Irish Grove Farms consists of 255 acres. Since 2006, 90 acres have been transitioned to organic management practices while 165 acres remain in conventional grain production. Our goal is to be a 100% organic farm as soon as physically and financially possible.
The 90 acres of organically-managed land consists of three separate fields. Two fields are used for rotational grazing purposes and the third is a large hay field. The hay field receives organic-approved soil amendments and fertilizers on a yearly basis, and the grazing fields benefit from a yearly organic calcium application as well as the urine, manure and hoof action of the grazing cattle.
The 165 acres of conventional ground also consists of three fields, one each in conventional corn, soybeans and wheat. While conventional farming is not our passion, we are committed to making sound financial decisions that allow us to keep the farm in the family. Jackie makes all seed, fertilizer, chemical application, and soil amendment purchases and also manages all grain sales off the farm, but we pay a local farmer to do the planting and harvesting of the crops. In the past few years, special attention has been given to the health of the soil on the conventional land resulting in yearly applications of highly-available calcium and high-quality soil amendments. The soil has responded positively to this extra care and we have witnessed improved soil tilth, water-holding capacity, increased earthworm activity and overall yield improvement.
Murray Grey Cattle and Rotational Grazing
In Irish Grove, we raise primarily Murray Grey beef cattle, a breed that is ideal for grassfed beef production. You can learn more about Murray Grey cattle here. We began with the purchase of 4 herd mothers in 2007 and have since grown to our current herd size of 35 cow-calf pairs (a mother cow and her calf is called a cow-calf pair), 20-30 yearling and full-size heifers and steers, and one bull. The cattle are rotated through organically-managed pastures in the summer months and are fed organically-grown hay in the winter. They receive no extra grain, hormones or preventative antiobiotics*. We do supply a free-choice organic salt and mineral supplement that is custom made for our farm. The cows absolutely love this mineral and I have to admit it smells delicious.
In order to fatten our cattle on only grass, we practice rotational grazing, a technique which has been proven to increase forage production and improve the cattle’s access to high-quality pasture. Instead of letting the cows out into the whole field at once, we divide the field into smaller-sized paddocks and let the cattle into one paddock at a time. When they have sufficiently eaten the grass and alfalfa in this paddock, we move them into the next paddock and fence them out of the space they were just in. Each paddock is given a 30-day rest period before the cows are allowed to graze it again. Rotational grazing results in a field of large strips of grass at varying degrees of height and growth stage. This is the tell-tale sign of rotational grazing and is what you’d see if you drove by our grazing fields.
Traditional grazing gives cows access to the whole field at all times. While any grazing is better than no grazing, cows in a traditional grazing system will return to eat their favorite forage over and over again, ultimately stressing the plant until it dies. This is why most permanent pastures are filled with weeds; cows don’t eat the weeds, the weeds thrive and multiply, the weeds ultimately take over the field. We have one 5-acre pasture that illustrates this perfectly. We call this our “sacrifice” pasture and it’s where we put the cows when it’s too rainy and muddy to let them out into the grazing fields. This pasture is full of weeds, mostly thistle. By contrast, our rotationally-grazed fields have very few weeds except in the areas with heavy hoof traffic (near walking lanes and water tanks).
Laying Hens and Pastured Eggs
We raise about 100 laying hens each year and sell the eggs out of a fridge on our farm. The hens have daily access to a 2-acre field in which they are free to roam about, scratch to their delight and eat all the bugs they can find. Some chickens are more resourceful than others and so there are always a few that also roam around our yard and scratch out the mulch and soil in my flower beds (much to my chagrin). The hens’ diet is supplemented with a mixture of organic, homegrown ground corn, a purchased protein supplement and an organic salt/mineral combo. This mixture of exercise, grain, bugs and grass has resulted in what many, many people have told me are the best pastured eggs they have ever eaten.
*We believe in the humane treatment of animals and therefore reserve the right to treat a sick animal with an antibiotic if necessary. We do not believe in nor condone the use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics to stimulate growth and prevent disease in farm animals, and do not do this on our farm.