Here is something I worked up for OK and TX. I originally intended to tackle details small scale first, then move to around 10-25 acres, then 100 acres+ Basically a start small at the bottom and work my way up. However, I had an offer which fell through, for a section, so I built a plan for that and already in beef
production, I had to do the plan to start at the top and work down. Still many variables, but I can give you an idea of the materials you will need and a very basic plan of action.
The VERY first thing we do is find out the current average yearly cow days per acre for the property as it is being run now. Second thing we do is establish a baseline by sampling the soil and vegetation. This is what we will monitor.
Next step is a topographical map to determine keylines.
Then we use keyline design to establish paddocks of the size needed to allow forage for 1-3 days. Those paddocks will be established with portable electric fencing and water
supply. Cost is about 50-100 dollars per acre if we can gravity feed all the better, and will allow a Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing system to be established. Right off the bat first year that means an average of 50%-100% increase in forage availability. IE Doubling the average yearly cow days per acre. This is primarily due to the "second bite" principle. ie, the herds are not allowed a second bite on the same grass plant, allowing it to recover before the paddock is grazed again. This sparks very vigorous growth.
Read more about the specifics here: "Pastures for profit
: A guide to rotational grazing"Pastures for profit
As you can see by the charts, the time to make hay
is at the peak growing season when the cattle can't keep up, and then the hay is used to supplement during low growth periods to avoid over grazing. One of the many benefits of this type of grazing system is that the quality of the forage (and thus the hay too) gradually and naturally increases over time due to the "mob mowing effect" causing higher level successional species of grass and high quality forbs to thrive and dominate.
This part is well proven, there are university guides published like the one I linked earlier. And I even have contacts in Texas using it now that can help me establish that portion of the management plan.
Next step is incorporating multiple species into the livestock plan. One certain to be needed is chickens
, specifically hens for egg production. They are highly important to the grazing plan as clean-up and pest control. They follow the cattle paddocks 3 days after the herds move and eat fly larvae and ticks etc. plus many other insects like grasshoppers that can harm pasture, and spreading the cow manure as they scratch for bugs. They also provide a second revenue stream on the same land actually improving productivity of the pasture for cattle. Other possibilities are sheep and goats to clear brushy areas and/or areas taken over by invasives, allowing them to return to good pasture, hogs if there are wooded areas, possibly turkeys if we can find a market.
Materials needed for that is feathernet electric fencing, a portable "egg mobile" (for poultry only), feeders for grain supplements and water. If there are wooded areas, we can probably make an "egg mobile" on site with native
materials pretty cheap with a mobile band saw mill.
This part is also well proven. Polyface Farms developed and perfected this technique in a scale-able way to any size business model. Read more here: Polyface Farms
Next is integrating vegetable and grain production into the plan. I would start with one paddock established by the above plan. Year 1 use the techniques I am working on in a small scale this year. ie The no till mulch
and hay and start with a good market crop for the area. Tomatoes will need stakes for a Florida weave, other crops not so much. The spacing of course depends on the vegetable crop. The paddock will be grazed like any other paddock with the exception of just prior to preparation for veggies. Then we use the "second bite" principle the opposite way. After it is grazed, and followed by chickens
, when the strips we intend to use for veggie production are using their reserves for regrowth at at their weakest, we mow the strips very low then paper and mulch. (leaving taller unmolested pasture between rows). Those pasture strips will be used to raise broilers in "chicken tractors". Also can be used for grass clippings for mulch, compost
etc. With feather net fencing can raise egg layers too, even potentially smaller grazers like meat rabbits. You can get an idea how that works from Polyface too.
I would start with just chickens though. And make my rows 4 feet wide and the pasture between them 12 feet wide, and 350 feet long. So each 10X12 chicken tractor
will travel 10 feet a day times 35 days (the days on pasture for a broiler to make market weight) This allows the animals to be out of the paddock when veggies are being picked.
When the paddock is finished with it's crop, the paddock can be used whole again to allow the animals to clean up.
The following year, we use 2 paddocks. Think of a rotational cropping system. What grew tomatoes this year can grow corn the next. Then beans the following year and 3 paddocks in crop production. The new one in tomatoes, next one corn and third beans. Next year four used tomatoes, corn, beans, wheat....and so on and so on until you put the first back into pasture (fallow except for grazing)....and then start the rotation over again. This should help prevent diseases and pest buildups.
