Our Rotational Grazing Routine
I rotationally graze my animals here at the homestead. Sheep ingest many parasites when they graze that affect horses, and the parasites are killed because they’re not ingested by the desired host. The horses do the same for the sheep. All the while, different nutrients are added to the soil through manure.
Most often, the sheep follow the horses. You can see my rotation plan I put together when I was in school in the second slide. In these shots, however, the horses and sheep are lumped together, tandem grazing the backyard. My recent travels affected my pasture schedule so we’re using the backyard as a buffer while it all comes back in.
Animals are introduced to a space when forage grasses reach 8-10” high, and forage legumes reach 10-12”. All animals are pulled from a space and it’s allowed to rest at 4”. Anything under that is considered over-grazed, and grows back much more slowly.
As goslings mature into geese their wings become very heavy. Some drooping is normal as the bird develops the proper muscles to carry the weight of the wing. Other times, “slipped wing” or “angel wing” is to blame. This condition is caused by genetics, feeding too high of a protein content for too long or, in the case, the fact that my Large Dewlap Toulouse goose mated with my Sebastapol gander and produced a small bodied bird with large wings.
The condition is purely aesthetic but no doubt looks uncomfortable. Place the wings where they should rest and gently secure in place with vet wrap or a shirt. This does not hurt the bird… think of it like a wing bra for support. 🤣 Vet wrap, I find, is easiest. But an old t-shirt works in a pinch. You can secure a t-shirt with a hair tie until more vet wrap can be acquired.
The bones of waterfowl grow at an astonishing rate. So this condition, if properly wrapped, can take just 4-5 days to correct. Change out the dressing as needed. Note this post is not a replacement for professional veterinary help. If you suspect a deformity or nutritional abnormalities in your bird, contact a veterinary professional for guidance and care.
After a severe hoof rot infection, my vet helped me to eliminate the bacteria and heal my sheep in just over two weeks. We use trimming, Koppertox, SugarDine, cotton pads, vet wrap and duct tape. This dressing is changed every three days, more if the sheep can not be kept in a dry area. Inflammation was reduced and the wound puss was completely gone fast!
This post is not a replacement for professional veterinary care. It is meant for educational purposes only. Have your vet monitor the infection to ensure the sheep is healing. Discontinue use if irritation occurs.
Answering Common Guinea Fowl Questions
Answering some common Guinea Fowl questions today! If these are on your shopping list for spring, and you’re new to Guinea keeping, here’s some tips:
1. BREED // I have lavender guineas. I researched that they tend to be a quieter more relaxed breed. Compared to the white and helmeted breeds I’ve also had, I would say this is true. They’re not as high strung.
2. WANDERING // My guineas DO stay close to home, even when free ranging. I started them in a Guinea tractor my dad and I built. This allowed me to pass them through the entire property, keep them safe when young, and ensure all the ticky areas were grazed. After about three months in the tractor, they now get free range time. They know their home and don’t wander.
3. NOISE // Guinea fowl make noise, but no more so than our ducks and geese. What I didn’t expect was that they’d follow me everywhere all day, everyday. I have ten shadows now. They also tap on my windows when I go inside. #stalkers 🙄
4. FLOCK INTERMIXING // My guineas started in the tractor in the duck and goose field. They came to see the flock as non-threatening and are not territorial towards my other birds.
5. ROOSTING // The guineas are out 24/7 and roost in the trees above the ducks and geese by night. In inclement weather, I leave the barn door open and then go inside to roost if they prefer.
6. TICK REMOVAL // After a summer of Lymes for me and my dogs, I brought in guineas to remove ticks. Their presence has absolutely plummeted and we rarely find ticks now.
WOULD I GET THEM AGAIN? In a heartbeat.
Suspect worms in your flock? Sprinkle powdered cayenne pepper on top of your flock’s feed once per day, for three days. Can also be used weekly as a preventative. The cayenne powder burns away intestinal parasitic worms.
Old timers swear by this cheap and holistic approach to keeping their chickens healthy. Also safe for ducks, geese and guineas. I don’t have turkeys or other fowl so I haven’t tried it.
Symptoms of infected birds may include:
Low egg counts in spring, summer or other ideal laying conditions, weight loss, anemia, watery output and general poor health. Of course always consult a veterinarian as well if you have concerns.
Learn by Trying
I am not afraid to try. This short sentence sums up how I have come to learn just about everything I have so far in homesteading. I experiment in the garden, telling myself it's not the end of the world if a crop doesn't work out. I owe it to my animals to learn all I can about their health and care and so I ask questions to my veterinarians and mentors. I taught myself to drive my Clydesdales by asking questions to folks who do, by skeptically watching hours of videos, and by following the lead of my horse who already knew how. It's through being present, observation, and just plain trying that I think a homesteader truly grows.
It has taken me a long time to find a sheep veterinarian to come to the farm. A lack thereof has made it nearly impossible to get the girls the routine exams and the vaccinations they need. Today, after finally finding someone who had time to take me on as a client, the girls are up to speed. This two-hour veterinarian appointment gave me a major crash course in sheep health. I learned several home remedies that scientifically work, I was taught to give vaccinations (I never knew how before!) and even vaccinated my own sheep under the supervision of my vet by the end of the appointment. When she had initially asked if I would like to learn I answered, "I would love to! I'm not afraid to try."
