Multi-Species Rotational Grazing to Maximize Food and Income, Part 2

Multi-Species Rotational Grazing to Maximize Food and Income, Part 2

This is part two of a two-part series on rotational grazing. In part one I made the case for multi-species rotational grazing and described the benefits of it. 

What is Multi-Species Rotational Grazing?

Rotational grazing is simply moving the animals from one paddock to another to allow the previously grazed paddock to recover. In that way, the grazed plants, such as the clover, can grow sufficiently until it can be grazed again. The time for this rest varies greatly, depending on local climatic conditions, time of the year, and forage in question but is often anywhere from three weeks to two months. Very intensive rotational grazing, or mob grazing, is when a large number of animals are put in a small paddock for a very brief period of time (hours). While this can be an effective tool today, you will unlikely practice such an intensive method in a TEOTWAWKI scenario.

Very intensive rotational grazing, or mob grazing, is when a large number of animals are put in a small paddock for a very brief period of time (hours). While this can be an effective tool today, you will unlikely practice such an intensive method in a TEOTWAWKI scenario.

In our model, we have a four-strand, high-tensile electric fence around the perimeter of the grazing land, powered by a solar fence charger. This is a permanent fence with metal T-posts that is supported on the corners with six-inch wood posts. We find that the easiest way to rotationally graze the animals without having permanent paddocks is to strip graze. We achieve this by using plastic step-in posts that section off a slim strip of the paddock. When that paddock has been grazed 75{f08661e966cfbba2afdc219076bf0ce6e15467ec087bdfb769bbeccdbc1c77ea}, we move the herd into the next strip and allow the previous section to recover.

We find that the easiest way to rotationally graze the animals without having permanent paddocks is to strip graze. We achieve this by using plastic step-in posts that section off a slim strip of the paddock. When that paddock has been grazed 75{f08661e966cfbba2afdc219076bf0ce6e15467ec087bdfb769bbeccdbc1c77ea}, we move the herd into the next strip and allow the previous section to recover.

Unfortunately, as many readers may realize, parasites are a significant and ongoing concern with sheep and goats. Regardless of the livestock species, worm eggs are deposited in the animal’s manure, which then incubates the egg until it hatches. If the species that deposited the manure is allowed to graze nearby when it hatches, it will ingest the parasite. Repeated exposure of this kind will result in a build-up of parasites.

Rotational grazing is also a very effective method of parasite control, since animals are moved away from their manure deposits, which incubate their species-specific parasites. Further, when they return to graze, the plant growth will be taller and since parasites tend to stay on the lower parts of the plant, the risk of parasite contraction is further reduced.

This will become a critical issue in a TEOTWAWKI scenario, as dewormers and parasite controls will be not only cost-prohibitive but likely unavailable. Even if they are available, if you procure them, you inadvertently advertise that you have the animals, which may not be wise. Instead, choose animals that have some resistance to parasites, such as Katahdin sheep, and practice rotational grazing.

One alternative to rotational grazing for parasite control is the leader-follower method. In this model, species are grazed separately in paddocks and follow one another to clean up what the previous species chose to not graze without any fear of parasite contraction. We do not prefer this model, because it is more time and labor consuming, and it requires more fencing. Some do prefer it, however, and it can be an effective tool.

I would like to stress that this concept of rotational grazing is VERY important if you hope to:

  1. maximize production on your land,
  2. improve grass coverage, and
  3. control parasites.

Failure to use this management tool will likely result in an ever-increasing population of weeds and browse, which may be fine if you hope to raise only goats and sheep, but meat production per acre will be significantly reduced, as you will not be able to graze as many cows and you will definitely experience livestock loss due to parasite load.

Fencing, Protection, and Operational Security

Maintaining control of your livestock is critical, both now and in a TEOTWAWKI environment. Frankly, keeping cows contained is pretty straightforward and can often be achieved with a single strand electric fence.

