Monday, November 23, 2009

Managing my pastures - sacrifice paddock

If you're going to have animals out on pasture, you have to be aware that for a part of the year the grass isn't going to be growing, and will in fact be damaged by the hooves/feet of the animals.  So in the non-growing season, which we've entered now, the reccomended way to deal with this is to designate a smaller pasture or pen and put your animals into that area for the winter.

There's quite a few folks who blog about "management intensive grazing", but I don't really think that they do that particular process.   Management intensive grazing is where you define an area that is just big enough for your animals to deplete in a day or so, and then rest for a period of months afterwards to allow for complete regrowth.   While the animals are in this small area, anything tasty is consumed, and all of the weeds are stomped, and the basic idea is that same sort of grazing that buffalo did in their migrations.

What most of the bloggers do is continuously graze their pastures, which isn't the same sort of thing at all.   You put a perimeter fence around the edge, put the animals in it, and off you go.  This is popular because it involves basically  no daily management.  You can see a list of other grazing styles here.     

If you're curious about examples from folks who are actually doing management intensive grazing, you'll find excellent entries about it with respect to cows here, and with respect to sheep here

With any system of managing your pastures, in the winter there's no growth happening, and the sod gets damaged by the hooves/feet of your animals.  So if you're serious about having a quality pasture for forage, what you should consider is having a sacrifice paddock. 

A sacrifice paddock is a small area that will probably be turned into dirt over the course of the winter.  "sacrifice" because it's consumed, and will probably have to be reseeded in the spring, but it allows you to move your stock off their main pasture so that it doesn't get damaged and will be in good shape when spring returns. 

So what I'm doing now is making a small, hard-fenced area that I'll put my pig herd into for the winter. 


John Schneider said...

This is something that we contemplated early when we started with grass fed livestock. We decided however that the risk of disease and worm infestation with yard confinement was not worth the additional work that would go into pasture rejuvenation. That said, climates are far different here than where you are. With pastures frozen solid and under a foot or two of snow we dont see much damage. One good tip I found from an old timer that we have found successful was that he would feed both his pigs and cattle small quantities of untreated pasture seed mixed in with the feed ration. In that way the animals would re-seed the pastures on a continual basis throughout the winter! I thought it was brilliant. We also move our feeders daily over large areas through the winter. This way we don't have to spend time or money cleaning corrals and spreading manure in the spring when we should be in the fields. Food for thought...every farm is different.

Bruce King said...

Last year we had a very cold winter, and the ground froze solid, which actually made working on the farm easier for me.

This year is more normal; 30-40 degrees and rain, and deep mud. If I keep the animals out on the pasture I'll have to start from scratch and wait a few months for stuff to regrow.

I hear you about the disease/parasite potential. My thought on that was to move a different species in next, so that the pigs wouldn't be back for 8-10 months. Hopefully that breaks the lifecycle.

Leon said...

> There's quite a few folks who blog about "management intensive grazing", but I don't really think that they do that particular process.

We do :) - between 1 and 5 days in one place then they move to the next section. With the right equipment (we use portable electronet fences from Premier) it actually not that much work - usually it takes me 15 - 30 minutes to move them. A bit more if we use grounding rods but since we mostly use POS/NEG it doesn't really come up that often.

Bruce King said...

I should say that pig producers often claim that they're doing MIG, but rarely actually do. You run mostly sheep? Folks with ruminants (sheep, goats, cows, etc) are the ones that are most likely to actually do MIG.

Did you switch to MIG from some other form of grazing, or start with it?

Leon said...

Yep, just the sheep. And I do tend to forget that there are other animals out there, sorry :) I mean, honestly, why would anyone want anything else but sheep? :)

We originally started with the traditional approach basically rotating 3 huge pastures. With very predictable results, of course. We've been doing MIG for over two years now, I think ... except for a short period in early spring, when the only greens on the pasture are weeds, which are also quite eatable at that point. So I let the sheep to wander around on their own and do some cleaning up before we go back to organized grazing.

Steven said...

I'd just like to say that I blog about MIG grazing and I do it. We've had the cows on a barn lot eating hay with very little pasture for 3 weeks and but before that we they were moving to new pasture every day since March. Today I'm starting them on another 30+ day rotation around the pasture but since the regrowth was so slow with the low temps, we have it this extra 3 weeks before we went back at it.