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Top 5 most effective sustainable livestock production methods.

 
Emil Spoerri
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Well, obviously I don't know the answer to this question.
I know for instance that it entirely depends on your climate.

This is rainy, hot, cold, southern NY 100 miles from NYC. To me on this clay and rock and wet and swamp and forest the ideal beasts are cows, perhaps sheep, goats or pigs. Chickens just don't really seem to cut the sustainability bill in my mind, as no grain besides corn can effectively grow here and few trees can be relied upon to reliably bear fruit. However, crushed acorns are greedily accepted by my sole rooster... Perhaps when the hedgerows are fully grown? The question remains what is effective to feeding poultry in the winter time?

Grass fed cows are just burning for this area... the county I am in is littered with pastures gone fallow and up in weeds. Goats and pigs can be used to tear weedy stuff up and cows to smash the grass back into the pastures.

Really I don't know how to get enough minerals to feed goats around here, I am still trying to figure out how to get natural NY rock salt or natural rock salt from anywhere.

Enough kinds of nuts and roots grow around here with reasonable success from year to year that I think pigs are also highly viable as a secondary to cows.

I believe this is the best way to produce food in this region, mainly because local orchards can not be relied upon to produce annually, or often even biennially due to sometimes cold wet stretches of summer and a cruel late frost generally close to the first of june.

Also pest pressure in most places is so high that pests pressure is extremely high and one must introduce the same equipment one would be using to fence animals in!

Trees of course are a necessity, if not for food, for shelter for animals and windbreaks to help with the storms we get through here. Tornado is becoming a more and more familiar term.

What do you think?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Based on what I've read, I guess I'd rate the best methods that I know of, about like so:

5. Cottage rabbit & chicken-keeping

4. Mobbing of pasture by ruminants, then poultry, in careful rotation, with an important role for swine

3. Mixed-species extensive aquaponics: fish/crustacean/bivalve/gastropod mix

2. Hunting of wild ruminants

1. Oyster farming in estuaries
 
Franklin Stone
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I don't believe that goats are sustainable in most climates, at least not in any great numbers. Goats are very destructive of trees. They completely eliminate saplings and small trees, and then start on killing the larger ones as the environment around them degrades. This destructiveness might be put to use in the short term as a method of preparing land for other animals.

Goats are like clear-cutting an ecosystem - they destroy the symbiotic relationships and leave an area open to invasives such as multiflora rose and poison ivy - (which is counter-intuitive, because they do gladly eat multiflora rose and poison ivy).

I have spent many years raising goats (and other animals), and my parents maintain a small herd of about a dozen, which have completely overgrazed the 10 acres they are kept on. I find goats to be the most fun of any of the farm animals I have been around.

It's good to look back historically at which animals have been traditionally raised in stable societies. I think goats are a "fad" animal, or rather, they were fad animals a few years back and now they are showing dangerous signs of going mainstream.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Goats in and of themselves do not destroy ecosystems.  They, like all other livestock, do just fine IF properly managed.  I have four goats on our one acre of land and they haven't destroyed anything except one young apple tree that I put in the wrong spot (too close to the goat pen!).  Most of the year my goats are dry-lotted and I bring their food to them, but I also use a portable pen (made of cattle panels to allow them to rotationally graze some of the time. 

Frankenstoen, if your parents have a dozen goats on ten acres and they've destroyed that much land, blame the management and not the goats.  Had they been rotated through a series of much smaller paddocks, and dry-lotted at times if necessary, they would have improved that piece of land rather than destroying it.  This I know from experience, not just some theoretical book knowledge.

Kathleen
 
Franklin Stone
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My understanding of Permaculture design is a three-dimensional food forest, with minimal energy expenditures. Since goats eat just about every single thing they come in contact with, that means they need to be kept separate from just about everything. As goats are such great escape artists, they require a well-maintained fence, which is expensive and time-consuming to maintain. Sheep and cattle can be fenced in much more simply.

Even under the best of conditions, our animals require grain and hay brought in from off-site to survive the winter months, and to supplement them in the spring while they are nursing.

