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Haying or grazing - is one better than the other?
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Hello Geoff,

I have been having a discussion with a friend about the better method for feeding cattle and goats.

She says it is best to "Collect and Store Energy" by cutting grasses for when its needed (i.e. especially for winter feeding). She says if one cuts grasses for
hay, they will make more grass, versus if you let it grow and only graze you will get mixed regrowth and a single grow/seed cycle, a much lower yield.

I have been wondering if a managed rotational grazing system leads to the creation of more balanced system that closely mimics the movement of herds of ruminants across the land, when that was a normal occurrence. Also, if the mineral health of the land is built up, can it be managed in such a way as to almost eliminate having to feed hay, because the health of the land will enable winter forage to be available. I don't have any delusions about zero inputs...

I have seen the costs of haying to farmers, and after they buy all the equipment to process, bale and move the hay, they are so far in the hole they never get a return on their investments, not to mention the time investment. Hardly anyone uses draft horses for this anymore. Doesn't it make sense to let the animals do the harvesting?

What would your advice be, to someone who wants to conscientiously include dairy and meat goats and cattle into a permaculture system? How do we get the animals fed in winter in places where snow is the norm? Or should we not have grazers/browsers in such a climate?

With much gratitude for the contributions you are making to better our world,
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being that you're going for a permaculture 'I' would say that rotational grazing is best
especially when you factor in time and financial investments and minmal return rates
but in places such as yours and mine, hay being stored for the winter is a good backup plan, however if an animal is raised on pasture since it is young, it will usually know how to find food on pasture in the winter unless there is very deep snows so most of the time, hay is not even needed

however that does not mean you can just stop feeding an animal hay and expect it to know what to do, if its been raised on hay its whole life then randomly let alone to fend for itself you will at the very least run into some real health issues, if not some livestock dieback
Hey Devon, thanks for your reply.

Yeah, my gut tells me that rotational grazing is the way to go, but because I'm not well-versed in Permaculture, I don't know how to explain it.
I guess I might say something like: the gross energy expended to "collect energy" as hay, whether by draft horse or by machine, far exceeds the gross energy gained by having hay put aside for winter as "stored energy", thus leaving a net loss of energy. Does that make sense?

Also, I think people are studying the effects of managed grazing and finding it makes the landscape healthier than other systems involving tilling, haying, etc.

In my own words, I would say rotational grazing makes sense because it closely resembles the natural movement of animals across the landscape, even in the case of smaller acreages.
Also, I'm lazy and haying is a lot of work!
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It's possible for the grass to get ahead of the livestock so you might find you want to cut some hay anyway to keep the grass at the optimum. Could be stored for winter or sold.

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yeah basically makes sense
you might clarify that harvesting a large amount of (or any really, but large amounts especially) hay will always deplete soils, even if its slowly, the front page the other day said that Wyoming had hte worst hay harvest its had in almost 80 years, mainly due to the drought according to the paper but it really a symptom of destruction of soil fertility and loss of topsoil and organic matter that happens when you remove a section of biomass for livestock feed, now if the hay only needs to be there for deep snow winter feed, then there is far less that needs to be harvested and far less biomass that needs to be removed, allowing for the topsoil to be built up rather than depleted

and like you said, its a loss of energy that causes this, paddocks shift systems will increase energy on the land and produce, greener, healthier soils, and as a result of a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem, you get healthier livestock and healthier people, which is going to save you more money in medical bills in the long run as well as extending your lifespan through overall health and reduced stress, treating YOUR land right, will result in you having a better quality of life altogether, paddock shift systems are an integral part of healthy land

now i tend to do a lot of ranting and little actual talking so hopefully you can sort through that to get what you need lol
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As Devon says, the genetics and learned behaviour of your herd will influence how successful winter grazing is...so you can improve things over time.

Also different forage species vary a lot in how much nutrition they retain in late season grazing...something to think about when you are establishing new grass.

