Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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New Ideas to Solve Old Problems

John Marble focuses on helping us take a new look at things we might take for granted. Examples include his thoughts on paddock design and moving livestock, and his article “From Minimal To Mob – Lifestyle and Economic Considerations for Designing your Grazing Program” where he gets us to think about how many times a month, week, or day our livestock really need to be moved. He’s also shared practical techniques for dealing with problems like slime in water tanks and making calving less stressful.

I’ve put many of John’s articles together here, and also made the handout below that you can download, copy and share at conferences and workshops. I hope you’ll enjoy reading John’s past articles and will stay tuned for all the new ones to come in 2021!

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Vothhttps://onpasture.com
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. John,

    Could you please give feedback on the following plan for paddock design for grazing sheep?

    I’m interested in a set-up similar to what I’ve read about for dairy farms, in which the animals walk back to the barn (in my case, a dry lot adjacent to the barn) for water and supplementary feed( when needed) and take themselves out to whichever paddock is open for grazing.

    This would relieve me of the need to provide shade, water, and mineral in the grazing paddocks. I have done that for the last two years and have obseved that the sheep do all their grazing in the cool hours of evening, night, and early morning and spend the heat of the day ruminating and sleeping so why not do that in the comfort of the barn and drylot?

    The obvious drawbacks would be the overuse of the alleys leading to the drylot/barn , perhaps parasitism if the sheep loiter there to graze, and having to move manure from the drylot and barn to the gardens and fields.

    What are your thoughts on the pros and cons? ( and the thoughts of anyone else reading this )

    Is any one reading this using this kind of system for sheep?

    The farthest distance the sheep would have to travel is about 600 feet. Flock size will be about 60 ewes and their lambs.

    • Hi Emily.

      My experience with sheep is rather limited. That said, I believe many design issues are the same, regardless of species. I think you are correct about all of the negatives associated with using lanes. I would add mud, compaction, and nutrient drift to your list of negatives, too.

      The biggest positive I see regarding lanes is that it is easier/simpler for the herdsman. I suspect that a determining factor in your decision might revolve around weather and climate. If you live in a terribly hot place where shade is a critical factor in animal health, happiness and performance, then maybe it will make sense to have the sheep come to the barn for shelter. Aside from that, I am not very attracted to the concept of gathering animals in a central location. Virtually all dairy animals have to come to the barn daily, but personally, I’d much prefer grazers to camp out on the paddock.
      Here’s two things to think about:

      Assuming that shade is the critical factor, and also that you plan to live on this farm for a long time, I’d immediately begin planting trees.

      Greg Judy has written extensively on the use of lanes, primarily as a way of using a limited number of water sources to serve many different paddocks. So, I would direct you to Greg for more help.

      Best wishes in the coming year!

      • Thanks for your analysis.

        Planting trees seems like a good strategy for many reasons.

        I look forward to reading Greg Judy’s writings on lanes.

    • Hi Emily,

      You and John have correctly identified many of the concerns regarding using a lane system. Run some above-ground pipeline under those trees and get water out to the paddocks. Whether it’s cattle or sheep, placement of water has a major effect on grazing behavior and, I would argue, animal welfare.

      Any time animals have to move as a flock or herd to get to water, it’s a stressful event. The dominant animals are the ones that decide when everyone else drinks. This happens for two reasons. First, until one of the dominant animals starts the movement back to water, no one else drinks, no matter how thirsty.

      And then, of course, when they get back to the water it’s a limited resource, both in terms of access space and tank refill, so the dominant ones get as much as they want while the rest of the herd waits for a chance. If the dominant ones decide to head back to the grazing area, the bottom of the flock or herd might not have gotten enough to drink, but will leave the water to stay with their mates.

      If you have water available in a small paddock positioned so that it’s visible to the herd from just about everywhere within that paddock, animals will water individually. All of them will get what they need, and going to water won’t be a stressful event.

      Second, if your animals loaf around the water back at the dry lot, they are not grazing. Voluntary dry matter intake may be reduced and they may not thrive as well as they would if they stayed in the paddock. This effect will be compounded if you sometimes provide supplemental feed in the dry lot, as they may decide to hang around waiting for table service rather than hoofing it back out to the buffet.

      And of course, every minute that they spend walking back and forth is a minute they are not grazing or cudding. With sheep, a minute is anywhere from 60 to 100 bites. A five minute walk in and walk back is potentially 1,000 bites they don’t get the chance to take.

      • Bill, thanks for making those points about animal behavior and the stresses that arise around watering at a central location not in the current grazing paddock.

        So far every grazier I have asked agrees that water, shelter, and supplements in every paddock are preferable to making animals walk to a central location for same, if at all possible.

        I guess grazing dairy cows , goats, and sheep is a different situation since they MUST go to a central location for milking anyway despite the drawbacks. I would love to hear how dairy producers (any species)
        deal with the challenges and how they set up their paddocks, lanes, water, shelter.

        I have read of pasture based horse farms that use a centralized system but horse behavior might be very different from ruminants and I’m not sure if “On Pasture ” has any horse people in the audience who could comment.

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