When I say "destroyed" - I mean, the goats have cleared off that land. My father is quite happy with what he sees - "pasture". It looks almost like it has been mowed, like a lawn. I think most people would look at it and see absolutely nothing wrong, in fact, they would look at it and consider it improved.

Whenever I see a mowed lawn, I see a monoculture desert. I think that just letting the land go back 100 percent to nature would be far more productive than letting the goats "keep it clear". When we first got the property, it was nearly impenetrable in places with brush. There used to be blackberry brambles everywhere, but those are gone now - along with the delicious blackberries I enjoyed as a youth. We used to harvest pounds of morel mushrooms in the spring, now we are lucky to find a couple. There were a few mature apple trees, but even surrounding them with fence was not enough to protect them from the goats. The goats were not content to eat the fallen apples - they had to eat the trees. Goats love maple trees too - no more maples.

The first few years we raised goats, we never had sick goats. This was back in the early 70's when we started, and goats were rare in this area. Now, many of our neighbors have goats as well, and all of the goats require constant dosages of medicines for the various diseases they catch. We used to brag about how goats were superior to cows and sheep because they needed less medications, but we were wrong.

I agree, a paddock system where the goats could be rotated from one field to another would help, and should be used with any animals. Preferably sheep or cattle though, and not goats.

Goats are browsers, while the cattle and sheep are grazers. Cattle and sheep are also dumb and bland. Goats are smart and full of personality. It is quite easy to get emotionally attached to goats for this reason. They quickly become pets. I used to rattle off wonderful facts about goats and brag about them to everyone I met. I still love the critters, they bring a certain joy to one's day that no other animal can fill.

But since I have discovered permaculture design, I have been questioning every assumption I ever had about gardening and farm living. I have been looking at things in new ways, and I've been shocked at some of the observations I have been making - how they run counter to what I thought I used to know.

 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Again, though, it's the management that is at issue here.  We humans need to have such a thorough understanding of the animals that we are managing that they enhance their environment rather than harming it.  Goats were not meant to be confined to a small area, and if they are, they will indeed eat everything that grows inside of that area.  In the wild, goats travel quite a bit, usually having a territory (much like wild horses also do) that they do a circuit of on a regular basis.  Given the opportunity, goats will do no more (or less) damage than a similarly-sized herd of deer will.  Since I live where the mule deer run in herds, and we've had as many as ten at a time in our yard a stone's throw from the house, I've had plenty of opportunity to observe their habits, and goats are very similar.  If you don't have enough land for the goats to have a natural range and circuit, then you have to keep them up most of the time and feed them.  It would still be possible to grow most if not all of their food, you'd just have to bring it to them.  Also, the other thing that I do sometimes, and could do more regularly, is to take the goats out for a walk and let them browse as we go -- they do no damage at all this way, and it approximates the natural habits of wild goats.  This only works with goats that were bottle-raised and are bonded to humans, though.

Each person would have to decide if the extra work was worth it for them or not.  In my case, it is; because of some health issues, my diet is very restricted and seems to become more restricted every time I turn around.  The goat milk is a large part of my diet, along with eggs from our chickens.  I wouldn't be able to afford to buy goat milk (I can produce it more cheaply than buying it at retail prices -- IF I could find anyone else around here with a surplus of goat milk, even though I do buy most of their feed), and want the whole raw goat milk rather than store-bought pasteurized cow milk.  For a family who had other sources of milk or didn't use much dairy products, they could make other choices about what to raise.  For me, it's just not an option.

Kathleen
 
Franklin Stone
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Kathleen, your animals are providing a unique service for some unique needs that can't be met in any other way. Goats' milk can be a wonder tonic for those people allergic to cows' milk. In this case, the extra effort required to raise goats is most definitely worth it. I have heard rumours of people drinking sheep's milk but don't have any first-hand experience milking sheep.

I didn't mean to say "never", because there are definitely places and reasons to raise goats. Even just to have as pets. (Just be sure you have a good fence.)

Don't get me started about deer (to which fences do not appear to matter.) I live in the the county with the consistently highest number of deer taken during hunting season in the entire state of Ohio. We are overrun with white-tailed deer here. The deer have done lots of damage to our garden and the fruit trees in our yard. I blame them for many of the diseases spread to goats throughout this area.

