Saturday, April 12, 2008

Micro-scale Grazing

The grass has finally kicked in enough that we can start our grazing rotation. This year I have enough grazers and an early enough start that we should be able to keep up with the grass. Last year some of it got way ahead of me and I had to mow it. It was too far along to make good hay even if I could have gotten someone in to cut it and bale it. This year we will use it all.

Goats and Cows grazing

We graze just under two acres with about 2250 pounds of grazing animals (7 goats and two small cows. There are also some kids and calves, but they don't eat much until mid-summer when we need the extra grazers anyway.) Pasture provides 100% of their feed for 9 months (except a little grain supplement for the does we are milking) and part of their feed for another month and 1/2. We fed hay 65 days last season.

Grazing paddock on the right followed by chickens

We follow the cows and goats with a flock of 60+ chickens. They finish off the grass, weeds, and kick around the manure. They also do a great job on the flies, grass hoppers, and other pasture bugs. The chickens get about 60% of their diet from the pasture during the growing season, supplemented with a bit of scratch grain and some layer mash.

Mobile chicken coop

We use Premier 1's poultry netting for fencing with the chickens and the goats. I only use one electric fencer and switch it from the fence containing the goats in the day time to the fence containing the chickens at night. So far, after two years, it has kept the livestock in and the predators out (with the exception of an owl who got a couple of stupid chickens last fall. If they won't go in the coop at night there isn't much I can do.)

Our farm has no perimeter fencing (maybe someday it will be in the budget) and the area we graze is across the yard from the barn. This forces me to lead the animals to pasture and back to the barn every day. It takes a bit more time than it would to just turn them out, but it forces me to work with them each on a daily basis. For a small operation with limited animal handling infrastructure, this is very important. I know my animals well and I can walk up to any of them in the barn or out in the pasture, clip a lead on them and do what I need to do (vet checks, medication, what ever.) It's not a perfect system, but it works for us.

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