That's how I see this working on acreage up to the size of a section or more. In your case it may be necessary to simply take whatever parts fit the scale you ultimately obtain. Sure to be many rough edges to work out. But, that's the basic plan. There may also be areas we could look at establishing perennials, orchards or a "food forest" if applicable to the land. Every area would be slightly different that way. The idea is to use biomimicry, substituting food crops of domestic species for what naturally would be growing in the area. This way we are working with nature instead of fighting against nature, which requires much less effort and yields far more productivity on average.
And here was my plan for that section fleshed out slightly more but it is still just an outline without specific numbers applied, I posted in another forum for others who were following the progress of my project.. Some of it is a repeat. Sorry for that, but I couldn't assume that anyone reading it had followed my project.
I want to briefly explain the concept first, so that the plan can be better understood. This can best be described as a rotational system. The animals will be raised in a rotational grazing system, and the plants in a rotational cropping system. Both these systems will be managed using a holistic management plan. In addition, the paddocks for grazing and the fields for crops will be somewhat interchangeable as they will be rotated as well. So a grazing paddock and a crop field actually could be at times the same parcel of land, even in some cases at the same time. In other cases a fallow field will be an active grazing paddock. The management of the rotation is the key. This allows "weeds" in a cropping system to be "forage" in a grazing system. "Waste" in a grazing system to be "fertilizer" in a cropping system. And pest control in both systems, food for chickens. This integration of the two is the main thing my project is attempting to solve.
Rotational grazing is well proven, rotational cropping is well proven. Integrating the two on the same land at the same time and sometimes even in the same fields at the same time is what is missing. The reason why it is missing is the difficulty in carefully controlling and managing it to avoid the animals eating the crops. However, with new breakthroughs in rotational grazing made by innovators like Alan
Savory, Joel Salatin and Dan Undersander and a new cropping system being developed by me (but heavily influenced by innovators in organic and permaculture
like Bill Mollison
, Sepp Holzer
and Helen Atthowe, ) I believe that the two can be integrated increasing the productivity of both on the same land at the same time. This is what my project is all about.
Principle 1: No till and/or minimal till with mulches used for weed control
Principle 2: Minimal external inputs
Principle 3: Living mulches to maintain biodiversity
Principle 4: Companion planting
Principle 6: The ability to integrate carefully controlled modern animal husbandry
Principle 5: Capability to be mechanized for large scale or low labor for smaller scale
Principle 7: As organic as possible, while maintaining flexibility to allow non-organic growers to use the methods
Principle 8: Portable and flexible enough to be used on a wide variety of crops in many areas of the world
Principle 9: Sustainable
ie. beneficial to the ecology and wildlife
Principle 10: Profitable
Plan with 3 subsections:
The subsections will be constantly rotated and occasionally even doing double or triple duty.
1) Vegetable production
a) Grazing paddocks will be converted to crop fields by using a no-til mulching system I developed using large round bales of hay rolled over commercial sized rolls of paper weed barrier. Because chickens will be integrated into these fields the row structure is designed to allow room for them between the mulched rows. Thus the mulched rows will be 4 feet wide to accommodate the hay bales and the distance between the mulched rows will be 12 feet to accommodate the 10X12 mobile chicken cages (hereafter referred to as "chicken tractors"). The rows will be 350 feet long because the time on pasture is 35 days for broilers. When the time comes to rotate a crop field back into a grazing paddock, a no-til seed
drill will be used.
b) The first season of the annual crop rotation will be "seedling" crops like Tomatoes, Peppers, Brassicas etc. The exact crops will be determined by the water availability, soil, other local growing conditions and market.
c) The second season of annual crops will be a soil restoring blend of annual cover crop of legumes and forbs, doubling as good forage for animals and soil building. The thick mulch and first seasons crop residue will be broken down by the use of animals to clean up. Then a no-til seed drill will plant.
d) Successive season's crops will be a rotation of legumes and direct seed crops like beans and corn and seedling crops. Again the exact crops will be determined by water availability, soil, other local growing conditions and market.
e) At least one or more rotations will include grains as feed supplements for the animals.
f) At least one or more rotations will include high quality legume hay.
g) The last crop before returning the field to pasture will be an annual legume like alfalfa blended with reseeding native high quality pasture perennials planted with a no-til seed drill. And will be used to make high quality hay.
h) Fertilizer will be made by composting the bedding/manure from the chicken brooders and directly in the field by decomposition of animal wastes and mulches as well as "fixed" nitrogen from legume crops.
