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We have 5 acres of dry clay lake bottom land. We buy all of our animals food.  I would love to find a drought resistant ground cover we can actually use to feed our sheep and goats.
Any suggestions?
 
pollinator
Posts: 190
Location: Golden Valley, AZ 86413
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Rather than make bad assumptions, Can you describe your land, the size of your herd, and how much of the five acres that the sheep and goats have access to? What other livestock do you have?

If you want to establish ground cover with sheep and goats, you will have to keep them off of those areas that you want to restore until you have established the cover plants. Even after you establish the ground cover, you must limit the size of your herd to what the soil will support. You will want to divide your land into smaller paddocks (at least 12 of them) so you can always have a place to move the herd to when they've eaten 1/3 of the forage of the paddock that they are in "now". The key is to never let them eat the forage down to bare ground. You need to give the pasture grasses and forbs time to recover between "feedings".

Sheep and goats have very different nutritional preferences. Do you keep them together? If so, they will favor different plants as foods, but you will want to make sure there is enough of each if you plan on keeping them together.

"Goats are ruminants. They have four stomachs and chew their cuds. They are.reputed to be willing to eat almost anything and they may sample many things, but goats prefer to browse on the tips of woody shrubs, trees, and leafy plants. Stripping leaves off of branches and shrubs is their favorite thing to do.  Goats will also eat dry leaves, shoots, weeds, and grasses.  For a treat, you can give goats apples, grapes, pears, watermelon, bananas, turnips, celery, carrots, and pumpkin."
https://www.destination-healthy-foods.com/What-do-Goats-Eat.html

Goats will love to do the weeding in any plot of ground that you want to convert into a garden. 5 acres may not be enough pasture for a large herd.


"Sheep eat grass, clover, forbs, and other pasture plants. They especially love forbs. In fact, it is usually their first choice of food in a pasture. A forb is a broad-leaf plant other than grass. It is a flowering plant. Forbs are often very nutritious." http://www.sheep101.info/eating.html

Since the land is lake bottom, is it basically flat? What kind of slope does it have? When it rains, where does the water collect? Are there signs of erosion?

Where is the land located? Do you have a local agriculture/horticulture agent nearby? Alternatively, can you identify the "weeds" and other native grasses that thrive in your area? Take pictures of such plants, maybe the "plant people" on this site will be able to identify them.

Some plants are known for their deep, penetrating taproots, such as the Daikon Radish can be planted for their ability to add underground organic matter.

Looking forward to hearing more about your homestead.


 
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Hey Sherrie!

I'm pretty new to permaculture, so take these suggestions as such. I live in NV and grew up in AZ. Mark! My grandparents lived in Golden Valley, and I grew up in Kingman :D

Anyway... Let me get back on track. I've been researching and starting Moringa. Its great for animal fodder, and is famous for doing well in poor soils. It is highly nutritious, is a nitrogen fixer, and can be a chop and drop for mulch, as well. So it pretty much improves soil and needs very little to produce a lot of benefits. Please keep in mind, I've failed with moringa in the soil so far, but I don't think this was the plant's fault (a tarp got loose in a storm and the wind used the tarp to beat one poor Moringa to death :( ....Moringa 2 was eaten up by escape artist chickens when it was too young to recover).

Besides Moringa, I've had a lot of success with sweet potato, though you may need some more organic material in your soil for this.... maybe make a swale for the sweet potatoes. I believe the leaves are great for goats. I know my chickens are obsessed with them. They are a living mulch, and can take extreme heat. I think the goats would eat them too quickly, though, if allowed to graze on them without control.

Figs are thriving for me here in NV, as well. I only ever had one goat, but I'm pretty sure he would have lost his mind over figs. Check out the following phoenix gardeners. I've learned a ton about what can be grown in our hot region from them.

Dave Stone
Jake Mace
Shamus O'Leary

I hope you enjoy a great year!

Kelly B.

 
pollinator
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You might have luck with cowpeas.  Cowpeas are grown in the Sahel region of Africa, just south of the Sahara desert.  The Sahel region is very dry with (sometimes) seasonal rainfall.  During the summer months it is scorching hot and dry with only moderately fertile soil.

Cowpeas are one of the few plants that not only survives but thrives in this unforgiving country.  Cowpeas are nitrogen fixers, decent cover crops and even pretty good forage.  If you are looking for something to help break up hard soil, condition soil and generally add fertility to otherwise problematic ground, cowpeas are a good start.

This is merely my input.  You may have different thoughts and ideas about getting your soil started but I thought I would add my two cents.

I hope this is helpful and if you have any questions, please ask.  Also, please keep us updated on your progress.

Eric
 
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Sherry,  in another life long ago, I worked in the dry, high desert of northern Nevada around Humboldt and Pershing counties and eastern Washoe county so you've piqued my interest a bit. What currently grows in the surrounding area? That can give you some clue as to how alkaline/saline the soil is. Is your 5 acres of lakebed an actual playa that floods seasonally? If so, that will be extremely tough to establish anything as the salinity of the soil is extreme in those places.  Does greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus) grow around you?  Also look for salt grass (Distichlis) growing between the greasewood hummocks. Both plants indicate a high water table and saline soil. If you have big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) you may have a few more choices as to what you could establish for forage as it does not survive in the higher saline soils greasewood indicates. In any case, your natives will give you some indication of what your site is capable of producing. Good luck. That is some beautiful country but tough as far as growing conditions go.
 
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Location: 7b desert southern Idaho
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I’d love to see a permaculture project based in a sagebrush ecology. Just how do you deal with 6 inches a year of water? I’m always running into abandoned dams somebody tried to build. It is a harsh environment.
 
