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Which Trees Will Cows Destroy?

 
Posts: 96
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Thinking I'd like to add cows to maintain our 10 hectare food forest that was planted in a cattle pasture over two years ago. We've been weedwacking up to this point, but it's expensive
and time-consuming. Some trees are small still, and even if I wait til everything is bigger, won't the cows eat the bark off the trees or knock them down when scratching? Any good resources on the topic? I'd like to learn by example of people raising cows and young trees in the same paddock without tree protectors.
 
pollinator
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From what I've seen, I can say that cattle running free will stomp/chew just about everything small -- not only trees, but the entire natural understory. They do what they do, and they are not selective.

For the record, I am not anti-cow. It's possible to create islands they can't reach, where wild stawberries etc. will flourish. It's just a management thing. My 2c.

 
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The short answer - only the ones they can reach.
 
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Small trees don't have much of a chance against cattle. If the cattle don't eat them they will crush them. Not on purpose but they're just big somewhat clumsy animals.
 
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To me, goats would be a better fit from your description of your food forest. At least they can be tethered where you want them.

Cows will eat anything they find as a delicacy.  

Small bushes, fruit on trees that can be reached, and even leaves off branches they can reach.

What about filling the paths in the food forest with wood chips at least 6" deep so mowing is not necessary?
 
Carla Burke
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I've seen both goats and cattle walk their front hooves up a tree, to get to the leaves, lol. So, what's the difference? Size & mass. A VERY large goat - say a massive 300# Boer buck - is still tiny, next to a 3,000# bull - the damage they do is commensurate. Trees (& fences) really feel that difference, in a way I hope to never have to personally experience. Both species love browse (food they reach up for) at least as much as graze (whatever is on the ground).

For brush control/removal, goats - pretty much any goats - are a classic solution. I'd not likely ever recommend cattle to someone with no large livestock experience. Goats can be a hella challenge, too (read any of my posts about Kola, lol!). But, if you go with smaller goats - Nigerian Dwarf, pygmy, a small mixed breed, the animals themselves are far easier to handle than either that giant Boer or the steer. In fact, many dogs are more difficult to manage, than these small breeds - which I can pick up and carry around like a baby (ok, maybe not my bucks - but if need be, I can still pick them up), and I'm disabled.

Honestly, the bigger beasties least likely to destroy the trees would be sheep. If you don't want to deal with shearing, there are "hair sheep", that don't need to be shorn. There are goats that DO need it. There are cattle you CAN shear.

You've many, many options, depending on your end goals. Do you really ONLY want brush control? Or is there more you'd maybe like, out of your critters? Maybe meat? Milk? Fiber for making cloth? Fun pets? Any/all the above? If money is an issue, goats are likely to be the least expensive of the three species. All will need super sturdy fencing. I'm not throwing all this out there to scare you away from your bio-mowers, lol. Just hoping to open up a window to other options for you.
 
Carla Burke
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Oh - if smells are an issue (for you, neighbors, hoa, local laws, etc) the least smelly of all 3 will be goat does. Some goats are more vocal, some less. Bovine are relatively quiet... for their size. With goats and sheep, some are noisy, others are nearly silent. Some of that is breed influenced, but there's still variation within any breed.
 
Scott Obar
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I guess I'll just have to ask locals how big the trees need to be until they can withstand cattle, then estimate how many trees per paddock are not big enough so I know how many tree protectors to build. What is everyone's recommended design for tree protection? I saw a decent design on youtube: three metal posts surrounded by a cylinder of cattle panel. Pretty simple, but the video didn't prove if it was effective or not.

Which is more likely to debark a tree: a cow or a hair sheep?
When I look at the pros and cons, the list of cons is longer for the hair sheep in my situation.

Goat is definitely the worst possible animal for my situation (no offense to the people who suggested it). I need animals that prefer eating grass over anything else. This is a former cattle pasture after all.
 
Carla Burke
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No offense taken - or intended. :D Just offering options, and possibly helping someone else weigh their options, in similar situations to yours.
 
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Sheep. Sheep will graze down the understory, and trim trees up about waist-high, but they don't climb and strip off bark like goats do, and they're easier to contain than cattle. (At least so long as you don't get Barbados; they're like antelope, only worse. Never saw a fence they couldn't wriggle through.)

If you ever drive through parts of SoCal that are old juniper forest, and wonder why they all look perfectly trimmed up to 3 feet above the ground, that's from the migratory sheep flocks. Also their grazing encourages grass and discourages weeds.

My desert place was on the regular sheep migration path, and so long as the sheep came through a couple times a year, we had grass and wildflowers. When the sheep stopped coming, within a couple years it all went to weeds.
 
