Sunday, July 10, 2016

Using Small Sheep and Goats to Reclaim Land

This is the outline of a program I recently presented at the Ozark Folk Center State Park Farm to Table event. It's a concept I've been developing for two decades, but I'm starting to put our practices into words. 

Using Goats and Sheep to Reclaim Land
Jeanette Larson, co-owner Havencroft Farm, Mountain View, Arkansas,

Small ruminants are not just for weed-eating and brush clearing. They can be used to help turn marginal land to into productive pasture, woodlot and garden. Sheep and goats provide fertilizer and other soil nutrients. Their hooves break up soil crust but don’t compact the dirt like heavier animals. The attention the shepherd pays to the animals also pays dividends in improved care to the land.
Any amendments you put in the animals, you ultimately put into the soil. Hay, grain, minerals, water, all cycle through the sheep and goat’s digestive system and pick up life-giving natural bacteria along the way. Many plants thought of as weeds provide needed nutrients to the animals. It’s a beneficial, natural cycle.

Good fencing is a must for this process to work. Goats especially need good fence. While some sheep will jump, goats are known for that ability. Sheep tend to respect a fence, goats see it as a challenge to puzzle out. You need to confine the animals to the area you want to reclaim. You need to keep predators out. Being able to rotate grazing, strip graze and rotate species will all help with this process. Goats are browsers. They eat the brushy, woody plants and coarse weeds. Sheep are grazers. They like grass and soft weeds. The two species complement each other when used in a rotation.

Use mobile shelters to terrace land and build soil where you want it.  We use cattle panels and tarps. Deep bed with waste hay in the winter, then move the shelters in the summer.

You must adjust your stocking levels to the carrying capacity of your land – and your budget. You can buy hay and grain to feed animals on smaller parcels of land, but that can be cost prohibitive. 

Caring for animals is a commitment that you need to consider before taking it on.

Choose your species based on your interests.
  • Meat goats like Kikos, Boers and Spanish goats do not necessarily need daily tending, though like all animals they need access to feed and water.
  • Dairy goats need intense management and daily milking –every day and often twice a day.
  • Fiber goats, such as angoras and cashmere goats need regular shearing or combing for their health as well as optimum fiber production.
  • Sheep have similar categories. Hair sheep are raised for meat, wool sheep for fiber and dairy sheep for milk.
  • Camelids such as alpacas and llamas can fit into this species mix and find their own niche as fiber animals, guardians, pack animals or pets.
  • Free range chickens are also an important part of our land-management. They turn the waste hay and keep insects pests at bay.