A Farm for the Future

Excellent 5 part documentary. Highly recommended.

“BBC documentary on the precient global farming and food crisis, filmed in the UK.
Featuring Martin Crawford (Agroforestry Research Trust), Fordhall Farm, Richard Heinberg and others.

Topics covered are the influence of oil on the food production, peak-oil, food security, carbon emissions, sustainability and permaculture.”


34 thoughts on “A Farm for the Future”

  1. Hey Carroll,

    It may not be discussing forage for livestock, but Eat the Weeds most recent blog post shares a lot of information about Winter Forage.


    Remember that website from another blog post.

    Strange how things can sometimes come together.

    Seems like the way to winter forage is to follow the water, Carroll.

    Or possibly even swale/dam up your land to create a path of water for your livestock to follow.

  2. Owen:

    Most modern small self sufficient homesteads will still need a source of modest income.

    While it is possible to create complete self sufficiency and live like a hermit, humans are social creatures and are most happy with some type interaction with others of their kind.

    Modern homesteaders may want to live off grid, grow most of their own food, and have no mortgage. That doesn’t mean that they want to live without internet access, or the occasional delicacy that they are not able to provide for themselves. That requires some kind of income.

    One of the best ways for a remote homesteader to have income is by selling intellectual property over the internet. Writing, programming, etc. These occupations allow someone to ship their product around the world using a simple internet connection.

    I guess someone could become a Crocus Flower farmer and sell Saffron? That stuff is practically worth it’s weight in gold. That might be the most economically transportable agricultural product in existence. Sounds like a lot of tedious work though.

    Hey… if someone really loves flowers, maybe that’s their perfect vocation, though. Someone could spend their entire harvest season having plant sex, or would they be performing plant neutering?

  3. Thanks Jay. I appreciate your advice. And, I WILL consider everything you’ve said. No worries…you’re one of the good guys. I listen to the good guys.

  4. I 75% agree Owen.

    Smaller livestock are easier to deal with.

    At the same time, a big part of this blog has been promotion of building in areas with few or no building codes. This generally means more rural areas. The more remote the area, the more likely it is to have few or no building codes. (Obviously there are always some specific exceptions, but this general rule applies well.)

    If someone is looking to sell a product to market, it becomes difficult and expensive to ship fresh produce from a remote area. This is especially true when Oil prices soar.

    It makes sense to have a product that concentrates the nutrition into a smaller package that is easier to ship and brings a higher price per pound. It is simply smart business sense.

    Being able to ship a cow or a bison a few hundred miles to an urban market is a lot more practical than trying to ship a thousand smaller items to get the same return.

    There is room for both, but only if one uses good sense.

    Think of this as a massive permaculture zone map encompassing the entire continent. The urban cities are zone 0. The suburban areas, zone 1. Semi-rural areas zone 2.

    The most remote areas are probably national forests and national parks. Call them zone 5.

    That leaves zones 3 and 4 as prime areas for pasture land. Areas too remote from zone zero to make it inefficient to ship fresh fruit and veg.

    It kinda makes sense from a macro perspective.

    At the same time, if someone lives in a remote area and is not interested in selling a food product for profit as a primary source of monetary income, then there would be no need for that family to have any large livestock. Chickens or other small stock for personal use would be more than sufficient.

    It all depends upon each person’s situation, what their land is capable of supporting, and what their goals are.

    • I had in mind a small, self sufficient type of homestead. Farmers with larger herds most likely already have their own plan and ways of doing things, although they too could benefit from some of the ideas presented here.

  5. Carroll:

    You’re correct. I get my share of cold winters, but I don’t get anything like 6′ or 12′ of snow. More like 2′-3′ here. That does make a huge difference.

    I remember watching my Grandfather’s herd of cattle in the winter. They used to follow the same paths through the different sections of pasture. They would trample down the snow and pack it well, making the paths easy to negotiate. Of course, Gramps didn’t get 6′ to 12′ of snow either.

    I find myself thinking about a winding maze of hedgerows that the herd would trample down the path between them all winter long. Enabling the herd to have access to ungrazed portions of the hedges higher and higher up as they go along. Would this work? I don’t know. It would be interesting if there were a way to test the concept on a small scale cheaply.

    I still think my primary point is worth exploring.