Mark Kissinger
pollinator
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Location: Golden Valley, AZ 86413
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Dennis Mitchell wrote:I’d love to see a permaculture project based in a sagebrush ecology. Just how do you deal with 6 inches a year of water? I’m always running into abandoned dams somebody tried to build. It is a harsh environment.



First, you must find a way to capture all of the rain and precipitation that hits the property. It needs to be stored UNDERGROUND where the plants and soil microbes have access to it. The soil must be "armored" to insulate it from the UV rays and excessive soil temperatures (this is where the solar panels come into play). Plan on using lots of organic mulch, and perhaps consider starting with a windrow of coppiced "chop & drop" plants, just to grow your own mulch.

Rainwater harvesting earthworks will probably be required. Plant selection is another key factor. Perhaps the solution is to combine Renewable energy installations with agriculture and livestock using regenerative pasture management techniques. I've posted several YouTube videos that explain the concepts in some of the other forums here (greening the desert is one). Look up Gabe Brown's videos. There are cover crops that will do well in as little as 2" of precipitation to over 200" of precipitation (they aren't the same plants, of course).

Use permaculture design concepts to observe the vectors that you have, and work out from there. Maybe you'll want to grow non-food plants. Not all land is suitable for production agriculture. Try to catalog what assets you have, and what challenges you have. The trick is to convert the liabilities into assets. Do not censor your brainstorming sessions with reasons why they won't work. You can always do that later, and perhaps two or more perceived liabilities can work together to form an asset.

 
Sherrie Dawn Bays
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Thank you for the information and suggestions.
We have 9 sheep, 8 goats, turkeys, guineas, 15ish chickens. The livestock at this point are on the 1.5 ac area of the main homestead, so that leaves about 3.5 to grow something else. The land is clay and dried silt from the ancient lake that was here. it grows Russian thistle and cheat grass well.
The water settles  around the chicken coop, the lowest part of our place. The slope of the land is very gradual to the south. I thought of swells and a chicken tractor for fertilizer.
Our temps run 100 for a couple months in the summer. We average 9 in rain and 19 of snow. We don't have more water rights than one ac. so whatever we plant has to tolerate drought. We aren't on a Playa,

 
Mark Kissinger
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Sherrie Dawn Bays wrote:Thank you for the information and suggestions.
We have 9 sheep, 8 goats, turkeys, guineas, 15ish chickens. The livestock at this point are on the 1.5 ac area of the main homestead, so that leaves about 3.5 to grow something else. The land is clay and dried silt from the ancient lake that was here. it grows Russian thistle and cheat grass well.
The water settles  around the chicken coop, the lowest part of our place. The slope of the land is very gradual to the south. I thought of swells and a chicken tractor for fertilizer.
Our temps run 100 for a couple months in the summer. We average 9 in rain and 19 of snow. We don't have more water rights than one ac. so whatever we plant has to tolerate drought. We aren't on a Playa.



First, You probably are trying to run too many goats and sheep for the current productivity of your ranch's available pasture. Developing a system of shallow swales that follow the contour lines of your acreage would be a good start towards being able to improve and regenerate your soils. Get a copy of Brad Lancaster's Two-volume tome, "Rainwater Harvesting", to give you a better handle on the strategies that could be applied in the various areas of your holdings.

The first thing to do is to let your goats eat the Russian thistle and cheatgrass, Especially when they are in their young pre-flowering growth stage. You'll want to keep the animals off of any areas that you seed with a mix of native pasture species. I would move the chicken coop to higher ground, and seed the areas that collect moisture with ddeep taprooted plants that will add organic materials to the soil, and break through any hardpan that may have developed. Here is one of Gabe Brown's videos, and some notes I took while watching it:

https://youtu.be/O394wQ_vb3s
Sustainable Farming and Ranching in a Hotter, Drier Climate by Gabe Brown

1. Grow things, for as long as possible, all year
2. Focus on keeping your mycorrhizal fungi happy.
3. Use the <b>Hainey SoilTest</b>

For example, "What is the Soil Resource you are trying to improve?"
No-Till
Mixed species cover crops
Integrate livestock


It is important to "armor" any bare soil as soon as possible in order to keep your "Effective rainfall" from evaporating away in the sun and wind. A mixture of ground covers: clovers and grasses and deep taproot-forming forbs will eventually provide all of the feed required by your menagerie, as long as you come up with a management plan that respects the growth cycle of your established vegetation. NEVER, ever allow your livestock to consume over 50% of the ground cover before moving them to another part of your ranch.

Look up the Polyface Farms approaches livestock management to get some ideas how, for instance, your chicken tractor can follow your sheep and goats into a paddock. The key is to keep everybody moving into "greener pastures" <u>before</u> they eat everything and expose the soil to the direct UV of the sun. You will have to plan for wintering your herds and flocks, perhaps by letting their numbers become smaller as fall and winter draws neigh.

You are becoming a "grass farmer", which is how you will end up restoring your pastures to their full potential. To do that, you must make every raindrop or snowflake that hits your property into "Effective Precipitation" by quickly infiltrating into the soil, where it is accessible to the plants. Keep in mind that sheep and goats prefer different plant types as food. Make sure that the goats get enough shrubs and even small trrees. consider planting coppice trees to act as windbreaks and forage for the goats,

Look up Gabe Brown and Greg Judy for their excellent YouTube videos on the subject. I have posted much of this on other forums, but I can re-post the links if you need them.

There is a soil test that will give you added insight as to what "resource" you are promoting as you manage your soils. Different parts of you land may require different treatments,

Feel free to ask more questions if you need to.
 
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