And on this homestead farm… We have space (time and energy) for a finite number of animals, so we have the lovely opportunity to indulge the few ones we have. We aspire to give them good, healthy lives. Currently, we have 2 cows, 4 goats, 2 sheep, 2 pigs, 120 or so laying hens and a rotation of “meat” birds. The birds are on pasture all the time and during the eight or nine months a year when the soil is not too wet we are able to feed all the 4-leggers on grass as well.
For those who buy from us you should know, we feed these guys organically for their health (ours and yours,) for the health of our soil, and because this whole GMO question really, really, really ticks us off and we do not want to support or encourage the use of them in our world.
Being a small property we are fortunate to be able to irrigate the portion of our pasture we need to keep green during the dry months. For confinement we use two electric wires with step on posts to define our grazing areas which keeps our herd on the grass we choose and gives us the opportunity to “mow” the property. We give the cows and goats the first shot at the grass, giving them a small area to eat down but careful to not let them eat and eat on the same patch of land for too long.
Our grazing shape on the pasture that we are currently trying looks sort of like a couple of bowling allies. We stretch out the electric fencing in one long strip at a time, coming out from one of the barnyard gates in a 5-6′ by 200′ stretch. This seems to be feeding the two cows and goats for about a day. Then we push the grazing alley over another alley width, more or less, the next day.
Growing healthy pasture, we’ve learned, is reflected in the rumen biology of our cows and is a craft we are still learning. We aspire to grow healthy pasture (and in turn, healthy animals, healthy food…) In this pasture management rotation, after the cows and goats and sheep we finish with our chickens. We are shooting for a 23-26 day rotation before the cows return to the first “alley.”
To introduce our barnyard residents, first among them, Bambi-the-beautiful-and-well-loved cow. Bambi is a two year old bred heifer, (she is due to calve this December– woo hoo!!!) a 46″ tall doe-eyed jersey who rules the yard. She may be smaller than the average cow but our girl has made herself top barnyard girl at the farm. Bambi comes when her name is called (assuming she feels like it) and can open gates on her own and frequently does, so we make extra provisions to keep this smart lady where we want her (or do not want her.)
Cows are herd animals, we knew this from reading in the cow books we consumed before bringing Bambi home, but we hoped she would find enough company with the goats. After seven months we were convinced she needed a cow companion, so the Fall of 2012 we brought Pansy to the farm.
It was a joyful, joyful cow-day when we unpacked Bambi’s new friend from the trailer. We could hear the happy thought bubble coming from Bambi: “It’s a COW, see that!? That’s a COW!!!” Needless to say, we’ve come to learn from Bambi what big personalities cows have. Our girl galloped and bucked with delight seeing what a treasure our trailer brought to her meadow. It was an especially happy day at the farm and it felt like an excellent good decision to bring in a second cow, Pansy, to the farm.
It was the beginning of our “herd.” And the two have been inseparable since– a couple of bookends in the meadow, munching side by side, following one another to and fro between the pasture and the barnyard, discussing the daily cow news…
Mother’s Day 2013 Pansy calved adding “Fred” to the barnyard. Fred was born with contorted tendons in his front legs and unable to walk on his front hooves. For the first few days we splinted his joints so that he could stand and reach his momma’s teats. The words “run Forest run!” came to mind watching this little bull calf on his patched together front legs. His tendons did stretch out and he frollics around the pasture just fine now, but he’s been “Fred Forest” since.
Bambi, Pansy and Fred Forest share the barnyard with Winnie (pictured above,) Gretel (above left) and her daughters, Flower and Thumper. The night of the “big Friday the 13th storm,” April 2012 was the birth of our these two (Flower and Thumper.) They were not bottle raised which may explain why they are sort of wild-goat-hoodlums. But we’ve also seen that goats seem to mellow out over time, and become more trusting and sociable with people as they get older, so maybe Flower and Thumper will as well. But for now they are two classic goat imps.
We also have 120 or so laying chickens in three chicken-appointed horse trailers. In the winter we rotate the chickens between the fruit trees, using the driveway that circles 1/2 the property to park them in this area of the property that we can access using the driveway. This works out great as the land is too wet for the tractor that we use to move the trailers. The chickens get fresh pasture and the fruit trees get well fertilized this time of year. In the summer when we won’t damage the soil, we put them on the other parts of the meadow.
Four or five times a year a rotation of duck and chicken are respectfully homed here and given an organic and natural style of life. Once they outgrow their brooders we pasture rotate the chicken and ducks around the property as wel
And pigs… of course we have pigs. Pigs seem to make a farm complete. All our kitchen scrapes go to these guys and the whey from our cheesemaking, which they just go bananas over. This year we have two, “Tim and Dave.” We are pasture rotating these guys as well but not within the same areas as the chickens, goats, sheep and cows. We are moving them once a week on about a 20′ by 20′ patch of land. We are using electric wire to keep them confined and it seems to be working pretty well.