• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com pie forums private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Carla Burke
  • John F Dean
  • Nancy Reading
  • Anne Miller
  • r ranson
  • Jay Angler
stewards:
  • Pearl Sutton
  • paul wheaton
  • Leigh Tate
master gardeners:
  • Timothy Norton
  • Christopher Weeks
gardeners:
  • Tina Wolf
  • Jeremy VanGelder
  • thomas rubino

Which Animals (If Any) Are Best for this Situation?

 
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
19
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
1.5 years ago, we planted over 11,000 trees at 3.2m triangular spacing in an area that is old cattle pasture.

Our current maintenance is very time consuming and energy intensive with weedwackers running on 10 hectares. Some trees are already 2+ meters tall, but most are stunted in our acidic soil and many are less than 1m tall.

The vegetation/pasture grass is mostly Brachiaria brizantha, B. decumbens, and a fair amount of sword grass (Paspalum virgatum). There is a small mixture of herbaceous plants now too.

Weedwacking is expensive, and never-ending, and labor for it is in short supply...

I always hoped to switch over to animals to accomplish maintenance...most of the existing vegetation was planted for cows, so it would make sense to use cattle for maintenance. I think sheep could also feed on herbaceous plants that cattle don't readily consume. Problem is most literature I've read says to use 6ft tall, thick hardwire cloth as plant protectors, and secured with heavy-duty soil staples with sheep and cattle. For the amount of trees we need to protect, the cost would be astronomical. Also, weeds would grow on the interior of the protectors, so you'd have to remove the protectors every once-in-a-while to do labor anyway.

I thought Ducks, Chickens and Geese would be the answer, so I acquired a significant amount.

Here are the problems I see with the animals:

Cattle: Expensive, and require expensive plant protectors
Tropical Sheep: Difficult to contain, also require expensive plant protectors, the Brachiaria grasses have steroids that are toxic to sheep.
Ducks and Geese: We raised about 20 Muscovies from babies and bought 2 adult Geese thinking they would be the answer. They do nibble and eat some grass, but they do not aggressively attack the grasses like I had hoped. We tried reducing their feed to encourage them to eat more grass, but this just led to starvation of some ducks. The geese are a new addition, but they don't seem to go after grasses like I imagined geese would. Maybe these geese were just raised in someone's yard on commercial chicken feed? I'll try to get some goslings to be able to train them to pasture from a young age. However, I'm not convinced. Maybe they won't like the grass species we have, or perhaps they require only recently sprouted grasses.
Chickens: We have 200 chickens with mobile tractors that we rotate through the plantation, but we basically have to weedwack an area for them before moving them to that area.

I'm aware that all animals will compact the soil too much and even destroy tree root systems if left in one place for too long, so rotational-grazing with any animal is my intention.

I never expected animals to be able to completely eradicate 100% of the undesireable vegetation on the property, but I expect them to clear everything minus a few poisonous plants here and there. It would be nice to reduce our maintenance bill by 75% or more with animals, and defer the remaining maintenance cost by selling animal products.

I'm pretty new to raising animals, so perhaps my expectations are unrealistic.

 
pollinator
Posts: 2339
Location: Denmark 57N
594
fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Geese, ducks, rabbits all like short grass so I don't think any of them will help you unless you can mow the entire area and then have enough animals to keep it down, which on 10 hectares would be an awful lot.
You're not going to be able to protect 1m tall trees from cows they will eat the tops even if you protect the stems. And the same goes for sheep or goats.

You could place a collar of plastic around every tree, you could also use cardboard and mulch if you can find a mountain of it lying around somewhere, it will keep the grass down for a few months to a year But I think you'll just have to let the trees get on with it, anything that doesn't make it isn't suitable for your situation.
 
Posts: 198
Location: East Tennessee
40
forest garden hunting woodworking
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Goats and Sheep are definitely going to destroy the trees. Cows and Horses prefer grass, and tend to avoid eating trees. I know the goats I've had in the past will even strip the bark from trees.

I'd say cows, horses, or donkeys may be your best options.

EDIT:  I've also had pigs that like grass, and they will be a bit to short to eat the trees.
 
Scott Obar
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
19
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I assumed you were right. We're going to fertilize with dolomite and guano de isla hopefully by the end of the year. The trees need to begin to grow more, otherwise we might have to move on as you say.

What is the minimum height of a tree in order to be safe from average size cows? Sadly, I haven't heard of any miniature cow breeds here in Peru. I think that would probably be the best solution imaginable. Perhaps there are some in Brazil? It would just be a question of figuring out how to get them here.

