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Cut and Carry Article: TreeYo EDU new release in Animals Chapter

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As the debate rages on whether we should be eating meat or not, I publish my latest article within the animals chapter to present another key facet to holistic animal management; Cut and Carry.  Its a traditional technique that has been adapted by Permaculturists to ensure healthier animals and pastures.  Read about it here and the nuances of it all.  meanwhile enjoy the wonderful new header art from my dear friend and fellow permie, Joana Amorim.  https://treeyopermacultureedu.com/animal-systems/cut-and-carry/

Written by Doug Crouch

Within Permaculture, domesticated livestock and humans can combine to form an interdependent symbiosis in which there is thriving conditions for the animals and ecosystem regeneration occurring simultaneously. Contrarily, the more humans remove themselves from holistic animal management, the more pollution is created, resources squandered, and degradation occurs. Animal management entails we meet their basic needs by giving them shelter, water, food of varying forms, care, protection from extremes and predators, and limits.  These limits come in the form of the fence lines that we erect permanently or temporarily with electric fencing.  Also the shepherd has a range with his own flock, not bound as much by fence yet other varying constraints.  Moreover, feed is found within these limits or it is brought to the animals for a variety of reasons. The main idea behind cut and carry is you cut forage for the animal beyond their boundaries and carry it to them when needed.  In essence this is how hay and straw works, even grain inputs, but what we refer to as cut and carry is more leaf fodder than anything else. At the bottom of the article a few variations are explained further as well.

Why Cut and Carry

Constraints of all sorts exist when one is performing holistic animal husbandry.  It takes work; hard work, punctual work, and pulsative work.  It also takes keen observation and decision making that is timely, which is reflective of the principles using animals as a biological resource and energy cycling. Consequently, we perform this cut and carry task when forage inside a limit gets too low and you are unable to move the animals to a new area or want them to finish the last bits off while keeping them highly nourished.  Pasture observation is key along with the animals behavior changes, which allows you to make critical decisions. Beyond forage becoming low, other factors might influence your decision making for cut and carry such as when pastures are too wet and you prefer the animal to stay in their house sites or a sacrifice area (an area that gets really beat up).  Also sometimes to give the animals variety or a highly nutritious input we do cut and carry.  Furthermore, some animals like rabbits rely mostly on this system for their caloric input beyond grains and kitchen wastes.

When raising goats at Treasure Lake, Kentucky, USA in 2018, I found myself cutting and carrying for all the reasons above.  I also would select certain vegetation that I was wanting to cut down anyway for numerous reasons so being able to carry it to my goats was great. I didn’t want to simply chop and drop where the vegetation was growing and I could not set up a limit where that vegetation was growing.

Tree and Shrub Cut and Carry

If animals are pinned in an area and extra forage is needed, simply find palatable vegetation and harvest this fodder for the animals.  From the above example of the goats, I was using the black locust, osage orange, box elder, staghorn sumac, and elm mainly from the native realm.  The non native bush honeysuckle, which proliferates in our disturbed soils there in Northern Kentucky, was also another I spent a lot of time cutting and carrying.  Some of the actual plants were not even out of the electric fenced in area but rather the vegetation was too high for the goats to reach.  So I would pollard the tree (cut at chest to head height) and let that drop and the goats would quickly devour the foliage.  However, some was from outside the boundaries and did represent quite hard work with the weight of the vegetation and the distance I sometimes would walk.  However I didn’t have to move the electric fence as often and again was able to remove unwanted vegetation from certain areas, like the dam wall, which is destructive for the dam whilst having a purpose of feeding the goats.  In the end it did make a mess of branches that overtime I intend to cut up for firewood, mulch, etc.  So remember if you cut and carry cuttings from trees and shrubs there will be woody material leftover that you will need to process one day.

Similarily in New Zealand at a farm I worked on in 2007-08, we would chop and drop tagasaste tree branches to our sheep.  Tagasaste, also called tree lucerne, was a great supplement for the sheep in this mediterranean climate.  This tree fodder crop from the legume family allowed the sheep to have highly nutritious forage in the two low points of forage in that climate.  One period is when the soils are cold and wet in the winter and the other when the soils have dried and grow no grass in the summer.  This allowed for higher stocking rates, faster growing sheep, and healthier pastures and sheep.  The tagasaste were planted in Savannah style along with other tree crops.

Cutting of branches of nitrogen fixers is a common way in which this strategy is manifested and contains an infinite amount of variations.  For example, there is also a common practice in the Dominican Republic to cut the fence lines of the gliricidia (madre de cacao) and feed that to the animals.  The fence lines were these trees driven in the ground as thick woody cuttings. They would then sprout and when more sunlight was desired for their “winter” tropical period, the leaf fodder was chopped and dropped for the animals to eat only.

