July 14, 2020
Multi-Species Adds Income and Soil Wealth to Farms
By Greg Judy
CLARK, Missouri: The beauty of this whole multi-species thing is that in the process of adding more species it also adds strength to your whole operation. What do I mean by adding strength? Well, all of sudden you now have a particular species that can take advantage of a certain problem plant or difficult terrain area of your farm.
When we started leasing land to expand our operation there was one glaring issue that we constantly came up against. Weeds and sprouts were just rampant on those idle leased farms. At the time we did not have a tractor or brush hog to control them. Our new landowners were concerned about the aesthetics of their farms. In other words they wanted their farms to look pretty. Weeds and brush scattered across the landscape was not pretty to them. Remember one thing when leasing land, the landowner is always right.
Your sole purpose with a land lease is to keep it under your management as long as you live. It doesn’t matter if we on’t like what the landowner wants done. We will absolutely do what they want to the 10th degree! Later down the road in the lease after making a good relationship with them, you can start to suggest some of your ideas. So we had a problem to deal with. The weeds and brush needed to be controlled and we had no equipment to do it with.
We were determined to find an economical solution to controlling these problem plants. When we started leasing land we owned no livestock and were 100% custom graziers of different classes of cattle. This consisted of 400-pound stockers, bred heifer groups, dry cows and cow-calf pairs. The cattle did a great job of opening up the dead accumulated thatch on those idle farms. They really did not put much pressure on the weeds or brush. This was any years before mob grazing was ever used on our farms.
Our immediate focus was on sheep and goats to control the undesirable plant species that were thriving on our leased farms. One serious missing infrastructure was fence good enough to hold sheep and goats. We focused on sheep first and decided to start building electric hi-tensile perimeter fence and paddocks on one of our larger farms. We decided to buy hair sheep because we did not want to deal with the wool. Our local sheep sale barn market at that time was 80% hair sheep and 20% wool sheep. Today it is almost 100% hair sheep and goats.
As soon as we finished the sheep fence we brought in a group of hair sheep and they immediately went after all the plants that the cattle had ignored. We were ecstatic. We finally had a species that loved eating these undesirable plants that our cows had ignored. All of a sudden we were growing lambs from weeds and brush. It was certainly a pleasure to see weeds disappear and know that we were adding income to our farm from weeds. Doesn’t get any better than that.
Next we decided to jump into the goat business to put more pressure on the woody plants. We put the goats on our biggest farm that had an old barn on it. On a rainy cold windy day it seemed that the goats enjoyed a place to dry off and get warm. Our hair sheep have never had any shelter and do very well without it. The goats did great on the farm and hardly ever grazed below their knees. Any tree leaf that they could reach became dinner.
You could walk across the entire farm and see their grazing height on the trees that remained. The goats consumed the small eastern red cedar trees. The large cedar trees in the winter got some serious goat treatment put on them. We had no idea that goats liked cedar bark licorice strips. The goats would grab a chunk of green bark in their mouth at the bottom of the tree and pull on it. The bark would peel all the way up into the top of the tree. When that strip was pulled loose from the tree all the goats would circle around and gorge on it.
Our farm manager, Alex, and his wife, Bobbi, are starting a flock of Kiko goats for brush control. Their goal is to haul a trailer load of goats to problem brush areas where mechanical or chemical control is not an option. Folks are getting much more concerned about using chemicals to spray brush especially around where people live. This is a good thing to get away from constantly spraying chemicals that kill plants, soils and have negative effects on human health.
Alex and Bobbi have a much friendlier brush control method to offer with their brush eating goats. They are using electric netting and it is unbelievable what these goats do to brushy landscapes. I would hate to be a tree in their paddock! The goats not only eat all the leaves off of small brushy trees, they also strip the bark off the tree as far as they can reach. They work as a gang. One goat will stand on its hind legs and pull down a small tree while the others pile onto it and strip it bare of leaves.
We have advanced our grazing management on our hair sheep flock as well. We now move the flock every day with one single polybraid wire containing them. This has opened up all of our farms to sheep now instead of just keeping them on our previous sheep-fenced farm. The sheep are just amazing at creating more pasture for our cow herd every day and our landowners are happy seeing less weeds and brambles on their farms.
The sheep are soaking up the cow parasites and the cows are soaking up the sheep parasites, both are dead end hosts for the others parasites. How cool is that? Nature works flawlessly, folks, if we allow the conditions for it to happen.
In wrapping up I would highly recommend looking at other sorts of species that can certainly help keep your farm in the black every year. Not only are they adding income but also adding value to your soils, beneficial plants and aesthetics in beautiful landscapes. And by thinking outside the box you may be able to set up some bleachers and charge people to come watch your goats eat brush!
Have fun out there folks. You only live once, enjoy the journey. We have the best business in the world and it is powered by free solar energy. You can do this. ■
Greg and Jan Judy graze South Poll beef cattle, parasite-resistant hair sheep, pastured hogs, and layers on 1620 acres in Missouri. The farm includes 13 leased farms and three owned. All animals are direct marketed as meat and seed stock sales. Contact Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.greenpasturesfarm.net. His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf.
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