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Help With Stocking Rate

 
Brandon Greer
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Location: 1 Hour Northeast Of Dallas
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So I'm in the process of purchasing 12+ acres of land in Hunt County Texas. It is heavily wooded and about half of those trees are eastern red cedar. Of the open pasture land, after accounting for my future house and 3000 sq ft+ garden there will be about 2 acres of grazing land. I plan to clear out another 1.5 - 2 acres of pasture and another 1 acres for a pond, so as you can tell I have quite a task cut out for me.

The animals I'd really like to have are sheep, chickens and perhaps goats. And of course I want this to be sustainable and not have to provide much, if any, supplemental feed.

I read the following information from a site that talks about stocking rates for my neighboring county, found here. This article is aimed at not having to provide supplemental feed by calculated the year-long stocking rate and not just the standard stocking rate, which is what I'm interested in:

Step 3: Now you are ready to determine your stocking rate. Here are some “rules of thumb” grazing rates for the Fannin County area.

a. High Input Improved Pastures (coastal, B-Dahl Old World Bluestem, etc.) ----3 acres per Animal Unit
b. Low Input managed Improved Pastures ------- 6 acres per Animal Unit
c. High Input Native Pastures (Switchgrass, Indiangrass, E. Gamagrass, Etc.) --- 6 acres per Animal Unit
d. Low Input Native Pastures ----- 10 – 12 acres per Animal Unit

Step 4: Now Calculate your year-long stocking rate by dividing the grazeable acres in each pasture by the appropriate management input above (a,b,c,d). Complete this for all your pastures, add them up and you will have a stocking rate for your ranch
.



Well, I'm a newbie, so even though I'll be improving my pasture by planting the best vegetation that I can, I think it's only realistic that I use the least optimistic figure provided which is 6 acres per animal unit.

So let's just say I have 3.6 grazeable acres divided by 6 acres per animal unit that means I can have 0.6 animal units on my land. However, I read that sheep and goats don't really eat the same forage so that brings me to my question: Could I possibly put 3 sheep and 3 goats on my land? Technically that's 1.11 animal units but if they don't eat the same forage is it truly 1.11? Also, what about free ranging chickens? Do they eat the same forage, and, if not, would having 3 goats, 3, sheep and 20 chickens be overstocking? Any input is greatly appreciated!
 
Tyler Ludens
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It is so easy to overstock your land. I have 20 acres and very overstocked with just 5 sheep because most of it is wooded with a large percentage of cedar. Beware of overstocking. Better to start lightly stocked and add more as your pastures improve. If you have shrubs on your land that are browse species, you might be able to have sheep in the pasture land and goats in the brush land. You can also cut tree branches from oaks, elms and other trees (not much cedar) to feed. I've been cutting tree branches to supplement hay for my sheep because most of our grass died in the drought.
 
chris cromeens
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Location: north texas 7b now 8a
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I am in grayson county and have land in fannin as well. Those stocking rates are for cattle. They eat approximately 7 times the DM (dry matter) that goats do i.e. a goat gets a flake of hay a day a cow gets a bale. You and I are in the same boat as far as land types at least my homestead in grayson (learned the hard way that this land doesn't have near the stocking rates as my fannin county bottomland.
I agree w/ above post don't grow to quickly. You might also think about bringing in inputs (hay ) for awhile to supplement livestock and build organic matter in the soil. In hunt county without getting out my soil book I believe your on sandy to sandy loam soil so organic matter is what is needed. It is what we are doing and it is beginning to work. 8 tons of alfalfa last year on 10 acres pasture and woods with a return of 600 lbs of beef @ a cost of $3.50 lb. grass-fed raised how I wanted. This year 6 tons of winter pasture hay (to build the clover on my property) and half of the previous year stocking rate, there will be no return this year but next year will be bottle calves, enough to pay most the yearly mortgage. We just feed hay on the ground in a different spot each day (you can also broadcast seed whereever you are about to hay) while practicing paddock shift grazing.
 