Ohio allows hunters to feed the deer - judging from the feed stores around here, deer feed is a bigger seller than any other kind of feed in these parts. I really don't consider most of these guys around here to be "hunters" - I refer to them as "deer farmers". I don't really have a problem with what the "deer farmers" do, I just wish they were honest about it and called it what it is. And I wish they were baiting the deer by planting apple trees rather than by buying pesticide-laden commercial apples and corn.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Yes, I have a good fence (I've been keeping goats for twenty-seven years now, so they can't really do much to surprise me anymore).  I'm not allergic to cow's milk, but to nickel, and most plant foods are high in nickel (some more so than others), so animal foods have to make up a large part of my diet, and I prefer goat milk to store-bought cow milk.

You know, you are the first person other than myself who I've heard say anything about deer spreading diseases to domestic goats!  I've been concerned about this for a long time -- it's one of the reasons why I keep my goats dry-lotted most of the time.  I've used my goats for packing a little bit, and one of the concerns that the authorities have about taking domestic goats into certain areas is that they might transmit diseases to the wildlife, especially mountain goats or mountain sheep...I figured it was far more likely to work the other way around, since most of us with domestic goats keep them as healthy as possible.

There are people in our area who feed the deer, but from what I've heard, they are feeding them stale bread and such, which can't be very good for the deer.  I've counted as many as twenty mule deer at a time out in the alfalfa fields, and it's rare to go to town (twelve miles) without seeing a dead deer along the road somewhere, but I don't know how many get taken by hunters.  I wish they'd get some of the ones that frequent our yard!  They've done way more damage to things I've planted than my goats have.

Kathleen

 
Emil Spoerri
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In my experience, goats mostly destroy small bushes and trees and sometimes large trees, though rarely. If they are confined to an area with few trees and no browse, I would expect them to chew on whatever bark was available to them, but if you have plenty of brambles and bushes and smaller feed, or as many practice, tossing them a good amount of brush over the fence every day.
 
josh brill
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frankenstoen wrote:
My understanding of Permaculture design is a three-dimensional food forest, with minimal energy expenditures. Since goats eat just about every single thing they come in contact with, that means they need to be kept separate from just about everything.

It seems that you are limiting your self to a very specific view of permaculture.  What you describe is a forest garden and it certainly is a piece of permaculture.  But there are many things that can be done that fits into a whole systems approach that goes well beyond the forest garden.


When I say "destroyed" - I mean, the goats have cleared off that land. My father is quite happy with what he sees - "pasture". It looks almost like it has been mowed, like a lawn. I think most people would look at it and see absolutely nothing wrong, in fact, they would look at it and consider it improved.
Whenever I see a mowed lawn, I see a monoculture desert.

I think the great plains would argue with you.  In a well managed pasture system there is a great diversity of plants and insects.  It goes back to having a management plan that works for you area.  If you wanted to keep brambles and the trees, what steps were taken to protect them? Did you have an over plan for the evolution of the land or were the goats just let out?  Going back to the thought of permaculture having a design plan is one of the main points and with out that any animal and many plants can cause a lot of trouble.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think a few goats would be fine in a permaculture system.  In fact, you can see pictures of a few goats in "Permaculture: a designer's manual."  They are simply fenced away from things they might eat.  Fences can be wire, logs, spiney plants, whatever works.  It's the loose herds of many goats that are a real problem around the world.

I have a few sheep and they love to eat trees.  I didn't know this about sheep when we got them, I thought they grazed. But these are a browsing kind of sheep, Jacobs,  they are described as primitive, goat-like sheep.  We have to fence them away from anything we don't want destroyed.  They eat trees even when there's plenty of grass or fresh hay.    I don't plan to replace them when they pass away, but I might get a small number of Nigerian dwarf goats.
 
Franklin Stone
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Yes, having a plan is key. Keep in mind the end game that you want to achieve, and then look at the steps that can get you from here to there.