    Observe the natural systems around you. Watch carefully what wildlife around you eats, and see how close you can come to copying that system.

    As I’m certain you already know, you’ll need to adapt whatever you do to your local conditions. You can look around at what others have done all you want, but you’ll still need to adapt.

    Another point about hedgerows. They also work as windbreaks. As I’m sure you have observed, windbreaks are very powerful landscape features. They tend to cause snow to drift up very high on the downwind side. However, depending on how the windbreak faces the wind, the snow can be dramatically less on the upwind side. This might be a great area for a herd to graze, at least on the days that the wind isn’t blowing.

    This effect can be amplified by use of multiple windbreaks. Each succeeding windbreak downwind will produce a smaller and smaller drift downwind, and each succeeding windbreak will have shallower and shallower snow on it’s upwind side.

    I encourage you to go out looking for this effect around you this winter. You may not find a series of hedgerows to observe, but you may be able to find a series of trees that are spaced apart just right that produce a similar effect on a small scale, if they happen to be oriented to the wind properly.

    However, it makes to have a belt and suspenders approach and plan for harvesting hay, alfalfa, and other food to supplement whatever your herd’s needs might be.

    As far as harvesting forage for your herd, I still encourage you to think beyond corn, and look to other sources of nutrition that can come from perennial tress and bushes. Look around you and see what that might be. Corn is nearly completely dependent on fossil fuels to plant, grow, and harvest in any significant quantity that could feed a herd.

    Fracking may indeed, TEMPORARILY , make the U.S. the world’s biggest oil producer again. However, fracking is also an expensive process, and it drives up the oil price. We have already pumped out all the easy to access cheap oil. The days of cheap oil we knew as children are over forever. Fracking also doesn’t produce oil forever. It’s a quick fix for the relatively short term. They’ll get a lot of oil out for a decade or two. Then those fields will quickly dry up. Each year the prices will continue to climb, and the costs of maintaing a herd with corn will skyrocket.

    You have time now to grow some big trees that will eventually become the foundation of a sustainable food system for a herd before oil is $1000/barrel.

    Bison may be expensive, but they are better adapted to your climate. Perhaps it makes sense to bite the bullet and begin to acquire a few of healthy reproductive age, and begin building a herd. Expensive bison can work in your favor too. You’ll see bigger revenues for YOUR expensive bison when you take them to market. Long term, what matters isn’t the price of the initial stock, but the profit margins you can sustainably achieve per acre of your land. If your profit margins are high enough, it may well be worth it to shift to bison production.

    Clearly these are big important decisions that only you can make for yourself. Please don’t take my comments as an attempt to tell you what to do. You are there. You live there. You know your own land the best. I only hope that some of my thoughts and suggestions expressed here might inspire an idea or two that benefit you, or someone else that might be reading.

    I really do wish you the best in finding the best way forward for you and your family, whatever that may be.

    • This discussion makes it clear how difficult it can be to feed a herd of livestock. Small livestock will be far easier to manage if things get difficult.

  6. Thanks Jay but, I’m thinking you live where it’s always sunny outside because letting them out to feed in 6 to 12 (or deeper) foot of snow, I’m thinking it’s going to be hard to find all those nuts and bushes, grasses you mentioned. Acorns? Really hard since they don’t grow where I’m at. I like the idea of free range but, I’m also a realist. What you’re suggesting isn’t a good idea where I’m at. s far as the electric auto’s, that “might” be an option but, not a sure thing. Cows don’t do well in low temperatures and Bison would be an animal I’d LOVE to have but, the cost of them is insane which is very unfortunate. I have to think about where I’m at and what’s possible. Goats would be good here. They hire farmers who have herds to “eat” and clear places of huge blackberry bushes. They’re very think here. Cows eating berry bushes? Not so much. Thanks tho’ Jay.

  7. Thanks. You’re right about horses and I’m way head of you on the tools. I was just wanting other peoples input on the subject. I was hoping others who read the blog were already doing this but, my guess is they’re unknown or not available for discussion or you have to go to their web sites. It was just a thought that I really had hoped people had already seen the writing on the wall and were doing it themselves.

