hey all, we’ll be hosting a bunch of farmers for a NOFA-NY Field Day event on Wednesday, June 27th. Focus is mainly pasture management and multi-species intensive grazing. While it’s hard to define what that is exactly - below is my response to a someone from the NY farming community who’s interested in attending the event.
Hope it’s informative to some of you.
Got your questions from Bethany at NOFA-NY I'll try to give you some concise, pertinent info reg. our grazing / rotation practices.
Very many factors play into our grazing rotation decision-making.
• numbers of animals • Spring weather / grass growth • proximity to water • availability of shade • previous year's grazing plan • dairy cow breeding (until we sold one this year, we've kept two bulls to separately breed our beef herd and dairy cows) • hay-making (which depends on weather and pasture conditions) • predators • farmer burn-out: this is a big one since we have NO permanent fencing so always have to set up new electric perimeters
In any given year we probably use 45 to 60 acres of pasture for our cows, sheep, pigs and chickens. Additionally, we use another 60 or so acres to make hay. And then, if the weather cooperates, we make hay on pastures that have been grazed early in the season. Never really did the hard numbers to be honest.
Our basic principals are (in no particular order):
• don't overgraze • sheep never touch the same pastures twice in the same year • allow for "sacrificial" paddocks if it ensures adequate water and shade (this means that the area closest to water and the lane to the water trough take heavy hoof traffic and overgrazing to keep animals close to water) • keep electric fences hot! (5-7k volts) and test them often (everyday, or a couple times a day) This also means a lot of weed whacking. • make as much hay as possible - cuz ya never know (last year we made about 2000 squares and 100 rounds for 20 cows and 60 sheep and had tons left over (literally) because winter never came. not a bad problem to have. and the beef cows will munch away at the extra 2011 hay with delight when (if) it's below zero this winter. • sometimes it's ok to give yourself a break and allow for larger paddocks so the cow line doesn't have to be moved everyday. and hey, the cows seem to love the extra space as they frolic around. The pasture will survive just fine. • pig pastures get a full year fallow at minimum and are of minimum slope to prevent erosion • chickens follow cows and sheep unless we have predator trouble - in which case they go wherever the heck we think they'll stay alive!
We graze many small fields and our farm is basically in a ravine with a large main pasture off to the North. Additionally, our pastures are on opposite sides of a fairly well-travelled road. We have become quite good at moving the herd back and forth across the road. It's exciting!
Bottom line is that there is noooo textbook solution to all of this craziness that is multi-species pasturing. So many idiosyncratic factors that may or may not apply to another farmstead. And, seven years into farming, we are still students ourselves, learning from every success and mistake. Still figuring out our specific little plot of the world and how to best care for it.
So good luck, and maybe we'll see you at the field day.