Author Topic: Rotational grazing on small scale  (Read 924 times)

Offline jd350az

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Rotational grazing on small scale
« on: December 16, 2017, 06:18:41 AM »
Is anyone running rotational grazing on a smaller scale but using Joel Salatin's methods?

Info, I live in Southern AZ. Tucson to be exact. The land is in a small micro climate though that is cooler than most areas around Tucson, more frost and freeze days but no snow except the very rare occasion. USDA zone 9b/10a I think it was?

I am moving to a new homestead in a month or two and the previous owner had cows. The land is in pretty good shape mostly with tall mesquite trees covering the main pasture. The whole land is 3.5 acres and I estimate around 2 acres split into 2 pastures. 1 pasture is the main pasture the cows have stayed in and graze, probably around 1.5 acres, lush green grass from what I've seen. The secondary pasture is pretty beat up, its what they stay in when its wet, or winter, or the main pasture is just grazed too much. Mostly dirt, etc.  The neighbor has perfectly manicured grass due to solid irrigation and mowing and he dumps the clippings into the pasture with the cows to feed them for the previous owner and get rid of them for himself lol. Those clippings along with spent grain from a local brewery(step uncle is good friends with the brewery owner so he gets them pretty regular) and then supplemental hay as needed in winter is how they have been surviving as long as I have known. The land was my step grandmother's. The cows used to always be 2 cows, bred every year and every year the yearlings or however old they were would be slaughtered and the parents kept 1 for meat and the sons got the other for meat. The cows were getting older so they let 2 younger cows grow up and with the parents having health problems and passing away there are now 6 cows. The older 2 will be sold at auction and maybe 1 or 2 will be slaughtered for beef and I imagine we will end up with 2-3. I want to start rotational grazing. I am trying to research as much as possible to get a decent idea of what they will need. There are a couple chickens on site but they are just kept in a coop. I would like to use a tractor and get them helping behind the cows as well. I also plan to raise quail and rabbits eventually but don't want to get too many irons in the fire right away. Eventually I will also work on garden and food forest. This pasture land is also plumbed and irrigated with sprinklers off a well, the whole house was on a well but the city got water in the area and they opted to get city water as the well was being temperamental. Mostly breakers needing reset and hard water needed softening and they decided to get "reliable water" since they were in their 80s. Most of what I was reading says 100-200 sq yards per cow per day, I roughed out some drawings and looks like I could get 33ish paddocks around 300 sq yards. Would 33 days be enough rest with irrigated pasture land? I know Joel gets more and most things I've read say 30 as a minimum but I dont think that takes into account irrigated pasture. That also includes 25 really good paddocks in the main pasture and 8 that need help in the overrused pasture. Hopefully with better grazing practices and a little help we can get those back to lush paddocks as well. We don't get snow here usually and this land actually seems to get better "winter rye" than summer grass according to my step father.

If you tractor chickens in would you still want to wait 4 days after the cows? How many chickens do you think it would take to keep up with 3 cows? I know there are bobcats, raccoons, hawks and owls so I think I will be using tractors and not able to free range them. Would rabbits fit into the system with tractors as well or would that be better to just set up in hutches? I would prefer they get as much living on the land as possible and maybe only keep breeders separated. Not sure where they fit in best in the rotation.

Anyways, thanks for listening to my rambling and any help or guidance you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Rotational grazing on small scale
« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2017, 07:07:03 AM »
You can absolutely rotate on small amounts of land.  300 square yards of pasture would be too little for a single cow in my environment of SW Michigan, but every situation is unique.  Supplementing pasture is a good thing though: by adding hay each day in those small paddocks you will be getting pass through nutrients from the manure spread very evenly.  Manure from hay that was not originally on your field is a net positive to the condition of your pasture.  Manure that comes strictly from grazing is great for improving the condition of soil with carbon, but is a net loss in terms of nutrients (when your cow leaves, so does the calcium, iron, etc., that it got from the field). 
 
I say go for it.  Make cheap paddocks (step-in posts, single strand poly-wire, a small charger) and don’t be afraid to throw in a few flakes of hay each day.  Have a plan for water (water is heavy...) and evaluate after a year.  You’ll always find things to improve and change.  That’s part of the journey.

Offline jd350az

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Re: Rotational grazing on small scale
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2017, 01:14:30 PM »
Thanks for the reply! I keep thinking it's too small as well but they are 6 of them on the same total area today with supplemental feed every so often. I'm figuring the rotational grazing would give the land more rest and eventually boost production. May take a generation or so because these old girls will be pissed they don't get free range anymore lol. Soon as the neighbor fires up the lawn mower they go to the fence and yell at him for the clippings. Hopefully with training them on the electric fencing and taking the clippings to them they will figure it out.

