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Holy Cow! Highland Cattle Move to 80-acre Oak Savannah

“Come on cows!”   More than a few dozen youth and adults – some campers and parents, some staff, some volunteers – formed a chorus of calls for the herd of Scottish Highland cattle to move, for the first time, from the pastures on south campus at Angelic Organics Association to the north campus we call Kinnikinnick Fields, 80-acres of remnant, and degraded, oak savannah.  It will be the cows’ primary task to help restore this land.

Historically, this region was a vast oak savannah whose profound fertility was built up over many centuries in great part out of the symbiotic relationship between ruminants – buffalo herds – and prairie grasses. 

At the end of July, nearly two-dozen cows and calves walked the half-mile lane along the farm driveway, crossed Rockton Road, and entered into the savannah to the cheers of the onlookers.  The cows are now deputized as “land regeneration technicians” as they will be moving over the next three months in managed rotations that mimic, as best we can, the roving buffalo grazers.  The cows will pass through a timed series of paddocks defined by the run of a single electric line. 

Angelic Organics Learning Center will be closely observing the impact of their short but loving disturbances on the land.  We have seen this work elsewhere but we have so many questions about how our cows and our land will respond. How many unwanted species – like buckthorn, multiflora rose, reed canary grass, and honey suckle -- do the cows eat up and/or trample?  What impact do the cows have on native grasses and forbs? How does their brief presence impact the flood plain, springs and creek banks? As in the wake of a prairie burn, certain plants are favored after ruminants move through it. Which seeds are just waiting in the soil for the return of sunlight or the imprint of hooves to magically germinate and give expression to long dormant grasses and forbs?  Will the majestic oaks and hickories gain renewed vigor as cows remove species unable to gain a foothold here when buffalo roamed? 

This land regeneration effort is one part of our aim to heal the farm over decades.  Biodynamic farms aim to function as individualized living organisms where soils,  plants, animals and people work together to generate fertility and health from within.  When Angelic Organics CSA farm began, it focused on vegetable production. It took some years until, with the advent of the Angelic Organics Learning Center, an animal presence was reintroduced back into the farm organism.   The animal presence brings very physical things to the farm – like manures for composting – as well as more spiritual things like their intelligence, beauty, and social   engagement with farmers and visitors. Every healthy ecosystem includes animals, and farms, if they are to be truly regenerative, need an intentional way to engage animals that is good for the land, people and full expression of the animals themselves.

You can help support the healing presence of the cows and other animals by supporting Angelic Organics Learning Center.   There are many ways to be part of our mission:

And more!  Visit our calendar for a full list of upcoming opportunities, or reach out to see how you can get involved.  We - and the cows - hope to see you soon!

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