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Multi-Species Grazing Part 2 – Birthing Season and Grass Management

By   /  June 10, 2019  /  2 Comments

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Tom Krawiec has been handling 2,000 to 3,000 head per year for close to 15 years. His MOBs can include saddle horses, cattle, sheep and even pigs. In Part 1 of this series he described how he gets different species to behave as one herd and some of the helpful behaviors he’s seen as a result. This week, he shares tips for birthing season and for grass management.

Birthing Season in the MOB

Before moving a multi-species MOB effectively, the animals must be trained to act as one unit. In a perfect world, mature animals should be trained to do this prior to birthing. The way I train, is by gathering all the animals into a tight group before moving them. Any bunch quitters are chased back to the MOB. The trick here is to release all pressure as soon as the individual is back in the MOB. If I am consistent, each individual learns their safe place is within the group and it doesn’t take long if they are moved every day or two. Once they are trained, a simple verbal scolding is usually all it takes to have a wandering individual turn and head back to the MOB. I know it sounds a bit far-fetched, but a loud; “Get back to the MOB!” is all that is required for any species I have dealt with. (To learn more about this technique read “Happiness is Being in the Herd.”)

To move any group during the birthing period, I employ what I call the ‘Wave’. First, I open the gate to the new paddock. Then I use a zig-zag movement at the back of the MOB. It is very slow, and I stop to let each mother get up. Once she is up and has gathered her young, I will proceed past her on to the next mother. When I am at the edge of the MOB, I turn around and go back on my initial path. This movement will generate some forward movement, but not a lot. That movement will in turn create just enough energy to get the next ‘row’ of animals up and gather their young. I will continue this pattern until the MOB is moving. Of course, with any young that are still wet, I will veer off and let them mother up. Those mothers will follow the MOB as soon as the new born can walk.

The ‘Wave’ takes a lot of patience, and since it takes ‘as long as it takes’, don’t be thinking about all the other things you have to do that day. I am an ardent believer that the energy you bring when moving animals is the energy the animals feel. Therefore, when moving newborns, make sure you feel calm and relaxed.

As long as the MOB is moving, let them move at their own pace. If you are on horseback, an old, semi-retired horse is the one to be riding for this chore. Also, when moving a distance over 1 mile, let the MOB stop after each mile and rest so the young can catch their breath and suckle for 20 minutes or so.

It has been my experience that animals respond very well to verbal cues. I will shout out ‘Hup! Hup!’ when I want them to move. This trains the MOB to prepare for moving when I holler and not be bothered when I ride through checking for birthing trouble. The mothers learn quickly that when they hear me holler, it is time to move and not when I am just riding through.

After the young are about six weeks old, I will start using a whistle to call the MOB into the next paddock. To make this work gates must be positioned so that young animals do not get trapped walking down the wrong side of a fence because they can see animals walking down the other side of the fence. This is very important when crossing a road or swamp. It will make your life much easier. I know it is a pain to build another gate, but trust me. Just do it!

Grass Management

My initial reason for putting different species together was to save labor. It is much less work moving one group as opposed to moving two or three. Further, you save on maintaining infrastructure for each group. Also, when things are easy, a 12-year-old or an 80-year-old can move the MOB.

The real benefit, though, of a multi-species MOB is what it does for the grass and soil.

Trampled pasture. Photo courtesy of Forrest Pritchard.

Each animal brings something beneficial to the soil. Each species ‘massages’ the soil in a unique fashion and has a preferred type of forage. Horses are a great benefit because of their large hoof. They do a lot of trampling that lays down a nice mat of ground cover. I discovered this when we grazed about 60 bucking horses on a monoculture of alfalfa. After only two rotations, the horses had laid down a beautiful mat on the bare ground between the plants. They did this because of their large plate like hooves and the fact that they don’t have to ruminate so they are constantly moving.

Sheep and cattle work well together because their palate does not completely overlap. Sheep will seek out more weedy forage as well as any saplings growing in the sward. I have noticed though, that throughout the summer, calves tend to eat the same things the sheep like because they tend to hang out with the sheep a lot. I’m not sure how hogs benefit the sward. I just really like pasturing hogs so I keep telling myself they do something good for the soil, I’m just not sure what yet.

In the final installment of this article, I will continue discussing the benefits of grazing multi-species together for grass and soil health.

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About the author

Tom, along with his wife Jan, started raising & direct marketing hogs, sheep, cattle, turkeys, & chickens in 1999, the same year they completed a Holistic Management course. Their operation slowly morphed into custom grazing cattle on rented land and Tom’s passion for managing grass grew in the process. Tom & Jan completed the Ranching for Profit school in 2003 and found the ‘missing piece’. Since then, Jan has fulfilled her dream of being a nurse & Tom is currently the Production Manager of a ranch in north east British Columbia.

2 Comments

  1. John Marble says:

    Thanks for this, Tom.

    One thing I notice is your repeated mention of the idea that this sort of work takes time and focus and energy. It is, after all, work. I think many folks are busy looking for special ideas, silver bullets, brilliant solution, things that will finally make their operations successful. Well. Your notes here include the fact that we have to change infrastructure, change behavior, change attitudes…change ourselves, if we want to make progress. Very true, and very good.

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