|If any of these ring true with you, you are not likely to embrace
Mother Earths preferred caretaking tool. Therefore, it is important to take the time
to bust these myths before going any further.
The job is done with one stroke by admitting those statements are all,
very unfortunately, true for the dominant paradigm in domestic stock production, the
factory farm confinement model. Breathe easy, for none of them are true for
the model you are going to practice. The Beyond Beefers and Dieters for a New America
simply choose to look no further than the factory confinement models of production.
If you just have an emotional problem with eating meat you could use
wool sheep, diary cows or diary goats, lamas or alpacas.
So, not only are you going to be efficiently caretaking, you are also
going to be on the cutting edge providing a model of quality food production which
reverses all those harmful side-effects!
The best way to honor the animals is by providing them with an environment which is
natural to them:
- You will treat them as the ruminants they are, providing them with a salad bar of
forages (grasses and legumes) as opposed to a concentrated grain ration.
- You will make sure they are "migrating" regularly.
- You will make sure they have companions a herd or flock.
- You will make sure they can express their instincts such as scratching, rooting,
wallowing, lying in the shade, etc.
That is your end of the bargain. To provide them with the best life
possible while in your care is the least you can do for the awesome deeds they will be
doing for you.
Since ninety percent of all your interactions will be to introduce them
to the next pasture, they will be quite fond of you. They will come running to you, wait
patiently while you open the gate, then run into the next paddock bucking and romping and
snorting and squealing in glee. Happiness is a new pasture.
The Physical Layout
You could become a full time shepherd and not use any fences at
all. More likely, you will want some fences. This, like busting the myths, is a hurdle as
well. Heres how to do it simply, economically, and with little impact upon wildlife
Use electric fencing. It is very good these days. It represents a
psychological barrier as opposed to the physical barrier of barbed wire or paneled
fencing. Use as few strands as possible. One will do in most cases for interior fencing. A
great fencing company is Premier, out of Washington, IA. Call 800-653-7622 for a free and
extremely informative catalog. Their people can guide you on the details.
Somehow bring water to every paddock. The water source should be within
500 feet of the stock to prevent wearing trails. Store water uphill and use gravity to get
it down. Small water tanks are okay for the stock of you have a lot of water pressure;
bigger tanks will be necessary if the pressure is low.
The big picture is what you want to accomplish. You may want many
trees; you may want none. The land may tell you "bushy area here", or clumps of
differing species. Studying permaculture is helpful here because permaculturists are
always looking for multiple uses and layering things upon others. For example, a hickory
grove can provide wildlife feed, livestock shade and windbreak, erosion control and
nutrient diversity from the minerals it is bringing up from deeper layers of the soil. It
could also supply a picnic area, "aerial" climbing practice, a sapling nursery
for lodge and other construction, a living trellis for grapes
you get the idea.
With the willing aid of your bovine, ovine, equine and/or porcine
caretaking friends you can shape the landscape to meet your goal. How? By realizing
succession that tendency of an area to evolve toward its most stable state
may be advanced or retarded depending on how livestock graze. Lets clarify this
since it is fundamental to your success.
What are the climax states of vegetation in your area? Oak/hickory
forest? Pine? Bog? Prairie? Savannah? (Look at undisturbed areas. Read pioneer accounts.
Do a meditation to spirit band 5.) Depending upon moisture, soil types, Hellenic and
direction of slope, the climax states will differ slightly or dramatically. When taken
back to bare earth, all those differing areas evolve through successive communities
beginning with pioneering species and ending with the climax community. That is
You will be driving a giant "machine" which advances or
retards succession. Succession can generally be thought of as successively higher levels
of energy capture and retention. Bare dirt or sand doesnt capture and retain a whole
lot of energy. A thistle patch does better. A corn field is about the same. An alfalfa
field captures more. A mixed grass and legume pasture captures even more solar energy. A
prairie captures a big bunch as does a forest of ninety foot trees.
Try thinking of the earth as a giant solar collector eager to convert
sunlight to carbohydrates. All the life sustaining wealth of the world the soils
and organic matter was created in this way. Energy capture is what we probably
ought to be attempting to maximize on most of the land in our care.
That means plants in active stages of photosynthesis not
"amber waves" but green waves. This is a good place to put to rest the theory
that rest is beneficial. Rested land captures energy briefly at the beginning of the
growing season when the plants are vegetative. The plants store enough energy to make
seed, and at that point they are happy and go to bed. Brown fields of tall grass are not
utilizing sunlight; not flowing energy into Mother Earth.
Maybe your short term goal is to build up mouse and rabbit populations
so you want to let a few fields "rest" and build up some good wildlife cover. No
problem. Just dont let the fields stay idle too long or they will smother themselves
and drastically reduce the number and species of plants (retard succession).
It is my belief that Nature usually wants a perennial polyculture
as diverse as possible, with as many differing species of herbivores grazing it as
possible. Diversity = stability. Thats why the prairie is the climax phase of
succession on the richest soils of the world.
Dont get bogged down in perfectionism. You will fine tune the
grazing management with time. Play with it. Rotate the livestock daily or every other day,
making the pastures small enough so that the stock are just nicely cropping a good
percentage of the plants. be flexible with paddock sizing by using temporary fencing (see
Overgrazing is a function of frequency of bite, not severity of bite.
Animals always take a severe bite. So a good rule of thumb is to rotate pastures fast in
times of fast forage growth and slow in times of slow forage growth. This way you will
avoid the "second bite syndrome" where you stress out a plant which has used
stored root energy to produce more leaves only to have them nipped off. This leaves the
plant energy deficient. It may recover slowly if all its neighbours are equally
overgrazed, or it may be edged out by unbitten, faster growing neighbours.
For now, just be thankful you will be having a blast raising the
worlds happiest and healthiest plants and animals instead of choking on diesel
exhaust, compacting the soil and repairing broken mower blades.