Farming is by no means the easiest or most economically viable way of making a living nowadays. But the local community in the Rogersville rural area still tries and the monks are happy to be part of this community. Mankind will always need farmers because farmers produce food. We believe that the smaller farmer will soon come back into his own as consumers become more insistent on knowing where their food comes from and grow more interested in locally produced foods. The new sensitivity to the environment will also favour the smaller farmer over the giant mass-producer. So we believe that any farmer who can manage to hang on in there may see his fortunes turn around. The monastery was founded with a specific view to monks who would engage in agriculture. There is certainly something to be said for those who are trying to live a life of prayer focussed on God the Creator being in touch with the land and with animals. Few monasteries remain that are still farming. Our Lady of Calvary remains committed to this style of life and tries to husband its forestland and make its modest contribution to the local agricultural scene.
The following analysis of our farm operation was made by agricultural advisors in March 2007, but see below it for more recent modifications to our farming operation.
The Trappists operate a dairy farm, broilers, and contract raise day old chicks until they are ready to lay eggs, 21 weeks of age, for another producer. Currently they have 75 mature cows, 40 heifers and 15 calves. Forage, pastures, forage corn and grain corn cover 350 acres of cultivated land. Slopes range from about 1% to 4%, and the soils are a sandy loam.
Mature cows are housed in free-stall barn year round. About 15 dry cows and 10 bred heifers have free access to pasture from June to October. Calves are housed in hutches until 2 months old.
The farm produces liquid dairy manure which is mixed with wood shavings from bedding. The manure is stored in an earthen lagoon. Milk-house wash water is added to the lagoon contents. 15 young heifers are housed separately and produce dry stack manure in a limited quantity.
Broilers are raised going through 6 cleanouts per year with roughly 40,000 birds each time. Chicks are also raised up to laying hen size, numbering 30,000 birds twice a year.
The fields are currently managed on a 6 year rotation. Four years for forage or hay production, one year grain corn and then one year forage corn. There is generally one cut of forage per year.
Since that analysis was made the farm has closed the operation that raised chicks to point of lay for another producer. From 2007 to 2017 the dairy herd was increased to 95 cows, with about 85 followers. But in 2018 the viability of the dairy herd was still in question. Brother Stephen, who managed it, was finding it increasingly difficult as he got near the normal retiring age, and there was no one else in the monastic community to take over. So the dairy operation was closed in April 2028. The arable land and some of the cattle installations were leased to a local dairy farmer. The poultry operation continues with 6 flocks of broilers a year.
The Pope on agriculture:
“Almost fifty years ago, my predecessor Blessed Pope John XXIII had this to say about the task of tilling the soil: “Those who live on the land can hardly fail to appreciate the nobility of the work they are called upon to do. They are living in close harmony with Nature – the majestic temple of Creation…Theirs is a work which carries with it a dignity all its own” (Mater et Magistra, 130-131). All human labour is a participation in the creative providence of Almighty God, but agricultural labour is so in a pre-eminent way. A truly humane society will always know how to appreciate and reward appropriately the contribution made by the agricultural sector. If properly supported and equipped, it has the potential to lift a nation out of poverty and to lay the foundations for increasing prosperity.” (Benedict XVI, Address to the members of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, 20 February 2009).
In December 2009 the animal rights organization, based in the United States, PETA, attacked us in the local press over our cows and chickens. They wanted us to go out of all animal and poultry production! The Abbot said that he would not change a thing. He does not believe that our methods amount to cruelty to animals, nor that they are contrary to Catholic principles. We do nothing that thousands of Catholic farmers the world over don’t do.