Current as of 2021-10-02 14:41:21 -0500
We use cows, pigs and horses to improve soil fertility by grazing. Cows and horses eat the gras, trample it and fertilize it by dropping manure and urinating. Grazing happens in a planned way and is time controlled. Depending on the size of the paddock animals are moved to the next paddock within a few hours. We move the animals when 40% of the forage has been eaten or trampled. That means we leave most of the plant matter so that it can protect the soil life from sunlight.
The pigs eat the grass but will also destroy it and leave bare ground. We designate paddocks as holding areas for pigs and use them to integrate plant matter into the soil in order to augment the humus content of it.
In some areas we cultivate a crop. We use the pigs to prepare the area.
None of the animals on the farm can roam the whole area unrestricted. We practice planned grazing, which means we allow the plants to recover fully after a grazing event by moving the animals away from the zone where they were grazing and not allow them access to that zone for a defined period.
There are basically three ways how to achieve this:
- moveable electric fencing
- paddocks with fixed fencing
Herding doesn’t really work for us, as we don’t have enough people (with horses) to stay with the cows the whole day while they graze. Any form of planned grazing requires a human who knows the objective.
Using moveable electric fencing is very flexible but it requires a person to stay on top of it. When we used that method one of us couldn’t do almost anything else. In some cases, when left unattended and in search of nicer grass the cows decided to move on and jumped the single wire. In any case putting up and tearing down the fencing was a lot of work.
So we built paddocks A01 to A18 in zone A, B01 to B08 in zone B and C01 to C04 in zone C so far.
Our paddocks are about 5000 m2 in size. In zone C we have about 30 ha that we cannot manage at the moment. Eventually we might build 60 more paddocks.
Next set of paddocks in zone C:
Animal paths and gates
The paddocks are interconnected by paths so that we can let the animals roam. We apply constraints by opening or closing gates.
For large animals like cows or horses a string gate that is part of the electic fence works well.
Pigs, on the other hand, learn that there is an electric wire from getting shocked and when the wire is removed later they refuse to step through because the remember the experience. That is because they can’t see very well but their sense of smell is perfect and they do remember the smell of the place where the wire was.
Sheep require a lot of wires as they like to jump in between a gap. We’ve also noted that their wool insulates them from the shock and so - especially the ram - try to poke a hole. That’s why there is sheep netting.
Refer to the paddock maps for each zone to see the paths:
For zone C we will create the main animal path and the vehicle path first and then create paddocks based on the trajectory of those paths.
Water source for grazing animals
In nature animals would walk to the water. That can be a long distance. Walking is good for their health.
We put water sources along the animal paths or at the bottom of trees to form some sort of water plaza. The animals gather there, drink and rest.
The area gets trampled a lot and pooped on a lot. If the animals happen to return to the same area all the time, the area suffers.
The trees might suffer from scratching and need to be protected.
Salt and minerals
Salt and minerals are important for animal health. We do provide blocks of salt and minerals here and there.
We need to figure out how to manage the distribution of salt and minerals so that we don’t forget to do it.
The blocks can get buried in manure if left in the wrong place.
We use our Paddocks Application on the web and on our smartphones to manage our paddocks.
The application tells us when a paddock is ready for grazing based on observations and a general resting period defined in the preferences of the application.
The application also allows us to create tasks that should be performed before and after grazing or that are related to infrastructure so that we can balance our workload well.
Target grazing sequence
Animals like to move forward. It is difficult for them to go “back” as grazing is done in a forward motion. So we want to manage our grazing towards this target sequence.
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