This Bountiful Land: Pasture First Cutting


It was not the purpose for cutting and baling hay that the grands have a place to play King (er Queen) of the Mountain.

But the fact that they invented their own entertainment and burned off some youthful energy in the process (with digital devices nowhere in sight) is one pleasant side-effect of last week’s haying.

The purpose, of course, was to power the growth of meat animals who will digest the tens of thousands of round bales cut in Floyd County and turn it into protein for growing bodies like those of the grand daughters and me and other bipedal omnivores.

Each of these rolls–not the largest that can be baled–weighs 1800 pounds. Our five acres made 8 of them. That works out to about 3000 pounds per acre for our unmanaged field. Multiply this times the number of pasture-acres that have gotten a first mowing in June.  That’s an awfully efficient and productive conversion of sunlight into living matter.  But the hay is just a means towards another end.

It takes about 100 pounds of hay to make a pound of beef, and 150 gallons of water for a hamburger-sized portion.  The costs of a pound of beef are not all captured in the price we pay for it at Slaughters.

Every feeding-chain step between the primary producers (photosynthetic grains and grasses etc) and the ultimate consumer reduces the mouths that can be fed from that feedstock.

Watching this process unfold with the grand daughters–who observed this spectator event with great interest from lawn chairs on the branch bridge on Saturday–made me aware of the need to be a “mindful omnivore.”

There are a lot of reasons to think before we eat. 

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. When I taught 7th grade science I used that bully pulpit to set out all that good info on the hidden costs to make a hamburger. I hope that I encouraged the trend among that age group to go vegetarian.

  2. The trend toward vegetarianism (is that a word?) is a good one. I’m afraid our generation will be more reluctant to give up meat. My guy and I are down to red meat maybe once a week. The rest of the time it’s chicken, turkey, fish or vegetarian. So that’s progress for us at lest!