Brandon Greer
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Location: 1 Hour Northeast Of Dallas
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Thanks for the replies. Overstocking is definitely my main concern. That's why I was trying to plan how much forest I'd need to clear. To be honest, I would really like to leave my forest alone so I got to doing some research which led me to a new idea: Being that goats are browsers, and I have 2.5 acres of pasture and 8 acres of forest (accounting for my garden, pond and house), perhaps I should just get goats. From what I've read goats can forage on forest and pasture. 4 goats (1 buck and 3 does) would be more than enough for my family and 4 goats on 10.5 acres of forest and pasture doesn't seem like it would be overstocking. Keep in mind that I am planning to improve my pasture the best I can. I'm willing to invest whatever is necessary to do it right. And I'm in no big hurry so I wouldn't put my animals there until the land is ready. Does this seem doable?


Also, do chickens and goats "compete" for the same forage? I mean do they consume the same resources? If not, then I'd like to have about 20 to 30 chickens and 4 goats.
 
Alder Burns
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One line response....anyone serious about doing livestock, especially in climates that can be dry, should study Holistic Management. It will completely change the way you see animals and the land!
Just a few other loose comments from -20 years doing goats and poultry in GA.
--poultry eat some greens but mostly seeds and bugs, so their diet overlaps a bit with goats, but not much. Anyone who studies Joel Salatin knows that they collaborate very well with cows. We had some turkeys and a dairy cow together years ago, and the turkeys would go through the cow manure and scratch it all out. Eventually the cow got so used to them she would lie down and the turkeys would climb all over her and pick off the horseflies!!
--You can raise more goats in the woods if you can slash some of the trees that you don't want anyway periodically by cutting halfway through, or more, but not all the way, and bending the tops so the goats can reach them. The tops will stay alive and green that way, and after a while the stumps may sprout, yielding additional browse. Ultimately it's a sort of destructive process, but if you're planning to clear or thin anyway it's a way of taking an additional yield.....
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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Alder, love the idea of cutting the trees part way through.

I'm hoping to have goats again in the not-too-distant future and that would be a great way to extend the natural feed in the area that I have planned for them.
 
Paula Edwards
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I have got only one sheep and too little land for her, here are my three cents: First you must put in fences and the meaterial is expensive. They must be good and I would construct them in a way that you could easily swap from sheep to goats. The pasture must have different sections and there must be enough gates.
I would leave some or even more trees in and if you choose goats they will kill the trees anyway so you have to protect them.
You can get feed from outside if you cut noxious weeds for example, I do that with privet. Sometimes people take your sheep as lawn mower for a time. You put the chicken/ducks and sheep on the same paddock. We are half suburban and neighbours are happy if we cut their grass. Our greengrocer has a box that people can take stuff, but recently I was not very lucky, that means you can't count on it.
The problem is not the summer it is winter and early spring. Depending on how long your winter is and how long the grass does not grow and how many outside food sources you have you don't pay for, I would say at least one acre per sheep. If you milk she'll need a bit more and some oats or barley.
 
