the land for future generations.

Remarkably, all that lives benefits. In Peterborough specifically, the Conservation Commission can work with the Agricultural Commission to asses land use potential. Both can work with Mr Fry. The educational potential allowing school age interested citizens to witness appropriate animal husbandry is endlessly joyful. Uniquely, we are not talking about simplistic platitudes of love for all mindless of consequences, but the material fact of a working partnership that is a loving manifestation of land, animal and our own welfare.

Even Mr. Fry’s critic Mr. Fernald, who has political ambitions, might consider harvesting the farmer and allied foodie vote by embracing what is in fact our future and a return to nutritional and land welfare. He might also consider the regressive tax farmers in particular suffer who live marginally while providing such outstanding benefits to the land, to animals and our nutritional welfare, especially those equally engaged in rotational grazing.

Mr. Fry’s rare rotational-grazing-on-public-land proposal is morally responsible. It is additionally the most ecologically sound practice, not to preserve but to restore and rehabilitate these 20 acres to their unnatural state as a field. Peterborough has an extraordinary opportunity to reset the “commons” precedent with the generous gift of one of its enlightened entrepreneurs to exhibit the appropriate animal husbandry and land management utilizing our bountiful nourishing traditions.

We advocate that the Peterborough Conservation Commission reconsider the no-go to Mr Fry’s munificent proposal allowing him to further measure and assess, and potentially us, this land for the good of Peterborough and the Monadnock Region.

Peter Allen lives in Temple.