  8. Well, the video you posted in this blog post started this discussion when Rebecca discussed her hedgerows. She discussed how her animals liked to graze on the hedges frequently, but she never thought much about those hedges as anything more than living boundary markers. Her new insights have opened her eyes to the abundance that her hedgerows contain.

    Bill Mollison and Geoffrey Lawton have talked about the advantages of having livestock graze in a forest ecosystem before. I can’t remember where I heard them talk about it, or I would provide a link.

    There are even non-permaculture agriculture/agroforestry techniques that have touched on this type of idea. Below are a couple of links about that. Note that these videos don’t exactly have the full relationship of using the trees as cattle feed, but they aren’t far from it. Especially when you consider that most of the trees will yield nuts that most certainly are a favorite cattle food.

    Silvopasture is getting very close to the concept we are discussing.


    Please try to translate those suggestions into permaculture practices, such as fertilization from animals and other plants. Strategic grazing can clear competing weeds instead of herbicides.

    The point here is that these intercropping concepts are not new. It’s an old time honored practice that is still being used, albeit less than ideally with non-permaculture methods. Take the best ideas from this video and throw away the worst ideas. Improve upon what others have done.

    My grandfather used to graze his cattle through his windbreaks every winter, just to clean up the underbrush and prevent it from choking out his bigger trees. However, Gramps never went all the way and created forested areas specifically designed to feed his cattle all winter. He still put up hay (with a lot of help from his grandson) to feed his cattle all winter. Again, take the best ideas and throw away the worst ideas. Take this concept and apply it with permaculture principles. Select species that can feed your herd.

    Basically, you’re trying to create a special permaculture winter pasture for your herd.

    Also, remember that most cattlemen do not try to keep their entire herd all winter. They usually sell off a lot of their herd every fall, and keep just enough animals through the winter for breeding next year’s herd. That way you don’t need to feed as many animals through the winter.

  9. Carroll,

    I think you’re missing part of the point.

    In an ideal situation, you wouldn’t need to invest your own time and labor, let alone heavy machinery to feed livestock.

    Seriously… big herbivores have roamed the planet for millennia. God and nature provided for them long before man learned to tend them. They survived floods, blizzards, and predators to thrive.

    Buffalo herds used to roam all over the American plains. They could survive the harshest winters. In some places they still do. They didn’t need any humans harvesting corn or oats or any other grain for them. They found their own food in the winter.

    Isn’t the best solution to design a permaculture system such that the animals can forage for themselves?

    That’s where edible trees, bushes, and other perennials come in.

    They tend to grow taller… as in up and out of the snow cover. Many of these plants can provide feed for livestock.

    Wildlife have been living on such feed stocks to support them during winters for millennia. That’s God’s design. Why do we humans have to upset that natural balance and feed our livestock from grass seeds in winter instead?

    Plant more edible hedges on swales built on contour. Hedges designed specifically to feed livestock in the winter. Then you won’t have to harvest all that grain to feed the livestock in the first place!

    How about harvesting acorns? Run them through a feed mill and feed that to your herd?

    My point is, expand your options. Plant a large variety of plants that can feed your animals. That way if a pest comes and eats any one plant… you have dozens if not hundreds of other types of plants that can fill the void.

    There is no reason that someone cannot create a Garden of Eden in the dead of winter for an appropriately sized herd of livestock.

    There are also other alternatives to fossil fuels for heavy work. Horses, as Owen suggested are a great option. Don’t forget mules… etc etc..

    If you plan on having a large herd, how about building a biogas plant to collect and process all of the manure? Then run a tractor on the biogas? Close that energy cycle.

    Seems like a nice relationship. The tractor hauls feed for the herd. The food goes through the animals and comes out as manure. The manure goes through the biogas plant to come out as methane fuel to power the tractor.

    The trick is to design your system such that there will be enough plant matter to feed not only the cows but the entire system without getting overgrazed by too many animals.

    There also are numerous YouTube videos of converting tractors to Electric. That would provide a Solar/Wind option.

    How about converting a pickup to Electric? Literally hundreds if not thousands of YouTube videos cover this topic.

    How about a Woodgas Tractor?

    How about a Wayne Keith style woodgas pickup truck?

    These options, if executed properly, along with an intelligent permaculture plan to feed each option could wean a family farmer completely off fossil fuels today… AND ENHANCE PROFITS.