Angela Percival
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Location: Olympia, Washington
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[img]Hi Brandon, I'm new here, but saw this and thought I would recommend looking into Soay sheep--I see that there are some breeders in Texas. Soay sheep are small and very hardy. They are are lot like goats in that they LOVE to browse, they also eat weeds, trees, grass, bark, twigs. Great for clearing brush. I got mine for keeping a 1.25 acre pasture free of being overgrown by gigantic Himalayan blackberry. They finished that off in one season and also cleared all the Scotch broom and creeping buttercup, which is an invasive species here. I was worried before I got them that I had some weeds that were toxic to livestock and the Soay people laughed. The only thing I have found they don't eat are thistles, unfortunately. Being small, they have less impact on the pasture in terms of compacting the ground and they are easier for a single person to handle. They shed their wool every spring (or you can speed it up by "rooing" them--pulling the loose wool out), leaving a hair coat sort of like a goat, and then regrow their wool. It's easy to gather off the ground in a very clean condition--mine are so clean. Their tails are naturally short and don't need to be cut. The people that breed them (I don't) say that they lamb with almost zero problems, preferring just to have their lamb under a tree in the pouring rain or snow, seriously. Mine are so low maintenance I can't believe it. I am in Washington state, so I have good grass productivity in the spring, summer, and fall. I have had my two (wethers/castrated) Soay on a quarter-acre this whole spring and summer with no need to let them into the back acre. I give them fresh water and I give them grass hay during the winter--about 3 months. For two sheep, I only get about 3-4 bales a year. All they need for shelter is a 3-sided shed. Their meat is very good, I hear--mine are pets, but I know people who raise them for meat, and most just grow out the ram lambs and butcher them without castrating and they say they are great. No shearing needed. Their wool is not the greatest for spinning, but some people do use it. The wool could be useful for other things like insulation, sheepskin hides. And sheep poop is like gold for the garden. I had four wethers and two were bottlefed and the sweetest bubs, not annoying at all either. The people that raised them lived on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound and they take their little flock onto the beach with their dogs to run around on the driftwood and eat kelp off rocks. Crazy, I know, but I went with them on a walk. The lambs are tiny little things. Two of mine were killed by a coyote after part of my fence blew down one winter. You may also be able to sell the ewe lambs for a decent price because they are a less common breed, relieving you of getting overpopulated. I would say you could have two ewes and a ram along with a couple small goats and chickens. If you are interested in meat, you could also look into pigeons. I can't really raise animals for meat myself because I love them too much, but I think pigeons would be like rabbits but they can fly free and you just harvest the squab/nestlings. There are some breeds specifically bred for meat production that are quite large. Anyway, it's an animal that doesn't require any pasture, but provides meat and great fertilizer. Google Soay sheep--they are marvelous. You need fencing, with the strength and type depending on your local predators, but they are not like goats that challenge fences. And they will destroy a young tree, so those need to be protected. The rams are gorgeous with large horns like bighorn sheep.
--Angela
I haven't figured out how to attach a photo yet...

 
Angela Percival
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Location: Olympia, Washington
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Here's a little article about them that includes the main links to breed information. I should also mention that I have never wormed or vaccinated them since they arrived as lambs still on the bottle. Or trimmed their hoofs, which are worn down just from a patch of concrete in the paddock. Because there were no livestock on my pasture before they came, there were no worms and they didn't bring any with them. You can also avoid worms by rotating pasture with some type of movable fence or electric wire.
Soay article
 
Brandon Greer
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Hi Angela, thanks for your advice! These Soay sheep might actually be exactly what I need. You mentioned they can kill small trees. What about larger established trees? I have a lot of cedar providing some nice cover around my yard area and would like to keep that in place. I know you don't raise them for meat but has anyone you talked to about them mentioned about how much meat they provide?

Thanks!
 
R Scott
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You do need REALLY GOOD fences around the property line and anywhere you want the animals OUT (like gardens and possibly ponds). Think about this NOW so you locate things so you can fence them in/out easily. Also think ahead to what you may want in the future! We are having to re-do a bunch of fencing because our plans changed. $$$$

Paul did a podcast recently on this. A good listen.

The 1 cow=7 goats thing is close, but can vary. Your number is probably higher because you have more browse than forage.
 
Angela Percival
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Location: Olympia, Washington
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I'm not sure about cedar, but I don't think it would be their favorite. They will browse on evergreens, but I don't think I have seen them chew the bark of evergreens at all. I haven't had any problem with larger trees--I have some huge old bigleaf maples and some cottonwoods that they don't bother. But an old Italian plum tree leaned a bit and they will climb that thing and stand on their hind legs to try to get the leaves and plums! The only trees they killed in my pasture were two young plum trees about 4" diameter. There is a youngish fir out in the back pasture that they like to rest under and they haven't killed that. To protect a tree, I wrap chicken wire over the trunk to about 4'. So far that seems to work.

About 20-40 pounds butchered. Some lines are definitely larger than others. Babies can weigh as little as 1-2 pounds, about the size of my pet rats!

Here are a couple posts from the Soay forum on their meat. People on the forum are happy to answer any questions and lots advertise their sheep for sale there too. You can also search on topics. Not sure about Texas breeders but there are livestock transport services. With the size of your property, I think small sheep and goats would be a good way to go.