Please note that the first year there will be only 1 paddock/field in crop production. The second year 2, next year 3 and so on.... because you can't easily plant using a no-til seed drill without first killing the "weeds" in 4 foot strips with the mulching technique I developed.
2) Raising cattle, and other meat source animals.
a) Cattle will be raised in a system of Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing using holistic management. This is done by using portable electric fencing to create small paddocks and moving the cattle to a new paddock each day. The size of the paddock is determined by the forage available and the size of the herd. Details of the exact way that is determined can be found here: Undersander, Dan et. al. "Pastures for profit
: A guide to rotational grazing, University of Wisconsin Extension.
b) Chickens will be sub-divided into broilers and egg layers
1) Broilers take 8 weeks to raise, 3 weeks in the brooder and 5 weeks on pasture. I will need a building of some type for the brooder. The broilers will then go to the chicken tractors @75 per tractor
. The tractor will be moved daily for 35 days through the crop fields between the rows. They will forage the plants and insects and also be fed grain.
2) Egg layers also require a brooder to start but instead of going to a chicken tractor they will go to an egg mobile with shelter
, roosting areas, and nest boxes; and free range the grazing paddocks. Each egg mobile will house approximately 1,500 hens. The hens will be contained by portable feathernet electric fencing. The egg mobile will also be moved daily into paddocks vacated 3 days earlier by the cattle. This allows them to forage for insects and new shoots of pasture plants, providing both pest control and reducing grain costs.
c) Eventually the grain supplements required by the animals will be grown by the rotation in the crop fields. However, in the beginning we will have to buy feed until the creation of crop fields by rotation is complete.
Please note I plan to start with cattle and chickens. Additional species can be experimented with and added in later years as appropriate, but the basic system starts with the symbiotic relationship between the herbivore (cattle) and an omnivore (chickens) and the land. The exact herbivore and the exact omnivore will vary depending on what the farmer/rancher is most familiar with, lives well in the specific climate, and has a good market available. In this case the herbivore is cattle, but there is no reason someone else couldn't use sheep or any other herbivore.
3) Hay production.
a) Grass hay will be made from paddocks just after peak seasonal growth when the cattle can't keep up with the growth in their daily rotation. This is also explained in Pastures for profit: A guide to rotational grazing.
b) Higher quality grass/alfalfa blend premium hay will be made in the crop fields when they are in their last rotation before being turned back into pasture and from cover crop blends grown between vegetable crop seasons.
c) All hay will be made by standard 4 foot round bale machinery.
d) Hay will be used for feeding animals, bedding in the brooders, and mulching the crop fields for weed control.
e) Excess hay can be sold as an extra income stream when available.
Please note if you start the project with rotational grazing first, and don't start the crop production until after hay is made, you will never need buy hay. But if you want to start crop production right away, hay will need to be purchased.
4) Start up materials needed:
a) Electric fencing, both wire and feathernet.
b) Building for a brooder.
c) Chicken tractors 10 X 12 or materials to build them
d) Egg mobile or materials to build it
e) Standard farm equipment and tools like tractor, quad runner, truck, wagon, trailer etc
f) Specialized farm equipment for planting and harvesting like no-til drill, hay baling equipment, combine etc
g) Housing for myself and/or laborers/ranch hands.
h) Barns for storing equipment materials and/or crops
i) Feeders and waterers for the animals
k) Specially trained guard dogs for predator control
A lot of these materials can be double use. For example: The greenhouse
or one of the other buildings could be used as the brooder for the chickens when not in use starting seedlings, or even a barn used for equipment storage could have an attached room for a greenhouse
. A truck trailer could potentially double as a wagon or vice versa. The irrigation system could also be part of the animal watering
system. Also a lot of these materials you may already have, or can borrow/rent. Things like that. Specifics will vary according to each individual plot of land. That was obviously for a section, but if anything, smaller scale is much easier. A lot of the expenses on infrastructure and equipment that are needed for a section can be done with manual labor on something as small as 5 acres. In my area, $10,000 an acre profit for tomatoes is realistic at retail 3 dollars per pound price I am getting. Your market may vary. I have seen ranges from .50 to 5.00 per pound. Organic heirloom generally gets the best price per pound. I haven't integrated the animals into my system yet. It is designed for it, but there are some issues with the farmer I lease from not wanting animals. So I mow with a mower instead of graze. If anything grazing should bump profitability per acre even higher, by turning an expense into an additional revenue stream.
Oh and I found this on the net. It is not made by me but could be a resource for you.