I was actually leaning towards geese, as they're pretty easy on the small trees. The book, Microlivestock by the National Acadamies Press, talks about how they were commonly used to maintain orchards last century. Could we do an initial weedwacking, and then move in a large flock of geese about a week later once the grass begins to recover? How many geese per hectare? Should they be a specific breed? Would they have the same toxicity problems from these grass species as sheep do?

Recently, we started weedwacking the property again, and purchased 200 chickens last month. We built four lightweight tractors for them, and now that they are getting bigger we are going to begin to move them 50-60m per day. They are only in their tractors at night and during storms. During the day they fan out across the landscape and forage. I would consider doing the same thing with geese, but I'd like to see some more examples of people already doing this successfully with geese, as well as more information on which tropical plants are palatable and which are toxic to geese. Horses, and sheep, for example, would not do well on the vast majority of our grass.

On a thirty day rotation (pretty standard for rotational-grazing in order to disrupt potential parasite cycles) will the grass regrow too tall for the geese to handle.

I did a bit of reading on Kune Kune pigs, as they're touted to be the best pig for pastures. Still I heard they root, and have the reputation for being very difficult to contain. Those aren't issues I'd like to deal with.
 
Skandi Rogers
pollinator
Posts: 2339
Location: Denmark 57N
594
fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator




Cows browse Look how straight the bottom of those trees are, exactly at maximum cow reach. so the tree needs to be taller than a cows reach. They also scratch on anything so trees need to be thick enough to withstand an itchy cow.
 
gardener
Posts: 1146
Location: Central Maine (Zone 5a)
378
homeschooling kids trees chicken woodworking
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I will start by saying, I have not been in your situation, but I think there are concepts that apply. It might have been better to plant this land in stages, so it was easier to keep up with... but we can't change the past.

A side note, while scythes are considered "historic relics" in most places, in just about any contest using long grass, the scythe cut faster than the weed whacker.

When you have a big problem to do, break it into smaller pieces.  Weedwhack a section down to something that rabbits or geese would eat. Then use the animals to keep it short, while you weedwhack the next section. It might take time, but getting ahead of it, and then using animals to keep it mowed could work. I'm not sure the way the trees were planted, but generally things are in lines or a grid? Is there enough room in between to make long paddocks in between rows of trees? Essentially let cows, goats, sheep, etc get the majority of the grass in the "path", and then you would only have a line in between trees to weedwhack which would be easier to handle?
 
Scott Obar
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
19
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As they say, hindsight is 20/20. It s a triangular spacing of 3.2 meters between every tree, with 40 different species of trees across the entire pasture area. A classic silvopasture layout would have definitely been easier, but the goal was to build a 10-hectare food forest. It's on steep, uneven land with some woody stems from herbaceous weeds.

I have considered scything. But the main limitations would be the lay of the land, and basically scythes being non-existent here. If someone wanted to send me one from abroad, and help deal with customs, I'd give it a rookie try. We don't have rocks, but the ground is extremely uneven in some areas, and often woody stumps are hidden in the grass. I'd be curious how well I could perform though.

Here, the tropical grasses form thick mats and weave themselves together layer after layer. We use steel blades on our weedwackers, and sharpen them to a razors edge. It's hard for me to believe a sycthe would go faster. I'm sure it would be more energy efficient though. As long as you don't keel over from exhaustion that is.

One thing I'm able to acheive with a weedwacker is cutting the base layer of grass when stems are laying horizontally on the soil surface. I like to make multiple passes to sort of grind everything down. If i just make one pass there will inevitably be many long stems left completely in tact along the soil surface as well as in the upper layers of the grass "mat" from which the plant can more easily recover. You actually have to angle the blade so that it slightly scrapes the top of the soil to effectively impede the recovery of that kind of grass.

Either way, at scale, it all seems futile, which is why I want to know more about animals. It's good to know for instance that geese and similar animals prefer the grass to be short. Even chickens to a lesser extent grass graze on the short grass after weedwacking.


 
Posts: 451
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

American Guinea hogs are very docile and easy to handle. They also will eat the venomous snakes...
 
Scott Obar
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
19
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Ben House wrote:Goats and Sheep are definitely going to destroy the trees. Cows and Horses prefer grass, and tend to avoid eating trees. I know the goats I've had in the past will even strip the bark from trees.

I'd say cows, horses, or donkeys may be your best options.

EDIT:  I've also had pigs that like grass, and they will be a bit to short to eat the trees.



What do you think about these tree protectors?

Is that good enough to protect trees from cows?
 
Scott Obar
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
19
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

William Kellogg wrote:
American Guinea hogs are very docile and easy to handle. They also will eat the venomous snakes...



How do you contain them, and how do you protect the trees from them? How much tropical perennial grass do they eat? Any equivalent breeds available in Peru?
 
William Kellogg
Posts: 451
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

American Guinea Hog is unique to North America bred from pigs from England crossed with native wild hog.