Thus we can procure these resources woody resources from wild or edge zones, plant them in that way or Savannah style, or create coppice woodlots.  All of those work and as always, many elements support the important function.
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Location: Victoria BC
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Nifty article, thanks.

I did a bit of this for my pigs last year. I didn't really end up feeling that it was time/energy efficient enough to bother, but maybe with some tweaks.. the alder I was cutting was not very happy/leafy. The cottonwood was  big trees... plenty of leaves, but many detached at impact and most midsized branches broke.

The end result of a bunch of sticks covered in pig shit needing to be collected, or the area being converted to a stick garden for a few years til they rot, was not optimal.

Ideally I would have quick a way to bundle the stems, let the critters eat off the leaves and twigs, and remove the bundled stems to the next destination.

Carrying the fodder by hand was also not optimal.

A cart/trailer/Chinese wheelbarrow seems the obvious answer to this problem. I am fairly confident that using the tractor forks for this is fiscally foolish..

...perhaps the 'bundle-holder' could be built into the transport mechanism?

A better grasp on how much nutrition/energy I was delivery for my efforts would be very helpful... but would require weighing the rather voluminous tree fodder, and I haven't found the time somehow...

Pollarding directly at the fenceline obviously trumps transporting the stuff, but... well, I look forward to doing so once I have a fenceline and the growies are established beside it.
Douglas Crouch
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Thanks Dillon for the feedback and stories of others performing this technique.  Yeah the part on how much nutrition you are bringing is a good question.  People bag on permaculture for not having enough scientific data and time to weigh out such a resource is obviously a clear cut reason why not.  Nonetheless the observation part allows you to do your own research and verify or vilify such a technique.  Glad you included pigs in your feedback, its the one animal i haven't worked with in all my years of permaculture.  good luck on your next growing season.
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One of the things I have found in my 44 years of agriculture is; "what is old is new again." Farmers always want to try something different and so they reinvent themselves. Swales/No Swales, till/no-till, and cut and carry.

When I was over in Ireland I had the privilege to  be in a pub with 4 other dairy farmers as we talked about the differences between dairy farming in the USA and Ireland. They had just learned about cut and carry and were gushing on about it, where as we have been doing that for thirty years. I did not say anything. I did not want to sound like the all knowing American Tourist that sadly, abounds overseas. But to me, they were 30 years behind us...still using pails instead of milk lines, stalled cows instead of free stall, feeding baleage instead of corn/grass silage. Even a "big" dairy farm over there was only 100 cows, and the farm I stayed on kept saying, "walk around I have 100 acres". Again out of respect I never said anything because I was indeed a guest in their country, and they should be proud of what they have and how they do it.

I have succesfuly used cut and carry on my farm though in terms of forest crops. In my case I was clearing forest into field, so after I felled the trees fenced off an area and let the sheep go in and clean up the leaves and small twigs. A person does have to be careful though because if you do not notice a black cherry, they can kill your sheep (or any other livestock) via cynide poisoning. I had that happen once, but if there is a silver lining, the animals do not suffer and the death is instant (unlike copper posiioning: shudder).

I have an idea in my head for a mechanical machine to harvest leafs so that it will be a sustainable harvest, but I am not sure what that would do to the forest long term, or how to preserve the leaves. I would think in dry form they lack any serious nutrition, and could result in rumen-pack and kill the animal. This would of course be a big concern in 3rd trimester, lactating, and ewes carrying triplets. That is a serious concern because those are your money-making ewes. Obviously lambs could never have leafs due to rumen-pack.

I suspect though, that leafs could be ensiled. What that would entail for compaction would have to be studied.

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Comments above about big trees, not enough leaf and stuff...

I think this system really comes into its own when you have been doing it for a year or so and your trees have been appropriately pollarded.

One of my regular jobs is to tame the self seeded willow in my mother in laws garden. Unchecked it grows super fast - easily 8ft stems each year with green bark, and lots of leaves. Over a few years I have pruned it to a good structural scaffold, and the regrowth is easy to cut from there. This one tree generates a huge bundle of stems. A field line with a number of trees like this would provide considerable fodder.

I guess my point is that there is likely to be a huge difference between as-hoc harvest of whatever species are around, and a planned system of careful pollarding of of selected species.

Based on my observations, I would probably plant a fence line with willows every 8ft or so. I’d pollard them to around 5fy/ just above the normal browse height for your livestock. Then I’d drop the new growth each year directly into the field at times when the grass has stopped growing. If you miss cutting for a year your job gets harder - the stems are thicker and the wood is harder and less palatable.
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