Question of the Week
I recently acquired 15 acres of pasture with very overgrown grass. Can I manage this overgrowth with my 30 goats?
Answer: At the present growth stage of your pasture, it would be more suited to initial grazing with cattle from a neighboring farm, if that's a possibility. I would recommend the following, in order of preference:
1. Mob graze it with cattle at about 200,000 animal-pounds per acre. This will require changing fences a minimum of three to four times a day. Take the top one-third of the grass off and let the rest be trampled in to the soil. For example, this would mean you would run 150 600-pound yearlings on one half acre and move them four times a day. You could set your four fences up and use a batt latch gate http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9S9IMQtgm8 to automatically move the cattle. Let the cattle move back to the stock waterer during the successive moves—they will not regraze the trampled pastures. That way, you only have to move the portable water daily. This method is preferred because it will get organic matter into the soil and also store up any moisture for the drought months of July and August. It is extremely good for increasing soil microorganism populations and, therefore, for the overall health of your soil. This may require more labor than is available, but it would be the ideal way to graze down this tall grass.
2. Rotationally graze the pasture with less stocking density. I would recommend 60,000 to 90,000 animal-pounds per acre with daily moves. You would still get a fair amount of trampling, which is what you are striving for.
Once this initial grazing is completed by the cattle, you could graze the pasture with your goats for the remainder of the season. I would recommend that you not regraze until the grass is fully recovered.
When grazing with goats, be aware of parasites and take precautionary measures to them. Generally, when grazing ground where goats or sheep have not grazed before, you will do fine the first year, see a few problems the next year, and have big problems the third year. The main parasite that you will have to worry about is the Barber Pole Worm, or Haemonchus contortus. A combination of measures is necessary to achieve effective control:
1. Graze with a 35-day grazing rest period, a paddock period of four days or less, and leave a six- inch residual height.
2. Score your goats at least monthly (twice per month is better) using the FAMACHA technique and deworm the goats that score 4 and 5, and possibly 3. Do not blanket deworm all of your goats—this creates a population of super worms and leads to a completely anthelmintic-resistant worm population. Use one dewormer until it is no longer effective and then switch to one that uses a different mode of action (for example, from Valbezin to Ivormec).
3. Other measures, such as copper wire particles, multi-species grazing, and feeding sericea lespedeza.
Fencing for sheep and goats is also important. In my opinion, with any kind of stocking density at all, you will need electric nets to keep the critters in. Most people do not even have luck with three or four strands of poly wire to corral sheep and goats. With tall, green grass you will have to either mow or run a wheel track to install the netting without grounding it out on the vegetation. Be sure to get a fence charger that will be large enough to handle the net. A 12-joule charger will handle about nine nets in green grass. This is a minimum.
For more information on grazing, consult the following ATTRA publications:
Irrigated Pastures: Setting up an Intensive Grazing System that Works
Even though you are not irrigated, the principles are the same. This short publication will give you a good start.
Paddock Design, Fencing, and Water Systems for Controlled Grazing
Pastures: Sustainable Management
Grazing Calculator: Extended Cow Calf Pair
This is an indispensable tool to keep track of your stocking rate when using cow-calf pairs.
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