"when I brought in a few ewes last summer [to the butcher], they were just over a year, and I ended up with 15-20 lbs of meat. I did barbeque a whole one at our pig roast, but it looked like a dog on the cooker and it really creeped me out! None of my sheep are real big, and I will keep this years til fall to butcher, making them 1 1/2 yrs old. I just explain to people that I need to to get the bigger size, and that Soay "mutton" tastes just like "lamb". I also served it up to all my friends at a party, so they could all get a taste of it. I made three sales off that one party. No one cared that it was technically "mutton" and they all called it lamb all evening, even though they knew it was not.
My ram is probably only 70 lbs, and 23% (I think) British. The ram I used this year instead, was more like 100 I think?, and I'll be interested to see how big the babies are. Even my ewe from 2009 is not as big as her mother yet. My bottle babies from last year weigh maybe 25-30 lbs, and they are now a year old! I'll let you all know if there is a visible difference in size. My babies run about 3-4 lbs, with an occasional 1-2 pounder (new mom fiasco last year).

As for the hay issues, I just purchased a few Tunis and Finn sheep, and the Tunis are actually the picky ones. What they wouldn't eat, I threw in for the Soay and they gobbled it right up! I've never had an issue with them not eating it, except a few square bales that got wet.

As for slaughterhouses, I don't use a USDA butcher, and sell on the hoof. Much easier that way, and no red tape. I pick my hides up the day they butcher, as we had maggot problems one time. I also send my hides to Bucks, but where mine were small, it only cost like $25, I think.

Some people like the smaller sheep though for meat, because if they have to buy the whole thing, not everyone has room in their freezer for a lot of it. 15-20 lbs doesn't take up much room. Last year I did a flat price of $150. If they weighed 30 lbs hanging, at $4.10/lb (which is what a local Katahdin raiser charges), plus $55 butcher, that is $178. Guess I wasn't too far off, and I have no marketing costs, no travel to butcher costs (they are 20 min. from me), no labeling costs, so it seems to work well. I'd rather lose a few dollars than deal with the government!"

****
We get a lot of positive feedback on our lamb. Many customers saying it is the
best lamb they've ever eaten. We've been selling it mostly through the Winter
Farmer's in Burlington, VT. Soay meat is naturally lean and we do grass-fed, no
grain, which makes it even leaner. The flavor is mild, but definitely not
bland. Without wishing to step on toes, I don't agree with Priscilla of Salt
Marsh about not butchering in the fall. We have butchered lambs in every month
except July and August and noticed no difference in taste or smell. We butcher
only intact ram lambs. There maybe an increase in odor of the live animal
during the rut, but none that we can discern in the meat.

***************
We haven't been selling on the hoof. We try to butcher at around a 70-75 lbs
live weight and that generally gives about a 30-35 lbs hanging weight. That in
turn yields about 20-25 lbs of meat, depending on how boned out it is. I don't
know why you're not getting more meat unless your animals are smaller than ours.
We butcher nearly all ours at less than a year old so that we can sell them
legally as lamb and not mutton. No one outside of shepherds knows "hogget" as a
term in this country and it doesn't sound much more attractive than mutton. Our
older rams are between 90 to 110 lbs, and when we have culled them, they net
about a 40-50 lbs hanging weight and give a 30-40 lbs of meat. We haven't found
it worth keeping the sheep longer than a year for a few extra pounds of meat.
Maybe if we didn't have to feed 5 to 6 months of hay it would be worth it. We
pay about $75 per head to have them butchered in an organically certified
slaughterhouse under inspection and cryovac packaged. This makes our product
legal to sell retail and we have both retail and wholesale licenses. We sell
the meat primarily by the cut. We are currently getting $10/lb for ground lamb,
stew and shanks. $12/lb for legs and kabob meat. $16 for loin chops and racks.
We gross about $280 per head. Our price is competitive with other producers at
the farmers market and we may actually be under-priced compared to a couple of
certified organic lamb producers here in Vermont who are raising Icelandics. We
may increase our price in the fall. We have no trouble selling our lamb.

Forum is at Soay forum
The picture on the home page is of a very unusually colored ram of a man here in Washington who loves to breed black selfs, light selfs (like this ram), and spotted Soay. Most Soay have colors and markings like a wild sheep, as you will see from photos. His flock is really colorful and gorgeous woodland creek farm
 
Angela Percival
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Location: Olympia, Washington
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Fencing can be a real drag, but I recently read about making fencing with free pallets and I thought it was the best idea ever! I'm going to try it in order to section off a part of the pasture for fruit trees. Geese would be great partners with the Soay since the grass grazed by the Soay is very lush and shorter, but by no means nibbled to the ground like I've seen some pastures. I don't know if that's unique to Soay or just because I have a pretty good crop of grass. I am pretty surprised they have been fine on a quarter acre this year.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Highland cattle will decimate cedars--it is like catnip to them and they rub the bottom 6 feet raw. Other than that, most consider cedar an invasive species with little natural controls.

