Good Trails


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

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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8 Responses to Good Trails

  1. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Walter, here in the west, on highway projects you sometimes see where a cut that is steeper than the natural angle of repose will receive jute berm rolls. The idea is that runoff builds above them, giving a place for vegetation to root and create soil stability. Expensive, and not, therefore, something you’d be using. And I fail to understand why they import jute from India or Bangladesh when we have cornstalks here . . .

    However, many years back I saw an idea in Mother Earth News, a method for making soil stabilizing mats using cornstalks. I tried it on a small scale in Santa Barbara on a little slope I had. You pound perhaps eight or ten waist high posts in the ground, and four or five matching posts a dozen feet away. Tie twine, cheap garden twine, that will biodegrade, between each matching pair of posts, then to the remaining posts at the more numerous end, tie slightly longer lengths of twine, and terminate those on a horizontal free pole. You now have a crude loom. One person lifts and lowers the pole, moving the weft, while one or two others toss in cornstalks, or small limbs or even berry vines as the warp. Anything goes. Tie off the ends, roll your mat and take it where you want it. Cornstalks are the most amenable to rolling and handling. On a steep slope you just peg the mat down. I used a few such mats, cornstalks across slope, of course, and threw on goat manure and bedding, keeping that stuff stable where our infrequent rains would otherwise wash it away. It was slow with just one man and a boy, but for your family it could be a fun thing to do occasionally. You could put two people on the pole, even. I know you haven’t much crop ground, but you might be able to strike a deal for cornstalks in bulk for pork or a piglet sometime. You obviously haven’t much free time while there is building weather, probably for years yet, but this is something that can be done in winter.

  2. Roger says:

    The wild game trails in the woods near your home probably meander and roughly follow the natural terrain, where-as the “trails” that are created by us in a city are much straighter and are purposely created to keep things in a more or less straight line and as level as possible.

    • Some what. Some animal trails meander with the terrain but some are amazingly straight crossing ridges or flat terrain. Most of all they take the least energy path I suspect. Interestingly, in cities streets used to be very meandering – look at the old cities. Modern cities like what the Greeks and then the Romans innovated to more straight lines, the grid plan, about 2,500 years BC. Eventual that came to Europe about a thousand years ago. Hope and I were watching some videos on architecture and these cultures. Very interesting stuff.

    • Bill Harshaw says:

      Not sure about that. I remember the college quadrangle of my alma mater–it had concrete sidewalks criss-crossing it, but after they tore down an old building and put up a new library the traffic pattern changed so people started walking across the grass as a short cut. One would have expected a short cut to be a straight dirt path but while dirt, it was curved! Taught me not to overestimate the common sense of people.

      • Aye, I’ve seen those curves. My guess is what we’re observing is the conflict in their mind between going directly where they want to go across the green grass vs staying on the straight and narrow paved paths. This puts up an interesting mathematical representation. Then once the path gets beaten down people become more willing to follow it.

        Void where prohibited.

  3. Andrew says:

    Walter you’re such a wellspring ofwonderful info! Thank you so much for posting this (and all of the other how to posts you do) You have saved me so much time (and money!) with your ways of doing things and your writeups of what you do.

  4. Joe says:

    I hope the folks who brought the suit in Judge Fiedler’s court take him to court for a sanity hearing. Not all judges are sane, you know. Since we, the people, are the government there should be no problem with throwing this sucker out, whether elected or appointed by some stupid politician. I hope the new American Revolution starts soon!

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