Sheep and goats, on the other hand, are notorious for performing escape acts worthy of a Houdini award. If you’re fortunate enough to have a field fence (or woven wire) around your property, that will certainly suffice to keep your livestock in and most predators out. However,

Listen to our story in Audible format

However, most woven wire is 4” x 6” or thereabouts, meaning that goats can easily stick their heads through, get caught by the horns, and become a coyote’s drive-by fast food meal. Of course, you can dehorn goats to eliminate this threat, but it doesn’t change the fact that field fencing is more expensive and not suitable to some terrain.

Goats and sheep can be confined with electric fencing, particularly with electrified netting, but this is not only laborious, it is difficult to maintain a high electric charge with a solar charge on the netting. Moreover, in some areas (such as ours), it is VERY difficult to get electric netting posts into the hard ground when summer rains are scarce. The result is many broken posts.

Another approach is to use six to eight strands of high tensile to confine goats and sheep, and this works if the fence is maintained, but the model we arrived at is much simpler and less expensive. After two seasons of fighting a losing battle with the sheep breaking out in a leader-follower system, we simply put them in a permanent herd with cows, goats, and donkeys. It took a short period of time, but the result was that the mixed clan became a single herd that relied on each other.

Goats and sheep often played the role of an early warning system and retreated to the herd to present a formidable challenge to any would-be predator. As a result, while the sheep and goats sometimes venture a little ways off, it is only that…a little ways. At the sign of any trouble, they retreat to the herd with the larger cows. In the end, we found that the fencing wasn’t the solution; the herd mentality was. Getting the sheep and goats to be part of the cow herd solved this problem and is another reason we prefer rotational grazing to the leader-follower model.

Of course, an additional livestock protection tool is livestock guardian dogs (LGD’s), such as Great Pyrenees or Anatolian Shepherds. Many homesteaders use this approach, and these indeed normally keep coyotes and other predators away.

In a grid-down situation, you’ll be grateful for a solar charger

However, they should be used with caution in a grid-down situation, as their greatest weapon (constant night barking) will surely call attention to your retreat. Now, this could also be desirable if you want the menacing growl of the LGD’s to deter invaders, but if that is your aim you may be better off with a German Shepherd or the like just inside your yard or house.

To our way of thinking, we’d like to preserve operational security (OPSEC) by keeping animals protected AND quiet. To achieve this, we use donkeys as very effective guardian animals, instead of dogs. They are part of the herd, just like all the others, and our two donkeys often stand quietly facing opposite directions, ready to stomp any invader. Also, unlike LGD’s, donkeys are inexpensive (sometimes free on Craigslist) to purchase and FREE to feed!

As you may have noticed, we also think quite a bit about the best way to keep our herd quiet to preserve OPSEC. An obvious way is to not have noisy animals, such as roosters, as part of the mix. The same is true with bulls, who will call for the cows, unless you keep the bull as a permanent part of the herd, but this may increase your risk as you will need to be careful around bulls.

Still, another consideration regarding noise level is how the animals are fed. One of the reasons we so love sheep, goats, donkeys and cows is that they can freely harvest their own feed and pay us back with protection, protein, and pelts. Simply match the species to the environment, and let them do their thing.

With pigs, however, you may want or need to give them supplemental feed, unless you have A) a breed of pig that is nearly feral and B) lots of land for them to roam. If you do choose to feed them, I recommend hand feeding daily in a trough and not using a metal feeder with a flap lid. Those metal feeders produce a loud and unmistakable noise that will be heard far away as the pigs clank the lid up and down through the day and night, calling attention to your bacon on the hoof.

You’ll achieve these goals of protection and OPSEC by allowing the herd to bond together, protecting them with quiet but alert guardians, eliminating inherently noisy animals, and not feeding them in a noisy manner.

Recommendations to Get Started

In closing, let me offer a couple of thoughts if you’re just starting out with grazing. Of course these are just ideas, as every situation, parcel, climate, and budget is different, but hopefully this will help get you started.