Is there any plants to plant in the pasture to improve it or should I just let nature take over and see if new species of grass pops up like it did for Joel?

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Rotational grazing on small scale
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2017, 03:23:17 PM »
Plants will depend on your area.  I like deep rooted legumes as a part of my mix.  I over-seeded with Bird’s Eye Trefoil several years ago and have been happy with that.  Several of the clovers are also good, and many farmers make use of alfalfa.   I also have some weeds with deep roots that bring up nutrients and help break up my heavy clay soil:  Queen Anne’s Lace and Chicory.  Both of these are useless as cow feed and I have to cut them down or they’ll take over my field.  But they do have strong tap roots.  I like to think of all those roots bring up nutrients that end up near the surface when I cut them, and the roots rotting in the clay and slowly adding texture and carbon to the sub-surface.

Offline Cedar

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Re: Rotational grazing on small scale
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2017, 06:46:14 PM »
Several of the clovers are also good

If you are ever going to run sheep or goats, be cautious with some of the clovers, as it can, and often does cause infertility and abortions in those species.

Cedar

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Rotational grazing on small scale
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2017, 07:30:56 PM »
Here’s a decent article on clovers and sheep.  I’m not familiar with subterranean clover and if it’s in your area you might want to think about the hay you are feeding out during the breeding season.  There are few sheep folks near me, but the ones in my area don’t seem to avoid red clover, and white clover grows like gangbusters so I don’t think they could avoid that one if they tried.
 
http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/2013/01/07/does-red-clover-cause-infertility-in-sheep/

Offline T Kehl

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Re: Rotational grazing on small scale
« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2017, 07:51:58 AM »
We run about 3-4 acres per cow on an annual basis.  Some of the best rotational grazers here (central MO) get 2.2 acres per cow and that is with a lot of fertilizer.  If you have .5 acres per cow, you don't have enough pasture even with irrigation.  You will have to keep feeding them.

Rotation will help, but at the end of the day you will have to keep feeding them unless you destock a bit. 

As for time between rotations, it is very time dependent.  In brittle environments, 2 years is beneficial.  In spring in my area, it can be a week or two. 

You are looking for fast grass growth and not a set timeframe.  The growth should be like an s curve, slow, then fast, then slow again.  You want it to get through the fast growth to add # of dry matter and feed the roots so you can do it again.  Also don't graze to the nubs, leave some residual to "prime the pump".   ;)

Offline CandyGram4Mongo

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Re: Rotational grazing on small scale
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2017, 03:12:33 PM »
The Savory Institute has stuff that may be more appropriate to your climate.  It's pretty easy to do effective rotational grazing when rain is consistent, but it's a lot trickier in arid/semi-arid areas.

Tony Lovell did a great video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZP_tR4FNx3E to illustrate how he's getting TREMENDOUS beef yield from areas traditionally limited to 1 cow per 50 acres by leveraging Savory's Holistic Grazing approach, and the "Occam's Grazer" video does a great job of introducing the concepts being applied in the US https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtQBoMoqc9U

BTW, WRT water, there is an OUTSTANDING video series about creating a sand aquifer for capturing rooftop runoff - no evaporation, no algae, and a little bonus sand filtration as the water runs in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPo2xyAXw4s .  HTH! - mongo

Offline jd350az

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Re: Rotational grazing on small scale
« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2017, 03:18:47 PM »
Forgot to share some pics, not the best and it was during the heat of summer but these are the ones I got online

https://imgur.com/a/9lZP5

Offline jd350az

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Re: Rotational grazing on small scale
« Reply #9 on: December 20, 2017, 11:17:18 AM »
As of right now 6 cows are on the land and not being controlled, in my opinion, probably overgrazing and once it gets too bad they are finally moved. They are getting supplemental feed though. My thoughts are first will be to thin the herd, 2 oldest are going to auction and I am not sure if they are planning on slaughtering the younger 2 or not. I hope to use the paddock shift and supplement feed within them to add to the nutrients/biomass. IE if I bring in hay then anything not eaten will get stomped in and returned to earth. Is there other healthy supplemental feeds for the cows and earth? The whole land is canopy covered with large mesquite trees so there is a lot of nitrogen fixing going on. We are already planning on blocking off new growth on a bunch of them to start bringing up replacements. I am also debating adding new trees for diversity and maybe even something like black locust for firewood.