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12 Gifts Of Conservation: Christmas Trees & Sheep

By Brian Buehler

Grazing: Sheep grazing among Christmas trees on the Buechler's farm in Menominee County, MI. Photo credit: NRCS Michigan.

Dave and Donna Buechler worked with NRCS to graze livestock on their 18-acre Christmas tree plantation. Photo credit: NRCS Michigan.

Sheep grazing among Christmas trees on the Buechler's farm in Menominee County, MI. Photo credit: NRCS Michigan.

Sheep grazing among Christmas trees on the Buechler’s farm in Menominee County, MI. Photo credit: NRCS Michigan.

This month, we’re highlighting 12 important gifts given to us when we conserve natural resources: soil, food, plants, wildlife, people, health, protection, recreation, air, water, technology and future. NRCS’ mission is to conserve the full range of natural resources, including plants and wildlife. We encourage you to give the gift of conservation this season!

If you notice sheep and horses grazing among the Christmas trees on Dave and Donna Buechler’s farm in Menominee County, don’t be surprised. The livestock and trees get along just fine.

“Their grazing system was really unique,” said NRCS District Conservationist Craig Aho. “Typically grazing plans keep livestock out of forested areas.”

Donna Buechler contacted the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) about setting up a grazing system on their family’s Christmas tree farm after reading about the trend in Europe. Grazing systems are attractive to agricultural producers looking not only to improve the health of their land but keep their livestock healthy and protect the natural resources on the farm. The Buechlers graze ten sheep and four Haflinger horses on 18 acres of land planted in Christmas trees. They utilize a grazing plan and received financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Donna says that grazing livestock on their Christmas tree plantation has been a three-way win. Now, they no longer have to buy hay, mow or spray for weeds.

“Grass is the worst enemy of Christmas trees,” Dave explains.

If not cut, tall grass will cause the lower branches of the trees to die. The only mowing the Buechlers do now is to control the weeds the livestock won’t eat. Grazing has benefited the soil so that they no longer need to fertilize and Dave estimates that their Christmas tree grazing system is saving them about $1,000 a year from no longer mowing or using pesticides or fertilizers.

Following their dairy business, Donna’s family has raised Christmas trees on their farm for over 70 years. High in demand for its traditional décor in many homes during the holiday season and its uniting of families, Dave has sold many of the family’s trees at a lot in Palatine, Ill., near Chicago. He has lived on the lot from Thanksgiving until just before Christmas for the past 14 years. And every year, during this holiday season, is a constant reminder of the gifts of conservation that’s helped the Buechlers improve their Christmas tree farm, and other conservation works on their land that has engaged them.

It is an understatement to say that there’s a lot going on at the Buechler’s farm besides Christmas trees. Their farm could also serve as a demonstration model for conservation and small farm capitalism. In addition to their unique grazing system, the Buechlers utilized EQIP assistance to build a seasonal high tunnel, a covered manure storage facility and a roof runoff system that helps provide water for their livestock.

The covered storage area for horse manure is Dave’s second-favorite EQIP practice on their farm after their pasture fencing. They used to stack the manure in a pile and a nearby ditch, which caused rain water to turn brown, he said. That is no longer a problem and they’re better able to utilize the manure. They even provide manure to their neighbors who provide non-monetary compensation.

“We get suppers, we get desserts, the barter system is alive and well in the U.P.,” said Donna Buechler.