  1. Choose breeds that require little labor. For example, wool sheep require shearing, but hair sheep (such as Katahdin) do not. Also, ensure rocks are available for sheep and goats, so that you do not have to trim their hooves. In our case, we have never trimmed animal’s hooves, giving them the environment to do it naturally themselves.
  2. Choose breeds that fit the environment for your retreat, i.e. no Scottish Highland cows in south Texas.
  3. Choose parasite-resistant breeds.
  4. If you supplement with minerals, take care to choose low copper minerals for all, as sheep are more sensitive to copper than cows.
  5. Finally, in terms of stocking amounts, here are some recommendations for our neck of the woods, in the southeast U.S., though recommendations may be VERY different in your region:
    • PER each three acres of pasture/forbs/browse – one cow, one calf, two goats, one sheep, ten chickens in movable henhouses (no roosters), two turkeys. So, for nine acres, we would have three cows, three calves, three sheep, six goats, 30 chickens, six turkeys.
    • Wooded areas – six pigs per acre, moved monthly to new paddock, confined by solar-charged electric fence and fed by hand. For smaller herds of one or two pigs, try to locate adjacent to the garden for A) ease of feeding waste and B) monitoring.

I hope this two-part series has been a helpful introduction into multi-species livestock grazing. The aim is for you to not only survive a long-term grid-down scenario, but to thrive. Producing an endless supply of organic fats and complete proteins will help you and your loved ones to achieve that goal.

Multi-Species Rotational Grazing to Maximize Food and Income, Part 1

Multi-Species Rotational Grazing to Maximize Food and Income, Part 1

When new homesteaders begin planning their homestead they often first visualize an abundant garden, overflowing with fruit and vegetables, and focus their food production efforts on learning to garden. This is wise, but perhaps a disproportionate level of attention is paid solely to the labor-intensive task of annual gardening.

Vegetable gardening produces primarily carbohydrates, versus the less labor-intensive task of rotational grazing of livestock, which produces a perennial supply of protein, fat, and pelts (if desired). Also, unlike most plants, protein derived from animals is complete and includes all nine essential amino acids.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I strongly advocate annual and perennial gardening. We have a 5,000-square-foot garden ourselves, along with dozens of fruit trees, vines, and beds. However, over the past decade, we’ve practiced intensive multi-species grazing with cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, pigs, chickens, turkeys, geese, and ducks on our homestead, where we are serious about preparedness and long-term self-sufficiency.

We’ve gardened in years with plenty of rainfall and consecutive years of historic drought, only to watch the crop yields suffer greatly in tough conditions. The livestock, however, grew and sustained us regardless of the weather.

The aim of this two-part article is to share some of what we’ve learned and to encourage readers to consider multi-species livestock grazing, particularly for long-term self-reliance in uncertain times. This article does not include other important sources of animal husbandry that manage, such as rabbits and bees, since we manage those enterprises separately from grazing animals. (more…)

How to Make Money Farming Grass-Fed Beef

How to Make Money Farming Grass-Fed Beef

Everyone knows that you can make (or lose) money in the stock market. Let’s dive into the other “stock” market and discuss how to make money farming with livestock. For most homesteaders this means cows, but it could mean bison, water buffalo, sheep, goats or pigs.

What about chickens, rabbits and other animals, you ask? I’ll cover those enterprises in another post. Let’s just define livestock as hooved animals, and for now, we’ll talk about raising cows for the grassfed beef market.

To get started, you’ll need adequate pastureland to accommodate these voracious grazers. But they’ll do wonders for you, both returning fertility to the land and cash to your bank account. Here’s an example of how they’ll do that.

If you were to purchase a young bull for $1,000 and five ready-to-breed heifers for $1,500 each, your $8,500 investment will likely produce five calves that will be fed for free (by their mothers and your pastures) each year for 12 to 15 years.

What can you do with these calves?

You could sell them as stockers when they are weaned for anywhere from a few hundred to, perhaps, a thousand dollars or so each, depending on market conditions at the time.

However, if you were to finish raising the calves as organic grass-fed beef, it is likely that each calf would become worth at least $2,200 for you (net). This assumes selling to consumers in urban markets. Often the prices are even higher than this and prices have been rising steadily over the past few years. That’s in your favor, but keep in mind that there is a ramp-up period of a couple of years before you realize any income, since it will take roughly 24-28 months to “finish” the cows.

This delayed cash flow is why many farmers layer other livestock enterprises, such as pastured poultry and pigs, atop their grassfed beef enterprise. The poultry and pigs will return cash much more quickly. However, since they require purchased feed, much more intensive management, and higher processing costs, you’ll find they’re not nearly as profitable as grassfed beef is.

