Benjamin and Elizabeth Mellady
Edgewood Soil and Water Conservation District
Ben and Elizabeth (Lizzy) Mellady run a small family farm, “Crooked Pinon Farm,” while raising their two young children Wolfram and Raven. Their farmstead is located in the high desert of Edgewood, N.M. within the Edgewood Soil and Water Conservation District.
In her own words, Lizzy shares their soil health journey.
Our journey began about four years ago with chickens, as it so often does. After building a fancy earthship-inspired, stationary coop we came across the wisdom of Joel Salatin via the book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal.” We devoured all his literature and learned about mobile chicken coops through his classic “Pastured Poultry for Profits” and quickly switched over to a small chicken tractor for our flock of four. Once we completed reading his collection of work, which frankly everyone should, we branched out into other regenerative agriculture big names, such as Allan Savory, Ben Falk and Justin Rhodes to name a few.
In the meantime, we built a home, got married and had a baby. When our son was a little over a year old, we became pregnant with our second child and breastfeeding no longer was an option. So, we added dairy goats. Of course, they weren’t trained to milk and in the end, we ended up abandoning milking goats for a couple more years. BUT, and this is a BIG but, we had already learned about pasture rotation through all these amazing agricultural pioneers, so our property was spared the pitfalls of modern animal husbandry. Starting on day one, day ONE you guys, our goats were used to better our soil and improve our property. From there, we added sheep to the mix (because who doesn’t love some homegrown fiber), and now our farm specializes in pasture-raised goat, lamb and chicken. We implement holistic planned grazing, as well as mobile electric fencing, which allows us the means and know‐how to move our animals to fresh pasture daily. Nine months out of the year they are fed directly off pasture, and during the colder seasons we house our herd in an open-air barn and our chickens in a hoop house with access to our garden area. We practice deep mulch bedding during this time, adding more carbon material to the barn and hoop house weekly to keep the area sanitary for our animals.
Come Spring, everyone is moved out to pasture, and the feeder pigs are then rotated through the two enclosures to aerate the bedding material. Once this is done, we spread the bedding onto our fields to create a layer of mulch and fertilizer. Throughout the entire year, we bring in loads of mulch and use it to cover any exposed ground to help with water absorption and retention. We have also begun creating small swales on problem areas of our property, allowing us to catch, spread and sink rainwater runoff.
Trees have also become a large part of our operation. We are situated in a windy area, and with that comes strains on our crops and animals. For the past four years we have planted hundreds of trees, ranging from fruit trees to native pine species. Although four years doesn’t seem like a long time, ruminating on all we have done in that time is inspiring, and we are just getting started.
The biggest game-changer for us has been spreading mulch as ground cover. It does such an amazing job of stopping water runoff and it stays moist for so long. However, with new moist pockets and fresh plant growth comes an apocalyptic number of gophers. Their mounds tend to pop up just days after the goats have been in an area, and then slowly make their way to areas newly blanketed in mulch. In the beginning, we thought about going the conventional route and setting up traps (because nothing can kill your summer garden buzz like a hungry gopher) but decided against it. Instead, we are setting up rocky alcoves to encourage gopher snakes, as well as being open to having predators on our property. This means living in harmony with coyotes, birds of prey and lots of snakes. Ask me again in five years if it worked.
Another thing we had to learn from experience was that an area is going to look DECIMATED after the animals have been rotated on it. You will think, “What have I done?!” But with a little time and faith, that area will come back better than before.
Living in central New Mexico does pose some difficulties, mainly drought. Our environment is arid and brittle with most of our annual precipitation falling in a three-month period. Just before the rainy season, we usually see slow or halted plant growth followed by repeated flash flooding once monsoon season begins. Some years, like 2019, we don’t even get a monsoon season. And if followed or preceded by a warm dry winter, it makes keeping the animals and land exponentially more difficult. We have helped lessen the negative impact this has on our pastures by creating a mulch layer on bare ground as well as follow a grazing chart to ensure we don’t overgraze.
Updated March 2020.