    Many farmers have already taken similar steps successfully.

    I suggest the first step is to think beyond corn as an animal feed. Corn is an extremely inefficient way to feed animals unless you can throw lots of very cheap fossil fuels at it to grow and harvest it.

    Observe nature carefully in the area you want to live. Watch what wild animals eat in the winter. Experiment by hand collecting a few bushels of each item and test feeding them to a few cows, bison, or whatever you hope to feed. Find out what plants they like.

    Then grow those plants to create an abundant supply of winter feed that you don’t need to harvest. Let the animals harvest it themselves.

    • This is turning into a great post. You could create a forest garden for livestock. Mimic their ideal habitat. I haven’t heard of anyone doing this yet.

  10. Jay hahaha no I’m not a complete carnivore. I eat my fruits and vegetables. Owen was instrumental in me getting started juicing and I’m thankful for it. I do eat meat but, it’s mostly boiled skinless chicken and a small amount of bacon at times. As far as fracking goes, you would think that since there are many super intelligent people on the planet we’d have smart alternative energy systems for all climates 24/7/365. I remember the long gas lines back in the 70’s and I just can’t imagine what would happen to America if it all suddenly stopped from an EMP or something as bad. I suppose that’s part of the reason why I’ve been asking questions about feeding cattle and other livestock. I still would like to know more about alternative man and animal powered machinery to cut and gather corn and oats field etc. Because I truly want to go deep off grid, I’d like to have the knowledge to not have to depend on gasoline powered harvesting machinery. Anyway, this is a great post with many interesting comments. IF anyone has any ideas about the harvesting equipment, please leave a comment as to where to look. Thanks everyone. Now Jay, go and eat a thick steak since I can’t. Haha

    • Horses would probably be your best option. But they’re a lot of work and require special know-how. You can buy all sorts of antique farm equipment that’s horse driven. There’s lots of free info on the Internet.

  11. Carroll?

    Do you really ONLY eat meat?

    You never eat any grains, nuts, fruit, or vegetables at all?

    That’s what a carnivore eats. Meat only.
    It’s the opposite of a Vegan.

    I happen to be an Omnivore. If it tastes good, I’ll probably eat it. The trick is to find the right balance of different foods to stay healthy and happy. For me that includes meat, but not an overindulgence of meat. I’ll supplement that with huge helpings of vegetables, fruits, and a reasonable amount of nuts and grains.

    Well… that works most of the time. Unless I’m at a barbeque… then I often overindulge on meat. Hey… it tastes good.

    I just try not to go to a barbeque too often or I’d become the Goodyear Blimp.

  12. Thanks Jay. I’ll store that in my mental file. They say 20 years but, they just stated that the U.S. is going to be the largest oil producer in the world. Who knows for sure because disinformation is common today in the U.S. I have wondered how removing all the oil using wells and now fracking can effect the surface when you totally remove it all. Cave ins? who knows but, it does make one wonder sometimes.

  13. ‘Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal’ by Joel Salatin. Details both the grazing method and has a lot to say about the absurdities of modern building codes. Every now and again his religious fundamentalism hits you in the face, but aside from that an excellent book. If you want to go fully off oil, you can indeed build an electric farm tractor.

  14. The English pioneer of note was “Turnip” Townshend, Charles Townshend 1674 to 1738. His system used crop rotation to keep livestock fed through the winter. See his Wiki page ! But there were earlier civilizations, and others worldwide during Townshend’s time developing the ideas. Also see the Wiki page on crop rotation.

    In the UK we are lucky enough to have an accademic organisation, centred largely around the UK universities, called the British Agricultural History Society. It goes to great lengths to discuss the finite points of UK ( and some overseas ) agricultural history, publishes two major books each year as well as lighter briefings, and holds various conferences. Indeed my late father published his research ( on crop returns ) with them, and I’m a member. Their website is http://www.bahs.org.uk/about.html although I must point out that it is fairly dedicated stuff…

    Those of us who are vegetarians no doubt differ from Bill Mollison in that he’d probably tell us that Permaculture wouldn’t work without at least chickens and small livestock – but yes, the forest garden idea is a great way of doing things ! Anyone with a conventional holding could try it just with an acre near the house to start with.