 
Brandon Greer
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Location: 1 Hour Northeast Of Dallas
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I appreciate everyone's input. I'm really thinking that the Soay's might be the best best for my small acreage. I've joined the Soay Sheep forum so hopefully I can learn more there.

Thanks!
 
Walter Jeffries
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I would suggest arranging paddocks so each has some brush, some regen, some trees and some grass/legumes and other forages. We figure our sustainable stocking rate is about ten pigs per acre. An "Animal Unit" is generally recognized as one cow or ten pigs or ten sheep. We also graze chickens, ducks and geese with them. Note that five sheep plus five pigs plus ten chickens does not equal (5+5+p)/4 Animal Units. The math doesn't work that easily.
 
Brandon Greer
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Yea I was wondering about how the math works out. Can you help me understand that a little better? I assume the math would work out to be more favorable since they aren't completing for all the same resources, but of course some do overlap. I'm really leaning towards a mix of sheep and chicken. Particularly the Soay sheep who are browsers.
 
Angela Percival
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Your county extension might have a website that could tell you more about soils, forage, possible pasture grasses, etc. The Soay will definitely graze as well as browse. Where is the land located?
 
Walter Jeffries
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Yes, the math comes out somewhere along the line of you can graze

2 cows
1 pig
2 sheep
12 chickens

all in the "Animal Units" space of two cows because each of them eats slightly differently. Those numbers are not exacting and will vary with the pasture quality and type.

Our pigs graze and root little but they will take fresh pasture that is brushy and work on turning it to better pasture for cows. Sheep will eat more brush than most cows. Pigs also eat cow poops as there is digestible matter, especially if you feed corn to the cows. We don't grain/commercial hog feed our pigs (or sheep or chickens).

See:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2011/10/03/rootless-in-vermont/

http://www.google.com/search?q=site:sugarmtnfarm.com+managed%20rotational%20grazing

How you do the grazing patterns matters a lot. Simply turning the animals out on land is not sufficient to optimize the use of the land, plants and animals. Thus the managed rotational grazing. It doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, it's very easy.
 
Brandon Greer
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Angela Percival wrote:Your county extension might have a website that could tell you more about soils, forage, possible pasture grasses, etc. The Soay will definitely graze as well as browse. Where is the land located?


My land is in Hunt County. I read an article about a neighboring county saying that year-long stocking rate is 6 acres per one animal unit. I figured even with the Soay, I'd be limited by my small pasture (2.5 acres) but I just wasn't sure by how much. If they like a 50/50 split of grazing and browsing then I figure I could calculate for 5 acres.
 
Brandon Greer
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Walter Jeffries wrote:Yes, the math comes out somewhere along the line of you can graze

2 cows
1 pig
2 sheep
12 chickens

all in the "Animal Units" space of two cows because each of them eats slightly differently. Those numbers are not exacting and will vary with the pasture quality and type.

Our pigs graze and root little but they will take fresh pasture that is brushy and work on turning it to better pasture for cows. Sheep will eat more brush than most cows. Pigs also eat cow poops as there is digestible matter, especially if you feed corn to the cows. We don't grain/commercial hog feed our pigs (or sheep or chickens).

See:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2011/10/03/rootless-in-vermont/

http://www.google.com/search?q=site:sugarmtnfarm.com+managed%20rotational%20grazing

How you do the grazing patterns matters a lot. Simply turning the animals out on land is not sufficient to optimize the use of the land, plants and animals. Thus the managed rotational grazing. It doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, it's very easy.


Thanks for the links, I'll give them a read. I'm a complete newbie so managing the flock will be something I'll have to learn and I assume it will take time, but I'm patient and persistent!
 
Walter Jeffries
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Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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It takes time, years, to learn but is well worth the patience. Don't rush it. Don't over think it. Even if you make mistakes life is pretty forgiving, pastures heal, animals are fairly tough. In fact, choosing hardy animals is a good basic rule.
 
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