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%, 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%, 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:
- maximize production on your land,
- improve grass coverage, and
- 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,
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.
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.
- 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.
- Choose breeds that fit the environment for your retreat, i.e. no Scottish Highland cows in south Texas.
- Choose parasite-resistant breeds.
- If you supplement with minerals, take care to choose low copper minerals for all, as sheep are more sensitive to copper than cows.
- 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.