Thursday, September 20, 2012

Grazing Multiple Species on Your Farm

Grazing more than one livestock species on your farm will help you use more of the forages, improve the health and growth of your animals, and keep weeds (most of them, anyway) from taking over your farm.

Each species of livestock can improve the bottom line as you spread out cash flow. Poultry offers a fast return on investment and a steady income from batches of broilers or dozens of eggs. Larger livestock will convert low-cost forages into meat and can be raised and marketed with less daily labor.

Fencing Is Key

There are many benefits from grazing multiple species, but almost an equal number of challenges. The first is fencing. Keeping pastured poultry in pens means there is not (much) need for a good fence around the entire pasture. The pens serve as the fence. You will need a good fence if you are raising larger livestock. Sheep and goats need a hot electric fence, with at least three well-spaced strands. More is better.

Cattle are easier to fence but do not offer the weed control benefits of small ruminants unless they are taught (see Woven wire works well for sheep and goats; barbed wire does not. Existing fences can be modified to work for any animal, and if the existing fence is good, no modifications may be needed. It is helpful to show your fence to someone who raises the livestock you want to raise and get their assessment of any changes needed.

Cattle and sheep and goats may all “play” with poultry pens. Having livestock in the pasture with the pens may add difficulty to chore time since the larger livestock are curious and will often get in the way as you service the pens. Some producers like to keep bulk feed handy in the pasture with the poultry pens. That would be risky if larger livestock is present because they may break in to the feed and overeat, with fatal consequences.

For all these reasons, it may be best to graze the ruminants in the pasture ahead of the poultry and follow with the poultry. The ruminants will graze the pasture down, removing tall forage so the pens are easier to move and poultry can graze the shorter, more tender forage.

Poultry will also scratch through manure pats, exposing internal parasite larvae to the drying effects of sunlight and heat and consuming some of them. Poultry will fertilize the pasture so that regrowth will be more nutritious for the ruminants when they return to graze. In this way, the ruminants prepare the pasture for the poultry and the poultry improve the pasture for the ruminants. Free-range chickens are even easier to manage. Remember to protect their feed from the ruminants. Chickens will clean up any spilled feed and scratch through old hay piles, lessening waste on the farm.

Grazing multiple species of animals on your farm will help you control weed and grass growth, increase fertility on your pastures, and offer more products to improve your income.
(By Linda Coffey, NCAT Livestock Specialist)

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