Jeff and Katie Belflower of Belflower Farms currently stewards a 75 acre lot of pasture, with 30 acres of forest, gardens, and homestead in Bostic, NC. This past month, the CRAFT members came to Belflower to discuss Pasture Management & Rotational Grazing for sheep and cows. Although not certified Organic, Jeff and Katie practice sustainable and conscious management with as little inputs as possible, and have never wormed or vaccinated their animals since founding their farm in 2016. In this article, we’ll discuss their breed choices, rotational grazing techniques and philosophy, and their partnership with A Way of Life Farm.
Breed Selection for Grassfed Meat
After a lot of research, Jeff landed on breeding South Poll cattle. The South Poll is a cross between an Angus, Hereford, Senepol, and Barzona, and was bred by Teddy Gentry in the early 1990s. The cows are moderately framed and bred for hot, humid environments (certainly applicable to Bostic this time in August!). South Poll’s origin was based on a desire to form a more heat tolerant animal with a gentle disposition. Because of its stout physical characteristics and breeding, the South Poll cattle breed will thrive off of grass in comparison to a standard bred cow that might be raised in a CAFO. Almost half of their on-farm income comes directly from live animal sales of these cattle to other farmers.
Belflower’s Katahdin sheep were purchased from Goldfinch Gardens in the winter of 2016. Well adapted to the southeastern climate, Katahdin’s are parasite resistant, bred for meat production, and don’t require shearing. So far they’ve had great success with them, and haven’t had to treat them for parasites.
The goal of rotational grazing techniques is the management and continuous improvement of pastures for both climate and animal resilience. Belflower has a very long-term rotational grazing management approach with 17 paddocks, with rest periods that allow for full recovery of the pasture.
The benefits of rotational grazing are multitude. Jeff is specifically concerned with the environmental impacts, after being a long time employee of the NRCS. Rotational grazing techniques can help increase organic matter in the soil, water retention, species diversity, and improved mineral/nutrient cycling.
Rotationally grazing cattle can take soils from less than 1% organic matter to close to 5% in less than 20 years. Belflower’s organic matter in their soil began as only .5%, but their goal is to steadily increase that percentage. A mere 1% increase in soil organic matter over 1 acre sequesters the equivalent of 36 tons of CO2! It is also completely invaluable for absorbing this area’s massive rainfall.
Almost 70% of the meat that Belflower produces is sold at the Charlotte Farmers Market through a partnership with neighbors A Way of Life Farm who markets for them there. The partnership is truly a win-win situation. A Way of Life gets extra marketing space and 10% of the profit. They also get the added benefit of having diversified offerings to attract more customers. 30% of Belflower’s meat will be sold directly from the farm or in bulk as a share to neighbors. Shares require a commitment to purchasing a half cow or more.
Thank you to Jeff and Katie for hosting WNC CRAFT at your farm! And thanks to Jeff who put together such a detailed handout (that I have pulled from significantly for this article!) We enjoyed being there and appreciate your dedication to sustainable animal agriculture.
Author: Sera Deva
Sera Deva has a B.S. in Microbiology & Agroecology from The Evergreen State College. She works with OGS as the Farmer Programs Coordinator and Conference Curriculum Coordinator, serves on the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Board of Directors, and is the Administrative Director for The Firefly Gathering. When she’s not geeking out over genetics, systems theory or soil hydrology, she spends her time growing and eating food in the South Toe Valley in Burnsville, NC.