Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The life and endeavours of Peter Vido

Cuban Cigar at Midnight, New Year 2016

Peter Vido wrote the following 'bio' in 2017 as part of some emails he sent to potential collaborators in Central and South America. In recent years, he made great efforts to reach small farmers around the world to help them realize the benefits of scythe-based forage cutting and haymaking techniques when their animals would otherwise not be getting enough nutrition throughout the year. In this realm, Peter and his family have learned how to do what might seem impossible: In a place with only 85 frost-free days per year, and seven months of vegetative dormancy, their cows, goats, and sheep (dozens of them) have thrived on a strictly home-grown diet consisting of only hay (along with what's foraged from the pasture). This diet was the norm for their ruminants for about 20 years. The 'secret' is revealed below.

Born and raised in Slovakia, I emigrated to Canada in 1968. In 1974, after graduating from university (where I met my wife), we decided to throw away our paper diplomas (in biology and environmental studies, respectively) and put our lives' energy to what we thought of as 'more real' endeavors. By then we came to believe that small scale agriculture (rather than agro-industry) has long been the backbone of all civilizations, and that it is likely to remain so for many generations to come.

In line with that view, we chose the existence of small farmers, living in a very 'alternative-to-mainstream' manner, and more than 40 years later, we are still just that -- the remnants of the western world's 'peasants', so to speak, practicing an approach to agriculture we perceive as a sensible alternative to the modern (corporate-agenda-oriented) technological solutions to small farmers' challenges. For over 20 of those years we farmed 'our' 80 acres of fields and pastures using draft horses as the source of motive power. Our 16x24 foot cabin in which we raised 3 children is still 'off grid'.

Since 1998, our family's activism focused on the international advocacy of an 'ancient' (two millennia old) forage harvesting implement -- the scythe. In this field we have gained notable reputation both in the realm of design and technique, and have inspired numerous improvements at production level, globally. NONE of this involvement has been with 'entrepreneurial'/business/monetary goals in mind. Instead, we have been the (sometimes begrudged) watchdog/critic of the way this tool has been promoted and marketed during the recent years of internet-based mail order service...

From the beginnings of our 'career' as farmers and all along, our life has been intimately intertwined in co-existence with many domesticated animals (sheep, goats, cows, horses and donkeys -- all of which we maintained a breeding group of, rather than a few individuals). Our aim was to learn how to feed them well on a home-grown diet. And though we live in a climatic zone with only 85 frost-free days, we can (and we used to) grow enough concentrated carbohydrates (grains) to meet their nutritional needs according to dictates of modern science on animal nutrition. However, at some long-ago point in our experience, we came to question the wisdom of that approach... and gradually altered our strategy. 

Consequently, for perhaps 20 of the recent years, our ruminants have grown fat and produced plenty of milk on purely 'roughage' -- meaning only home-grown hay during the nearly 7 months of vegetative dormancy, and pasture during the rest of the year (still supplemented with home-grown hay ad lib. whenever the pasture is too lush or too wet from rain. This 'husbandry touch' is particularly appreciated by goats, as we determined by countless tests of milk yields over the years). 

The 'secret' here is that -- quality wise -- the sort of hay we have learned how to make, we could not very well buy anywhere in Canada. The technology we employ to do so is the same, in principle, as was used by peasants of old Europe for centuries before crude oil and combustion engines were discovered (and when grains were too precious to use as feed for cows). However, once haymaking became mechanized (and already during the period of Western horse-powered agriculture), a portion of the leafy contents of the hay was often lost, thus reducing its nutritional potential.

Of course, the modern science of animal nutrition came up with "dairy rations" (and other conveniences served from a bag). But how long -- we had asked 30+ years ago -- can such a 'welfare system' continue...? And is it even implementable, on the broad scale, in the so called 'developing/poor' regions of the globe? We do not think so.

Given that stand (along with the many years of experience in that regard), what I believe we now have to offer to the campesinos anywhere are some useful hints on how to provide better nutrition, particularly for ruminants, by utilizing the natural vegetation, harvested locally, at the most favourable stage composition-wise) using relatively 'sustainable'/'intermediate' technology.

Haymaking has been sorely overlooked as a method of potential nourishment in practically all tropical regions. As profiled in FAO publication "Hay and Straw Conservation (for small scale farming and pastoral conditions)", within the last couple of decades some changes have been taking place in this respect, but they as yet not broadly communicated. Besides (going by the stated cutting output per man per day -- the single most costly step in the process), both the tool and the techniques in most of the recorded case histories can be improved. This I have NO doubt about, and if given the opportunity, I can settle the issue ('prove' it) rather quickly... 

Well, I'd better shut up now, no? :-)

-- Peter Vido, 2017


Text and photo (with donkeys) from correspondence with Peter Vido.

Photo of the Vido family home in New Brunswick appears at Scythe Connection:

Line-engraving titled Old Father Time of Wiltshire,
by Stanley Anderson, R.A., 1944
Royal Academy of Arts Collection

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