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Question of the Week



Permalink What can you tell me about raising llamas? What traits should a llama possess to be an effective guard animal?

Answer: Llamas can be a good addition to a farm or ranch—an alternative livestock enterprise on marginal pastureland that fits well into a diversified farming operation. Llamas are members of the Camelidae family. Modified ruminants with a three-compartment stomach, they have cloven hooves and chew a cud like sheep and cattle.

Llamas were first domesticated 4,000 to 5,000 years ago in the Andean Highlands. There they are used as a beast of burden, as a fiber source, and as a meat source. They are quiet, intelligent, easily trained animals that can provide fleece and potentially a variety of services to the owner. They are adaptable to different climates and terrains. They are a low-impact livestock alternative; their padded feet do not have the same effect on the ground as hooves. In addition, they have efficient digestive systems and tend to consolidate feces, helping to control parasites and ease manure collection.

In addition to their value as a pack animal value and fiber and meat, llamas can be used as guardians for livestock, including cattle, sheep, and poultry. As a herd animal, the llama is particularly attentive to menaces. Llamas are natural guardians due to their inherent wariness of the dog family. They are good guard animals when placed with a livestock species smaller than themselves (like sheep and goats). They have been proven to be effective in areas with coyote problems. Guard llamas work most effectively in pairs.

Ideal guard animal traits:
• Age: At least 18 months old. No upper age limit as long as the animal is in good health, sound conformation, and good physical condition.
• Gender: Males have to be gelded, ideally not before two years of age. Excellent candidates are llamas gelded as adults. Gelding should take place at least three months before introduction to livestock. Non-breeding females are good candidates and females with crias (a baby llama) have been very successful. A good strategy is to introduce and bond the female to the herd before the cria’s birth.
• The animal’s physical condition should match specific situation requirements—larger flocks and rough terrains require greater physical demands.
• Natural curiosity and high level of awareness.
• Llamas should be manageable and halter and lead trained.
• Stay with the flock without disrupting the flock.

For more information on llamas, consult the ATTRA publication Llamas and Alpacas on the Farm, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=406. This publication discusses considerations for raising llamas, including regulations, marketing, nutrition, care, reproduction, and handling.

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Permalink How can I determine proper cattle-stocking rates for my property?

Answer: There is no simple answer for your correct stocking rate. The number of animals your land can support depends on many factors, including forage type and density, climate (temperature, rainfall), soils, grazing management, livestock species, and more. It will be different from farm to farm and even different on the same farm from year to year.

For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Pasture, Rangeland and Grazing Management. This publication covers many aspects of grazing management, including how to calculate stocking rates. It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=246.

In addition, staff at your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office can help you determine stocking rate. They will be familiar with the soils and forages in your area and will be able to tell you what typical stocking rates are for your area. You can find your local NRCS office at http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app.

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Permalink How can I remove invasive species (primarily bush honeysuckle) in order to prepare land for crop and orchard production?

Answer: Though bush honeysuckle is very invasive, it's generally only difficult to eliminate from a "natural" environment. In a cropping environment, where bushes are repeatedly mowed, grazed, plowed, etc., they generally don't last long. The key is simply knocking the top growth back to exhaust energy reserves in the roots. You can accomplish this with grazing by goats or sheep (they love honeysuckle, and it is nutritious), burning, brush-hogging, dozing, or even heavy applications of horticultural oil. Though all these methods will result in some grow-back, simply do it again once or twice more, and you will probably have eliminated the problem. You can always pull them out with chains and tractor power, but doing so is often unnecessary.

For more information, you should find two ATTRA publications helpful.

Principles of Sustainable Weed Management for Croplands discusses several alternatives to conventional tillage systems, including allelopathy, intercropping, crop rotations, and a weed-free cropping design. It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=109.

Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview is only partly about weed control, but it does include a lot of planning and pre-plant information. It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=2.

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Permalink I plan on pasturing pigs and then following up with rye and no-till corn next year. Which cover crops would work best for pig pasture?

Answer: Many of the benefits of pasturing hogs depend on the breed of hog, the quality of the pasture and pasture management. Some farmers are happy to rejuvenate pastures by adjusting pH and nutrients. It sounds like you have the opportunity to seed a pasture down and grow what would be optimal for hogs. Using a variety of grasses, legumes and forbs is a good idea. Not only is this better for the soil, but it also offers a better chance at success. If one or two things don’t do well, there are others in the mix that will take their place. A pasture rich in legumes, and thus protein, is considered good for hogs. Up to 30% of a hog’s diet can be achieved through grazing on good pasture with mineral supplement.

It’s a good idea to include several legumes in your mix, as well as several grasses and small grains, and several non-legume forages (like turnips, rape, and fodder beets). You will need to experiment to find the exact combination that works well on your farm. A good starting mix that could be expanded upon would be a mix of 3.5 bushels of oats, 10 pounds of alfalfa, and 3 pounds of orchard grass per acre. To this basic mix you could reduce the alfalfa and add another legume, reduce the oats and add another grain, and add a non-legume forage such as turnips.

For more information on pastured hog production, consult the ATTRA publication Hog Production Alternatives, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=205. This publication includes a good discussion on pasture mixes and the nutritional needs of hogs on pasture.

You will also find useful information on raising hogs in the ATTRA publication Small-Scale Livestock Production, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=371. It discusses the benefits and challenges of raising livestock on a small farm, including a section specifically on hogs.

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