You contain them with electric pig or poultry netting and move them frequently. They wont damage the large trees.
F67BEC15-4D57-41DA-A019-BBA0604BAC96.jpeg
[Thumbnail for F67BEC15-4D57-41DA-A019-BBA0604BAC96.jpeg]
 
William Kellogg
Posts: 451
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Since pigs are not native to North America, ancestors of these hogs first came from West Africa as part of the slave trade. Homesteaders sought them out because of their ability to forage their own food, clean out garden beds, and keep their yards free of rodents and poisonous snakes.
 
Scott Obar
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
19
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator


Look at the damage cows did to his trees!
 
William Kellogg
Posts: 451
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Whatever pig you choose, it should be an older variety that's not bred for confinement feeding, but for wild survival and foraging.
 
Scott Obar
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
19
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

William Kellogg wrote:
Whatever pig you choose, it should be an older variety that's not bred for confinement feeding, but for wild survival and foraging.



I probably won't do pigs at least not for a very long time. If it's possible to raise them without buying any feed for them and just eating fruit from onsite, then maybe. But electro netting sounds like a real hassle in jungle. The main reasons I'm interested in cattle in the near term while there is still lots of pasture grass is because they don't require us to buy feed, and can be contained with just one polywire.
 
Scott Obar
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
19
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

William Kellogg wrote:
American Guinea hogs are very docile and easy to handle. They also will eat the venomous snakes...



Is that a fact? How do they keep from getting bit and harmed by the venom?
 
William Kellogg
Posts: 451
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator


I will have to look into the effects of venom on hogs but lots of predators hunt snakes without ill effects.

My guess is as these hogs evolved, the ones that were immune to snake venom and successfully hunted snakes survived and the ones that were not immune and were not good hunters didn't reproduce.
 
pollinator
Posts: 102
Location: Rural North Texas
27
purity solar homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Scott Obar wrote:

William Kellogg wrote:
American Guinea hogs are very docile and easy to handle. They also will eat the venomous snakes...



Is that a fact? How do they keep from getting bit and harmed by the venom?



Generally, it works because they kill the snake and then devour it.  Pigs will try to eat and then digest almost anything - they're almost as bad as hyenas or bull sharks.    The feral hogs here in Texas will eat just about anything including rotting road kill of their own kind and it doesn't seem to hurt them at all.  Since they're feral, I can't imagine that they're that different from their stay-at-home brethren.  
 
Scott Obar
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
19
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

William Kellogg wrote:

I will have to look into the effects of venom on hogs but lots of predators hunt snakes without ill effects.

My guess is as these hogs evolved, the ones that were immune to snake venom and successfully hunted snakes survived and the ones that were not immune and were not good hunters didn't reproduce.



In case you've been wondering, our most common poisonous snake here is Bothrops atrox.
 
William Kellogg
Posts: 451
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Apparently in south and central America people like Clelia or Mussurana snakes because they feed on the venomous snakes.
 
Posts: 61
14
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Scott, I think whatever animal you choose, you are going to have to protect your trees a bit, and to hold them loosely, if something happens. That said, I think personally cows are pretty easy to keep in general. Yes, depending on what type of trees you have, they could eat the leaves, and they do like to scratch themselves on the branches. But they're are ways you can protect young trees from them. We did rotational grazing in paddocks with swales in between and our young fruit trees planted on the swales. They only ate our native hack berry trees, and and trees we did not put a fence around was free game for them to be stepped on. Chickens will get rid of short grass for you, but not the tall stuff. And pigs will tear up EVERYTHING where you have them at. We did cows, and then followed up with sheep, who took care of the stuff the cows didn't get. It's not perfect, but they do the job.
 
pollinator
Posts: 353
Location: Appalachian Mountains
172
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We have American Guinea hogs rotated in the apple orchard.  They are not rooting hogs, unlike most other breeds, with exception of if they are starving and find a patch of sunchokes or something they really like.  They are also very docile, easily trained and easy to handle and safe even around children.  Ours don’t bite, but they flop over on our feet sometimes begging for a belly rub.  Our orchard has mature trees and they don’t hurt them at all.  They eat early and late fallen apples, rest of time we have them somewhere else.  If they get enough protein from clovers, etc., they don’t need supplemental feeding.   There is probably something similar in Peru but I’m not familiar with what is available in your location.  If I were going to experiment with it, i would enclose a smaller area to try something first, before risking the entire farm.  
 
Bring me the box labeled "thinking cap" ... and then read this tiny ad:
Boost Egg Nutrition With This Organic Algae Poultry Supplement
https://permies.com/t/153700/Organic-Astaxanthin-Algae-Poultry-Supplement
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic