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Multi-species Grazing – Diversification Instead of Expansion

This week, we’re talking a bit about diversification, providing some examples of what it might look for different operations and how folks make the decision to diversify. This example comes to us from Suzanne and George England. We also share a story about the Anderson’s of Whitman, Nebraska who describe how they decide which enterprises to pursue.

Meet Suzanne and George England of Midland, South Dakota. For the past eleven years their multi-species grazing operation has included goats (meat and milk), chickens (meat and layers), and commercial angus cattle. They chose this route as a way to grow their business without taking on the debt load that would have come from buying more land.

This 5:17 video is a great look at their operation, describing the benefits to their soil and forage that come from these different species grazing together.

What Do You Need to Make Something Like This Work?

As the England’s describe their operation they also outline the skills and tools that make it possible.

A Team – George points out that the business wouldn’t work without Suzanne’s active participation. The two weeks she takes off her town job are critical to getting each season off on the right foot.

Multi-tasking skills – With all the animals arriving and calving and kidding at the same time, there are lots of tasks pulling the team in different directions.

Suzanne mentions that they use “Farmer Fence” or “Red Wire” to modify their pasture fences to keep goats in. It’s the welded wire fencing that comes in rolls and sometimes includes a top red wire.

The right equipment – George makes it clear that without portable waterers and self-feeders for the chickens, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing. The definition of “right” will be different for each operation, so it’s important to take a good look at each of the tasks involved in an enterprise, and then consider what kind of tools and equipment will make it doable over the long haul. You may not have everything you need or want at the beginning, and you’ll also learn more about what you need as you go along.

A Grazing Plan – While George and Suzanne don’t mention this, a grazing chart, and the planning that goes with it can reduce stress on you, and help you make the most of your grazing resources. We’ve got free grazing charts and planning tools to help you get started.

Considering Raising Goats?

If you’ve never worked with goats before, Suzanne’s advice to learn about them before starting with is excellent. Then, once you’ve decided to go forward, start small.

Starting small is what saved me many times in my first few years of goat husbandry. I started with twelve, that grew to 35 and eventually to 130. By the time my herd was 130-strong I’d learned how to build a fence that would hold water AND goats, the importance of making sure they had what they needed inside the fence so they weren’t inspired to leave, and most importantly, how to respond to illness and injuries.

I found that veterinarians who knew about or were willing to work with goats were few and far between. So when it came to diagnosing and treating illness, the “Goat Health Handbook” by Thomas R. Thedford, DVM was my go to resource. Tagged as “a field guide for producers with limited veterinary services,” its tables of symptoms made it easy for me to narrow down possible causes. Then I could read more about the illness, figure out treatments and save animals that might otherwise have died. The handbook was literally a life saver.

I’m including it in the Bonus Materials available to paid On Pasture subscribers. (Since sheep and goats share many of the same diseases, sheep producers will probably appreciate this resources too.)

Want More on Multi-species

Sandy Miller’s On Pasture article has great information on forage, fencing shelter and more.

Tom Krawiec’s excellent three-part series covers animal behavior in a mult-species mob, managing birthing season and grass, and the soil health and forage benefits of multi-species grazing. Start here:

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