We have times when winter grazing isn't going to happen...less often deep snow, it's more of a problem when there are a few freeze/thaw cycles followed by a long time in the deep freeze...the layer of ice that can establish is too much for noses to get through. I want to minimize the amount of hay I put up, but i think some will always be essential as a back up plan.

If you winter your cattle out on the hay land and move your feeding areas and shelters around a lot, I think that goes a long way to mitigating the nutrient transfer issues you would have if you were feeding hay in a drylot. (and you'll have healthier animals).

The learning curve for putting up hay with draft animals is huge...but it's my ultimate goal, and my team and I are getting closer to pulling it off. I think putting up hay with draft animals raised and fed by the farm makes a nice closed loop, and it's beautiful too...

( you need portable fence for the winter grazing too, or you'll get a lot of waste from trampling and icing over...while things are froze up you don't have to fence them off where they have been, you just need to keep moving the fence ahead..)

They do fine on snow instead of water under most conditions, so that may free you up to graze or feed on more distant paddocks..
Good luck...i guess it's getting time for us all to start thinking about winter plans again..
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Allan Savory's work on this subject is pretty compelling. Holistic Management International has some great literature, but they've also got some really great worksheets and workbooks that really help planning livestock rotations. a lot of folks think that they ought to have or develop instincts for rotations and do it all on the fly, but writing it down and making a real plan including contingencies is far more reliable and effective.
i didn't realize geoff was going to be around, i'd love to hear his take on this...
Good on you, Kari! It must feel great to have that accomplishment! I have dreams of learning to drive a team of horses or mules...Hopefully I will be able to get to that item.
What a wonderful skill you have that you can pass on to others.

Tel, I have a long long reading list, and Allan Savory as well as Allan Nation/Jim Gerrish are on it. Gerrish's book, "Kick the Hay Habit" is high on my list!
Once I get the swales and ponds in, I just need to figure out how to keep the livestock out of the water. Hoping I can do it with living barriers and not have to do fences, though the goats will eventually eat right through them, I suspect!

Thanks, everyone, for sharing.

how about weeds?

and rotational grazing without "making" hay, let nature do it
I'm not sure what your climate is like as I'm from the UK but one factor to consider is the damage your livestock can do to your land in the winter if the ground is wet. I remember reading that some UK farmers had tried feeding foggage but had given up because the soil was getting so churned up. So whatever your solution it has to work on your bit of land and may be very different to what other people are doing.
Hi Lisa
yes graze as long as you can, but you have to be able to "mob graze, crash graze, rotational graze" which means very close observation and a system that is well thought out to fit into a permaculture "polyculture" type of system. Very flexible grazing paddocks in size, shape and area, and time cycles to season.
You could follow with chickens if that is possible. You cut and lie anything not eaten by the stock to speed up recovery of fertility and nutrient corrections, and you could cut anything not eaten by the stock and make that the main ingredients with the mineralized manure of the stock in a high quality inoculate compost then make a highly oxygenated compost tea and return that back over all you pastures. Also you could make a bio-fertilizer and feed the beneficial soil organisms of the compost tea.


Mineral balances in soils are very important, starting with the calcium exchange, them always supply mineral block licks or even mineral feed supplements so you are engaged re-mineralization your soils. You stock for instance will have no internal parasite problems if they have enough copper uptake.

Check out the work of Pat Coleby:


Then plant diverse tree forage edges everywhere you can to hang over fences for stock to supplement their feed on the pasture.

Great stuff have fun.

Cheers geoff lawton

Check out www.permaculture.org.au/permies

Thanks so much Geoff for taking the time out of your busy days to share your knowledge and experience with all of us.
You are appreciated!

Thanks also to Duane for the links to Greg Judy and the weed-eating cows! - Good Stuff!

Guess I'd better get to work before my brain explodes from all this new info...
And tomorrow is the circus! We can go to the circus! I love the circus! We can take this tiny ad:
Rocket Oven plan download

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