Merton Hill Farm
Situated on a hill and surrounded by woodlands and marsh, the Merton Hill Farm is a true gem. Much of this 223-acre farm is hidden from public view and someday, when most land in the Town of Merton is developed, this land will be it’s Central Park—a must see for all who visit this beautiful area.
Today, our Foundation is focused on restoring soil health on this farm. We do this via mob grazing (see sidebar), a controlled process that mimics the relationship the bison had with the prairie prior to the arrival of settlers. In our case, we use cattle as the bison and diversified pasture as the prairie.
For mob grazing to work well, the cows need high quality pasture like the prairie the bison roamed. Unfortunately over the past 100 years, our farming methods destroyed the health of our soils and with it the nutrient rich grasses. So we find ourselves confronted with the proverbial chicken or the egg scenario of which comes first… mob grazing or high quality pasture? Luckily the two work in concert:
We plant a large variety of seeds into our pastures—pearl millet, sorghum sudan, radish, common vetch, red and white clover, oats, barley, sunflower seeds and many more. The plants grow. The mob eats this lush and nutrient rich grass. At the same time, the cows poop and thus fertilize the soil in the pasture. We move the mob to a different one-acre pasture allowing the plants that were just eaten to grow again.
Each time the cows are moved to a new one-acre pasture, the cows eat and poop and then move again—giving the pasture a rest which allows the plants to grow tall once more. Our cows return to each one-acre pasture approximately every three weeks.
Plant diversity in our pastures is not only good for the cattle but it is also necessary for soil health as it provides food for the microbes that live in the soil. These microbes eat plant matter and, in turn provide nutrients to the growing plants thereby preventing the need for man-made fertilizers. Again, another interdependent cycle—just as nature intended!
What is Mob Grazing?
Bison grazed in a tight mob and moved constantly. By using portable fencing to create over 100 one-acre parcels, our herd of heifer cows (over 250 head) is able to graze in a mob and move constantly—just like the bison once did. This is called mob grazing. We move the mob of cows from parcel to parcel five times a day which allows us to accomplish several things:
- The cattle continually have fresh grass.
- The cattle fertilize the fields with their manure.
- The grass is not grazed too short—allowing the grass to grow again quickly so that the mob can return (approximately 3 weeks later) to that same one-acre parcel.