Unfortunately and fortunately, I learned to treat and bandage a bad hoof. My girls passed their Famacha exams with flying colors! And I was able to share my belief and offer Finnegan as proof that interspecies pasture rotation really does cut down on parasitic worms.
I think the vet could tell I was internally beating myself up a bit about the hoof infection; she consoled me by saying that many farms are struggling right now with the excess rainfall and moisture we've had in our area this winter. And acknowledged how difficult it is to get an appointment around here. It makes me all the more thankful I have my horses in pads and four shoes each, as surely abscesses would be present otherwise! When she asked if I would be comfortable continuing the care of the bandaged foot on my own, or if she should come back instead, I answered, "I'll try and I'll do my best! I can send you photos."
I'm processing all the information I received, grateful to have found a sheep vet who took so much time for my girls and taught me so much. She was incredibly encouraging. I believe that learning through books and videos is a great way to gain insight; but there's nothing like a bit of time spent with a good mentor. I've now looked to experienced folks for assistance with horse training, care, sheep medicine, duck health, and beekeeping. Don't be afraid to find someone to help you! Most people in the homesteading and farming fields are happy to share their insight with a learning farmer. And when the opportunities come, don't be afraid to try.
We Should Not Be Farming the Same
This is a podcast-style mini-episode called We Should Not Be Farming the Same. While fundamentals of planting a seed and caring for animals can certainly be consistent from homestead to homestead, there are way too many variables that change the nuances of daily life and systems from farm to farm. Weather, terrain, soil type, animal species, forage type, farmer personalities, energy efforts, growing zone, etc. all come into play when homesteading. And it's my belief that if you've truly been paying attention to your homestead, there SHOULD BE areas where general rules do not apply to your farm.
For example, I'm beginning to rely more heavily on perennial crops than annuals. I put more time, energy, and funding into sourcing perennial plants than annuals because my personal goals reside in soil health, carbon sequestration, and yields that require less overall work. Many farms use their animals for meat; we do not. We are a vegetarian homestead. Instead, I source animals for the functions they can contribute to the farm ecosystem. I did away with my coop for daily use (we still use it for extreme weather situations) and my flock resides in a gated pasture by night. Under the protection of my livestock guardian dogs, the flock is happier outdoors, there's less bedding costs, the eggs are cleaner, and my flock is given the ability to live more similarly to their native species.
Take a listen and find out how else we buck the typical agricultural system.
Revisiting My Forage Management Plan
I have learned there is so much more to pasture management than rotational grazing, cover cropping, and stock density (the amount of animals in a given pasture space). And it’s no surprise that proper pasture management is one of the most disregarded facets of farming and homesteading—it’s extremely complicated! But it’s also extremely important and can be a huge money saver on feed costs. Not to mention healthier animals mean less vet bills. Clydesdale girl over here is completely open to lowering hay costs. 🙋🏻♀️
As of now, I cover crop my fields for animal forage and soil health. I rotationally graze multiple species. I return manure to the soil. But I’m learning there’s lots more that I can be doing. For example, understanding the nuances of each species’ behaviors alone is hugely relevant.
“Compared to cattle, sheep eat a greater variety of plants and select a more nutritious diet, though less so than goats. Sheep will graze 60% grass 30% forbs and 10% browse if available.” - University of Nebraska Extension
“Horses tend to be the hardest type of livestock on pastures. Pastures with cattle are usually more uniformly grazed, weeds are not as large a problem, and overgrazing is not as immediate… Horses tend to group around certain areas, killing the forage in this area and exposing the bare ground to erosion and propagation of weeds. Some horses tend to defecate in localized areas which causes manure buildup and reduced palatability of forage in these areas. The most difficult behavioral trait to overcome in horses is their selective grazing instinct.” — Oklahoma State University Extension
If that’s not enough to think about, then weather, forage type, soil nutrients, moisture quantities, turnout time, species type, season, palatability, supplementation of forage with feed and/or grain, and nutrient utilization are also factors.
What does this all mean? I’m doing a deep dive this fall/winter in rolling out an even better forage management plan into my farm for spring. With two horses and five sheep as my main grazers, I think my 6 acres has plenty to offer. Let’s see how low these hay bills can go. Why? Self sufficiency and land stewardship.
Livestock guardian dogs and other working dogs can develop dry, cracked paw pads and accumulate snow clumps in the wintertime. To keep my pups on the homestead comfortable in the snow, I make my own Buddy Balm. Here’s my recipe:
Buddy Balm Recipe
2oz dried beeswax, melted
2oz olive oil
2oz coconut oil, melted
1 drop vitamin E oil
Combine all liquified ingredients in a heat safe container and stir well to combine. Pour into a storage jar with a lid. Use the cooled balm by rubbing just a bit onto each paw. The pads are instantly moisturized and will stay snow free! Safe for outdoor cats too.
P.S. This is great for human skin too!
Angela is the farmer and content creator behind Axe & Root Homestead LLC. This historic six-acre permaculture farm is home to two Clydesdale horses, ten honeybee hives, five sheep, two guardian dogs, barn cats and a flock of 40 geese and ducks. The farm produces maple syrup, fruit from a small orchard and loads of garden produce for consumption, preservation and donation to the local food pantry.
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