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.
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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