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Cows de-barking trees is a mineral deficiency issue.  We finally resolved this by putting mineral licks in with the cows.  I was amazed.  Even though they do browse, they quit because of the mineral licks.  They browse and de-bark because they are looking for minerals the trees provide because the tree roots are bringing it up from a different location in the soil profile.  I suspect also because trees tend to grow in fugally dominant soil.  Greg Judy at green pastures farm has info. on this.  We used the half barrel licks you get at tractor supply or big R.  In conjunction with the mineral licks I would plant way, way, way, more trees than you think.  Kind of like the Mark Sheppard approach he calls STUN, Sheer Total Utter Neglect.  That way what lives, lives, and what survives, survives, and what dies, dies.  Goats will totally browse new trees down to sticks and kill them, not such a good idea with little trees; sheep not so much.  Cows will eat them by chance more than with intent like goats.

Maybe you should do some really high stock density grazing with the cows first.  By high stock density I mean 100k pounds per acre or more; you can do this by putting 25 cows on a quarter acre per day, to really get a boost going on the soil regeneration first, then come in with your bzillions of trees and sheep.  I'm sure  you will not have any trouble finding someone with cows that needs a little grazing room.
 
Scott Obar
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Rez Zircon wrote:Sheep. Sheep will graze down the understory, and trim trees up about waist-high, but they don't climb and strip off bark like goats do, and they're easier to contain than cattle. (At least so long as you don't get Barbados; they're like antelope, only worse. Never saw a fence they couldn't wriggle through.)

If you ever drive through parts of SoCal that are old juniper forest, and wonder why they all look perfectly trimmed up to 3 feet above the ground, that's from the migratory sheep flocks. Also their grazing encourages grass and discourages weeds.

My desert place was on the regular sheep migration path, and so long as the sheep came through a couple times a year, we had grass and wildflowers. When the sheep stopped coming, within a couple years it all went to weeds.



What you've been told about the Barbados Black Belly is the same as what I've been told about the local, Pelibuey.

In case anyone's curious why I have basically made up my mind not to run sheep here (besides just the market factors), check out the sheperdess on youtube. She has a short free ebook about the 13 things everyone should know before deciding to raise sheep. Really opened my eyes to the amount of TLC that they require. Primarily hoof trimming and hoof rot, but also the parasite issue sounds like it would be big here. I might begin to change my mind If Greg Judy wants to prove me wrong by running his flocks of St. Croix (a breed that I don't even think exists in this country) down here in the tropics where we don't even have a day of freezing weather ever let alone 5-6 months of freezing weather to break parasite cycles. I understand the argument for rotational grazing and daily moves, but don't think it's a silver bullet in this climate.
 
Scott Obar
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Marco Benito wrote:Cows de-barking trees is a mineral deficiency issue.  We finally resolved this by putting mineral licks in with the cows.  I was amazed.  Even though they do browse, they quit because of the mineral licks.  They browse and de-bark because they are looking for minerals the trees provide because the tree roots are bringing it up from a different location in the soil profile.  I suspect also because trees tend to grow in fugally dominant soil.  Greg Judy at green pastures farm has info. on this.  We used the half barrel licks you get at tractor supply or big R.  In conjunction with the mineral licks I would plant way, way, way, more trees than you think.  Kind of like the Mark Sheppard approach he calls STUN, Sheer Total Utter Neglect.  That way what lives, lives, and what survives, survives, and what dies, dies.  Goats will totally browse new trees down to sticks and kill them, not such a good idea with little trees; sheep not so much.  Cows will eat them by chance more than with intent like goats.

Maybe you should do some really high stock density grazing with the cows first.  By high stock density I mean 100k pounds per acre or more; you can do this by putting 25 cows on a quarter acre per day, to really get a boost going on the soil regeneration first, then come in with your bzillions of trees and sheep.  I'm sure  you will not have any trouble finding someone with cows that needs a little grazing room.



When I watched the Justin Rhodes youtube video with Mark Shepherd I realized we're basically doing his STUN method down here in the tropics. We planted one tree every 3.2m in a triangle pattern on 10 hectares. So a little over 11,000 trees total. About 40 different species. Basically just tough love. Very experimental to see what works out and what doesn't. Some disappointments, but also some pleasant surprises. We're currently replacing a lot of the disappointments with other species we now realize are a better fit. Part of the problem was we did not know exactly where we'd buy property when we started contracting someone to grow saplings in their nursery.

With the high stock density you recommend on a quarter acre cell, how often would you move them?
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