One way to approach this is to use the animals in succession. Use a large number of animals for a short time, then butcher or remove the excess animals that the land can't continue to healthily sustain over the long term. (This means not making pets out of any of the animals that you raise!)

For example, use the animals to clear-cut an area that you desire to plant the following year. So instead of renting a mower, you use goats as mowers, then you eat or sell the goats. There are now portable solar-powered electric goat/chicken fences available that would allow you to move your goats to a new area each day that seem to be pretty effective, though they are a little bit more expensive and bulky than the simple stakes and wire needed for cows and sheep.

On a seasonal level, realize that purchasing grain and hay to get ANY animals through a winter can be expensive, so consider slaughtering or selling excess animals before winter hits. Consider getting rid of ALL of the animals over the winter, and simply buying new ones in the spring. Winter is when animals (cows especially) tear up the soil simply by walking on it. Not having animals in late fall and winter means you don't need any barn or shelter (or hay or grain). It also means you don't have to go outside to take care of the animals in the freezing cold.


 
Kathleen Sanderson
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For me, not having my milking goats over the fall and winter would also mean that we wouldn't have any milk.  I don't much like slipping and sliding out to the goat shelter with buckets of hot water from the house, but in the end it's worth it (until I either get too old to manage, or am able to get a frost-proof hydrant installed out there!). 

Also, if I sold my goats in the winter, they would sell cheap, for a fraction of what I paid for them.  Then I'd have to pay a huge amount to get goats of similar quality in the spring that were in milk -- normally when I buy new stock, I get bottle-babies to raise, and of course they won't have any milk for us for at least a year.  The goats that I have now are very good quality, which has spoiled me for good.  I'd have a hard time going back to auction-yard culls!

Kathleen
 
Tyler Ludens
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Seems like you'd want to keep your breeding stock over the winter, anyway. 
 
josh brill
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I think this thread has gone off the rails from the original post,  but i guess im going to keep it going that way.  I still am confused as why a pasture doesn't qualify as a permaculture end state system.  As for getting rid of animals come winter, I would have to ask where are you going to be getting your new ones from?  If they can do it why does it not work in your location.  It seems that bring in new animals every year is just going to cause more problems.  Having to fence train new ones getting new personalities that you cant selectively breed out of your herd.  Part of rotational grazing is extending the foraging season as long as you can.  You could also be growing fodder plants for winter use so your not sourcing out all of your feed. 

If animals are tearing up a location that means they have been there too long.  A winter sacrifice zone may be necessary in many locations but that can be used to grow an annual fodder crop for the winter.  Many heritage breeds need limited shelter during the winter months.  Protection from the wind is the most important thing. 
Having a mixed herd is very important to keep animals healthy.  The goal of any pasture plan is to always move your herd forward.  I dealy the same group wouldn't come back to the same spot.  If you have cows go through followed by another runiment group when the grass is ready you will have a much lower end of season worm load.  Less deworming is going to end up equal much healthier soil.  It will also keep a higher diversity of plants in your pasture.  Its not always possible but many out there are doing it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
1. Oyster farming in estuaries


This can be very sustainable.  Near Jacksonville Florida are small hills of oyster shells left by the Timuquan people who lived there for thousands of years eating oysters until they made oyster shell middens which are the highest spots in the area.  And you can look out into the water and see plenty of living oysters even to this day! 
 
tel jetson
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Ludi wrote:
This can be very sustainable.  Near Jacksonville Florida are small hills of oyster shells left by the Timuquan people who lived there for thousands of years eating oysters until they made oyster shell middens which are the highest spots in the area.  And you can look out into the water and see plenty of living oysters even to this day!   


here is my non-contribution to this thread: oysters are disgusting and delicious.
 
                                
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Where in Southern NY are you?  I live on Long Island, but I used to have a place Upstate and back then it was all dairy (cow) farms, apple orchards and cornfields.  You can definitely raise chickens on that!  Plant some native Red Mulberries and some willows.  Don't plant White or Paper Mulberries - they will take over everything - very invasive and impossible to kill!  Chickens eat bugs and your kitchen scraps!  Also, you can try Quinoa and Buckwheat for grains.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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