Obviously by my signature, we do not have land yet. However, I am doing all the research that I can, making notes, writing business plans, tearing them up and then writing better ones, reading, reading, and more reading for things we want to do when we do get the land.
So...my question is, do you know of anyone with a fiber farm that has a mixed herd, rotational grazing, and holistic management with permaculture thrown in for good measure? Some of the animals that we would like to raise are sheep, goats, llamas, rabbits and then some poultry and a dairy cow or two. Is there a way that all of these species would work together, has anyone tried this and if so, how? Are there any books that you would recommend?
No land yet, but growing what I can with what I have!
I see no one has responded for a couple months, but I'll give it a whirl.
Up here in the PNW there are TONS of fiber farms. I don't know all of them but I am guessing that here, yes, there are people who do a mix of permaculture fiber farms. Actually, I do know one person who is doing observational permaculture and has sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, two cows, alpacas and pigs. They are focused on being self sufficent, so the fiber they use for themselves. Yes, it can be done. You might want to concider going to the black sheep gathering in Eugene in June. There are farmers there showing their animals (and fleeces) who you could talk to...at the very least its a real blast if fiber is your thing.
People mix animals, especially llamas and alpacas into sheep herds. One or two can work as good guard animals, but too many and they form a flock of their own and don't care about the sheep.
I would say it is best done by starting with one or two species, then slowly adding new animals once you learn how those specific animals live and thrive. Really its important to really learn how your animals communicate.
When my niece got rabbits she started adding their (paper) litter to the compost. The compost suddenly was filled with grubs. If you have chickens, rabbit litter in the compost will make you alot of extra feed.
chickens and pigs can rotationally follow sheep and cows picking out undigested grain from their, uh, refuse.
I've heard of people spinning highland cattle "wool"....dont know how soft it is, but it might work as a multi-purpose breed for you
Get a hardy breed of sheep. I had Jacobs last year and they were a breeze. This year I have dairy sheep and they are ok....but not as hardy. They DEMAND GRAIN BECAUSE OMG THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO EAT, whereas the Jacobs could still find something to eat in the winter. "Older" breeds of sheep have better ability to forage, be self sufficient and lamb without complications.
I'm working with sheep in Florida. I have a small herd grazing under an old pecan orchard. I'm going to lease a little chunk of land from my neighbor to increase my grazing area. I do rotational grazing but plan to increase my paddock numbers and resting periods with the leased land. I'm also shopping for some dexter cows to start milking this year. My goal is to have the sheep follow the cows when they are milking and then put them together when they are dry.
I have a paddock system for my egg laying chickens...I do several batches of meat chickens every year that I run in chicken tractors on the pastures/under the pecans. I also have pigs, just 3, but I do not breed them and I have not introduced them into my pastures. I planted a bunch of sweet potatoes, corn and sorghum in two areas under pecans for the pigs. Unfortunately, it was an off year for pecans, so they didn't get many of those this year.
The sheep are have are gulf coast natives. They are a wool breed, but I don't do anything with the wool right now. I've sheared them 3 times and my shearing skills don't leave me with a nice fleece. I am getting better! The electric shears are definitely worth the cost. I agree with Erika that "older" or heritage breeds can be a lot easier to maintain. I've never had to assist with lambing, they have been 100% successful on their own in the pasture. The gulf coasts are also very parasite tolerant, which is a huge problem in Florida. I've had them for 3 years and I haven't had to worm them once.
There are different ways of pasturing animals, but like you I plan on running them altogether. I don't know of anyone doing this personally. Right now we just have our chicken's and ducks, but will be adding Dexter cows and hair sheep and geese this spring. In running them together I'm choosing animals that do not need housing per say, can live off of forage and do not require clipping, vaccination, birth intervention or other intensive care - in short heritage breeds.
It is important when running a 'mixed' herd to introduce your animals to the group when they are young. Do not start with adult animals, especially the bigger ones - cows, goats, etc. They can do a lot of damage to other animals they see as outsiders. In my case I plan on having a couple males with horns. I will get them young and train my cows to being led by a leash, teaching them to accept people and other animals as part of their life companions.
As for rabbits, I have raised our females in colonies on the ground in a paddock, but this means you do not collect as much manure as you would having them in cages. They will design a potty area, usually in a tunnel and if you dig up their tunnels each spring you can grab the manure pile. I do not like the small cages - cleaning, watering, etc. it makes me a slave to the rabbits. In a more open setting I can use large water holder, toss food stuffs into them and they keep the place clean. Personally I wouldn't tractor my rabbits as part of my herd rotation, but that's just me. I do not want to work for the animals *grin*
For books there is Joel Salatin's - but he does rotation, the different animals are not in a paddock together and therefore he doesn't have to tame them, or raise them together. I'll post back if I run across any books for pasturing animals together.
I agree that tractoring your rabbits could be trouble. I had a friend try this years ago in Georgia and he had all kinds of problems and quickly abandoned it. His problems were rabbits escaping, fire ants, and the animals not breeding. I'm sure there are ways around these problems, just a heads-up anecdote.
We have Angora goats and sheep which we make a living from and pigs (max three at any time) 50 chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks. We've 38 hectares, so there's no room for cows.
We don't put all animals together all the time but tend to use them to clean each other's pastures and at shearing time the chickens clear the goats/sheep of parasites. It's difficult to explain without writing a very long post !
I have a blog which I haven't touched for a long time but there's a lot of information on how we organise our gardens and animals and on animal husbandry in general.