Circle Back Farm

By Michelle Koch | April 19, 2013
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The name of Tanya Daigneault and Don Chapin’s farm, Circle Back, says it all. “Tanya and I want to give back to the community in a way that engages our passions,” says Chapin. A veteran of the U.S. Military who studied engineering, Chapin calls his background “scattered,” but recalls having had some horses long ago. “My real love of farming grew through knowing Tanya.” Daigneault, a former health inspector on the Cape, and Chapin are now focused solely on the success of Circle Back Farm, located on several acres at their Yarmouth Port residence.

While there are now wonderful options for locally grown vegetables, herbs and fruits, and Cape-raised chicken, turkey, beef, pork, duck, lamb and pork, the local options for “milk, butter, cream and even cheese are limited or non-existent,” says Chapin. He and Daigneault hope to fill that void by opening a micro-dairy.

“There are many consumers who choose not to drink ultra-pasteurized, homogenized milk that is the collectively processed product of many farms. With milk it is especially difficult to know the source of your food,” says Chapin.

The challenges for dairy are especially tough on the small farmer. Chapin pinpoints two significant obstacles: cost prohibitive methods of production that simply cannot be scaled down to micro-dairy operations, and the availability of adequate land and pasture resources within many “local” areas.

Chapin and Daigneault are developing small-scale operations and equipment that can make a sustainable micro-dairy a more feasible venture for other farmers with a similar vision.

Proactively considering their own manure management practices led the two to develop a hot-composted manure system that creates compost free of pathogens and weeds seeds. “Especially with Tanya’s background in health, we knew we needed to effectively handle what our animals produce,” says Chapin, “both the good and the bad.”  The manure from their five cows is mixed with bedding and put into an insulated compost box two times a day. Pressurized air is forced into the pile several times a day, depending on the temperature. “We change the air cycling as needed. We want an optimum temperature to keep the aerobic bacteria and microbes functioning—above 142 degrees to kill weed seeds and pathogens, but below 160 degrees which would activate the anaerobic bacteria and cause odor.”

In less time than traditional composting methods require, this addition of forced aeration allows Chapin to take high nitrogen manure and end up with a very stable product. “The resulting compost is a superb soil amendment, adding organic matter, improving soil structure and increasing moisture-holding capability,” he asserts.

Circle Back Farm also takes a novel approach to pasturing their animals. This past July they began working in Barnstable with Massachusetts Audubon’s Long Pasture Sanctuary Director Ian Ives. “It’s a permanent commitment that is mutually beneficial,” says Chapin. “We are discovering ways that we can assist with the ecological management of the sanctuary while improving pasturing opportunities for our animals. Our cultivation, cover-cropping, and grazing all work together to help reduce the populations of invasive plants, improve the fertility of the soil, and eventually reintroduce native grasses and plants that maintain and improve wildlife habitat.”

The animals Circle Back grazes include five Dexter cows. The Dexter is a heritage breed that came to America from Ireland circa 1905. “It’s the smallest true bovine breed that hasn’t been selectively bred,” says Chapin. Whereas a Holstein bred for milk production can produce five gallons at milking, a Dexter yields a single gallon. But the Dexter also excels as a meat and work cow.

“It’s the optimal family cow,” explains Chapin, “being perfectly adequate for supplying some milk, providing meat and for doing harness work. It’s very rewarding to work with them; you become a team and develop rapport.” Somewhere down the line when Circle Back has more animals, male calves will be born. Some of them will be targeted for breeding, but when others reach 22-26 months old, they will be slaughtered.

Circle Back’s immediate goal is to become approved for raw milk production. Products like cottage cheese and yogurt would follow, but the certification process for those items is more complex than for raw milk, involving local, state and federal input. For now Chapin and Daigneault patiently commit to their compost production, and also tend to several Nigerian pygmy goats, which also graze at the sanctuary. “Raw goat’s milk needs approval, too, but we can incorporate it into other products, like soap, while we wait,” explains Chapin.

Circle Back Farm hopes to inspire people to become more actively involved with the local food movement. “When neighbors feed neighbors, it strengthens the community,” Chapin believes. It all circles back.

To purchase Circle Back Farm’s compost, call 774-392-5148 or email circlebackfarm@gmail.com and write “Compost” in the subject line.

Article from Edible Cape Cod at http://ediblecapecod.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/circle-back-farm
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