Once your “beeves” are ready for market beginning in year three, those five heifers (now cows) will be throwing off about $11,000 per year in gross profit ($2,200 per calf X five per year). If they do this for 12 years, then your initial investment of $8,500 for the bull and heifers will return a gross profit of $132,000. Again, that’s only with one bull and five cows. If you have the land you an multiply the herd size to fit your resources. Try safely getting those returns in the financial stock market.

Safely Make Money Farming With Livestock

The nice thing about this financial model is that it’s very safe. Even if you lack the skills or time to market the product as beef, you can always sell to private buyers or at sale barns. Unlike with pieces of paper, such as worthless stocks, I’ve never heard of anyone having a total loss with livestock.

Staying with this scenario and assuming each cow needs one acre of grazing land, you will need approximately 16 acres of pasture. This is for, A) the initial bull and five cows (6), B) the five calves born the first year that will take two years to grow (5), and C) the five calves born the second year (5). After the second year the five grown calves will be sold or processed, clearing the way for the five new calves born the third year, keeping the pasture demand static at 16 acres.

Now, there are entire books on this topic, such as Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef, and I encourage you to read them if this path interests you. We raised and marketed grassfed beef for years and found it very rewarding, both in terms of the relationships developed with our animals and our loyal customers. That’s my wife and I above with our herd of Murray Grey cattle and Katahdin sheep, and here’s a link to a story CNN did on our farm several years ago.

Of course, generating these high returns may require that you purchase land for the animals. While the chart to the left shows the national average value of pastureland to be $1,200 per acre, good luck finding that in most areas.

In my neck of the woods, pasture land goes for $3,000 to $5,500 per acre, which is probably a better average to work with for most new homesteaders. So, the 16 acres of land necessary for grazing will cost anywhere from $48,000 to $88,000 (not to mention paying modest taxes on the land), which takes a big “capital” bite out of the gross profit.

I emphasize the word “capital” because the land acquisition cost does not reduce your profit since, if you desired, you could sell the land at the end of the 12 years, likely get back at least what you paid for it and still have earned the $120,000. Plus you would still have a dozen or so cows left over.

Purchasing land ties up your capital for a LONG time, which is why you are entitled to the returns you can generate through certain farming enterprises. The returns go along with the risk and potential loss of capital.

Do you have to own land to raise livestock? No, you don’t, and some farmers follow Missouri farmer Greg Judy’s advice in his book No Risk Ranching.

Today, Judy runs a grazing operation of over 1,400 acres of LEASED land over 11 farms. He and his wife went from near bankruptcy in 1999 to paying off a 200-acre farm within three years using his custom grazing model.

Using the above example of starting modestly with one bull and five heifers, you could consider leasing pasture land adjacent or local to you for perhaps $30 per acre, per year. Your annual rent would be $480 for 16 acres and you would have no income from the grass-fed beef operation to offset this for the first two years.

However, after this, you would generate $11,000 per year in income, far more than you would need to cover the expenses. In this model, however, you would need to lease land that had good water (which will cost you more) or incur the cost of drilling a well. You would also have to fence it, as Greg describes in his book, but you would tie up far less capital. Perhaps you can even be debt free!

You may incur other minor expenses such as hay when grass is not growing, vet bills if you plan to use vets, and, of course, taxes on the land you own. But the income will drastically exceed the expenses… IF… you can market the product successfully. I cover marketing homestead products in chapter six of How to Make Money Homesteading. If you need some help/advice with farm marketing join my membership site Farm Marketing Group.

I caution you to avoid exotic animals unless economic times are likely to be very strong. In poor economic times, people want and need basic foodstuffs and materials, and your attempt to market grass-fed zebra may prove more challenging than you expect.

Stick what people want and know, unless you’re an amazing marketer. Stick with beef.

You can do similar calculations to scale this model up or down to suit your needs.

The point is this: putting cows to work allows you to generate a stream of FUTURE income, improve your soil, and create wealth over time.

Bottom line? There is big income potential with large livestock, but it requires land and the confidence to handle large animals.