  15. Owen Owen Owen you speak as a true vegetarian. That’s NOT what I wanted to hear. Makes no difference now. I found the information I wanted. I AM a carnivore. A meat eater.

    • Wow is right. Did you see the list of fracking chemicals? That stuff will be in the groundwater for thousands of years. So fracking is one more issue to research before buying land. I would not buy land where fracking is widespread or where gas wells are planned. If in doubt, watch the movie Gasland. Here’s the trailer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZe1AeH0Qz8

  16. Once the current fracking boom squeezes what it can out of the earth, our oil supplies will go into a major shock. Most estimates predict that will be within a generation.

    Large livestock can graze MATURE forests.

    The key is to avoid overgrazing.

    In fact, this may be the BEST way to grow fodder for large livestock. Forest ecosystems are far more productive than annual systems.

    Acorns, for example are a fantastic fodder food for pigs. Very underutilized.

    Many perennial trees and shrubs can be grazed for years and even decades without harming the plant, but careful tending and rotation of the herd is important. Don’t let the herd say at one place for too long. Allow time for the forest to recover.

    One of the biggest problems in National Forests is an overabundance of small undergrowth that is like gasoline in the event of fire. This could be managed by strategic grazing. Restoring nature’s balance of grazing animals helps keep a forest healthy.

    The key is to find the proper balance of grazing and recovery.

    Instead of feeding livestock grain, we need to feed livestock from perennial sources.

    We also will almost certainly be eating less meat in the future. That may be a more healthy lifestyle anyway.

    • Last night I watched an interesting video on silvoculture. A farmer in Florida combined pine tree farming with pasture and cattle with good success. Also, there’s a successful goat grazing program used in southwest US forests to reduce underbrush. There may be other good agroforest methods to consider.

  17. Are you referring to rotating the livestock after the fields have grown up with grass? If so, I believe the livestock would need something in the snowy winter. Grass fed livestock is good but, the hogs need corn for instance and the cows need grain etc. After watching the videos which suggest a world without oil/gas humans need to think about doing it the old way. It is about how to keep the family farms from dying. How to get the food not only for the humans on the farm but their livestock as well. It also said (not sure which video) that most of the farmers there were in their 60’s which rings true for me too but, they were wondering “how” to survive without fuel. That would be a great post. How to do it the old way. How to run a farm without fuel. How to feed yourself and your livestock without fuel. Most of us, I imagine are truly, truly green on this subject. As I see myself today, I would be able to go to the feed store and buy supplies but, what happens if there’s a breakdown and it would no longer be possible to do that. How to calculate how much grain would you need to grow for x amount of cows and horses and hogs. Anyway, these are questions that I believe would be a great topic to cover. I know I’m very interested in knowing these things. Thanks Doc

    • The easy way is don’t raise livestock. Go vegetarian (or vegan). Hunt and fish if you want meat. Or use aquaponics, build a fish pond, raise small livestock, etc.

      The livestock rotation system I mentioned is for mild climates. They’re grass fed year-round I believe.

  18. Thank you very much for this post Owen. I encourage everyone to watch all of the videos on this. It’s an eye opener. What’s interesting is now they are saying that America is going to be the largest supplier of oil. Bigger than the middle east. BUT, I bet anything that Americans won’t see a big difference in the price here. I like what you said about forest growing but, IF you’re going to have cows, pigs, sheep and horses as well as the chickens, ducks etc. just how do you suggest growing their food? This isn’t meant to be a slam at all. I really am interested in what you have to say on how to do that if it’s not the traditional way. Thanks again Owen.

    • Forest gardens can work with small animals such as chickens, ducks and geese, but aren’t suited for large livestock. They’d destroy everything.

      There’s a very efficient system for raising large livestock. I can’t remember the guy’s name who invented it, but basically it involves rotating livestock through several fenced areas.

    • Forest gardening is the most productive agricultural system in the world that I know of. It’s thousands of years old. I’ll even go out on a limb (speculate) and say this is how humans were modifying their environment up until the agricultural movement began about 10,000 years ago. Since then, degenerative diseases have spread from overconsumption of grains, meat, dairy and refined foods. Pres-historic humans and closely related human ancestors lived primarily on fruit and vegetables according to research at Johns Hopkins University.


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