Pigs on Trail to High Fields
If animals, human or otherwise, walk the same trail over and over they compact the soil, kill off the plants at the surface, destroy roots below ground and cause erosion. This is a natural process and there are lots of wild game trails out in the woods where the deer and the moose roam. Same thing happens on the farm and in the city streets. The difference is in the cities the trails get paved as people don’t like driving in the mud.
Out on the farm we don’t pave the land. Instead what we do is rotate the animals. They’ll walk a trail and then I move fences or the animals so that they use different places and the trampled areas regenerate. I’m learning how to make this work for us on the mountain where it is a bit trickier than flat land.
One technique I have figured out is that it is best when I can set trails and fences to go across the mountain as much as possible. This utilizes the foot traffic action of the animals to build terraces. The livestock gradually push soil down to the fence line where it builds up. Plants grow there in mounds anchoring the soil. The ground becomes ripples up the mountain. These ripples act as water bars to slow the flash flood of water from storms and from snow melt so that the life giving water soaks into our soil rather than washing away our nutrients. It is slower than using a bulldozer and it is working.
Contrast this with a spot like in the photo above. The trails lead downhill from the high fields. All the pig’s traffic from the upper ridge fields comes down through that one spot. They wear the ground. When rain comes it goes down the groove that the animals feet have made carrying dirt with it. Not ideal. This is an area I’ll be improving with switch backs. For now I move the fence to change where they walk or lock them out. The ground recovers and they wear a new spot.
Even worse was the ‘cow lane’ behind our farm house when we arrived here over 20 years ago. It is a 30′ wide path that ran up the mountain like the one above. For perhaps two centuries cows, sheep and other livestock as well as the moose had walked up and down it. The result is their hooves had cut right down to the bedrock. I’ve terraced it and stopped the up-down travel. Gradually it is recovering. Now it is lush with plant growth.
What is truly remarkable is that the land can recover. If a tree falls across a trail then soil starts building up behind the log. A berm develops. Animals change their route. Plants send down long taps to cling to the cracks in the ledge. They die and add their biomass. The trees add leaves to the pile each year. Perhaps a moose or deer doesn’t make it through the winter, settling into the small platform and dies there adding more food to the soil. In time the earth heals.
I want to prevent the wounds, to stem the flow and help the healing. It is working.
Outdoors: 62°F/33°F Sunny – Frost on wood last night, pumpkin leaves okay
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/66°F
Daily Spark: “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.” -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787