This morning, as I stumbled through the knee high, dripping wet grass trying to reset my fences so my critters would have something to eat for the next couple of days, I wondered grumblingly why I do this. It isn't easy. In fact, this morning it was rather unpleasant. The grass was heavy with dew, it was cold (42 deg F), and the animals were all acting like idiots. I guess the gods heard me grumbling and thought they would have a laugh and teach me to grumble abut real things next time. The goats were all standing up against the barn gate watching me set up the fence. They wanted to be free. The gods obliged. Just as I finished setting the fence and started toward the barn I heard a loud metallic pop. The gate latch spun through the air, shimmering silver in the morning light. The gate popped open like a champagne cork, and twelve goats, a cow, and three calves spewed through the gap bucking, jumping and racing in every direction. After a few choice words I went and got the grain bucket and tried to round them all up. (We don't have any perimeter fence, so trying to herd them back to the barn or into their new paddock was out of the question. If I tried to push them they could, and probably would, run all the way to PA, or WV.) They wanted to play. I could get to within a step or two of any of them, and they would stretch out their neck to sniff the bucket and then bolt. An hour, and a few blood pressure points later they were all happily grazing in the new paddock. Some things in the garden got pruned that probably didn't need pruning, but other than that no damage was done. As I fixed the gate latch I asked my self again, "Why do I do this?" It would be so much easier to keep them in the barn all the time. They would do quite well on hay and grain and I wouldn't have to spend the extra hour and a half every three days moving fences.
So, why do I graze my animals the way I do?
Health - The animals are healthier being out in the sunshine eating fresh feed than they ever would be locked in the barn. The products we get from the animals are also better quality and healthier for us.
Sustainability - grazing allows us to produce most of our feed here. It also improves the quality of our soil and pastures. In the long term it makes our little farm more sustainable.
Cost - Currently hay is almost $7 a bale for square bales, and grain is just outrageous. We couldn't afford to keep the herd we have at those prices.
Philosophy - A fellow grazer summed it up nicely. He always says, " God gave cows legs and grass roots. Man, in his infinite wisdom, locks the cows up and then spends a great amount of time, energy, and money hauling the grass to them." I'm trying to work with the system that God (or a million years of evolutionary pressure) designed.