Animals as tools

If you find
Your soil is capped or crusted
Livestock spread seeds
Pastures get rank and new growth is shaded out
There is more work than you seem to have time for
Give some of the farm jobs to livestock — use your Animals as tools.

Livestock are marvelous at fertilizing, mowing, managing pasture composition, cleaning up crop residues (trash), breaking soil crusts, improving soils through grazing shock, spreading seeds or confining weed seeds to a small area.

Get them working for you and you can focus on the jobs they don’t do well. Unfortunately you will still be left with filling in the tax forms and paying the bills.

Pastures and rangelands need animals to keep them in good shape, after all, they evolved together as a system. If the animals are domesticated, they need humans to manage them.

Animals are major contributors and yet there has been a growth in the number of farms that run no animals — cropping is continuous.

Yet in nature there are no areas where animals are unimportant in the system. Why?

Because animals provide manure to kick-start the system and keep it rolling, they keep vegetation in check, they cycle nutrients, they break up crusted soil surfaces, allow light in by thinning vegetation and periodically move the balance from one dominant species of plant to another.

But those are enough reasons for every farm to include some grazing animals. Failure to include livestock will almost certainly lead to an increase in costs or to a decline in productivity over the longer term.

Until you get the hang of it, an animal can be difficult to predict in terms of its results. But, any powerful tool takes a while to master.

As with any other tool, you need to use the right tool in the right way at the right time to get the result you want. Get one aspect of this out of whack with your aim and the existing conditions and you will get a different and maybe undesirable result.

Here are some ways you can use Animals as tools:

  • Herd effect can break the capping of soils and allow water to infiltrate and let germinating seeds break through the surface and get started rather than dying under a crust
  • Hard even grazing can bring on Grazing shock and that can help build soil and improve pasture quality
  • If there is a pasture variety in a particular area and you would like to spread it further, you can use your livestock. By timing your grazing and confining animals to that area when the seed is ripe then moving them to a different area where you want to establish the plants you can have them drop the seeds in their manure and hopefully establish the variety in the new spot.
  • You can also use animals to confine weed seeds them to a small area such as the stockyards. By timing the grazing and confining them to a small area where the weeds are seeding then moving the animals to the yards you can ideally have them drop the seeds where they will do least damage and are easily rogued out
  • Many mouths make light work: By grazing a pasture that is tall or old, you let the light in and let the plants grow. This brings on quality feed for later
  • have them provide manure to kick-start a new system and keep it rolling. This is common in a poultry-vegetable enterprise such as is run by many organic market gardeners and truck farmers. The hens are brought in to graze the remains of the last crop, turn the soil and deposit manure. Then the next crop is planted.
  • they keep vegetation in check,
  • they cycle nutrients,
  • They can be used carefully to assist you to move the balance from one pasture species to another. This requires careful timing to reduce the plant you want to lessen in the pasture and allow the one you want to improve. It is very effective when you get it right.

Using Animals as tools gives you a very versatile set of implements that can carry out multiple tasks while you do what you do best. And while they are doing it, they are generating more profit and keeping costs down.

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