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Clearing land with pigs and goats, need advice  RSS feed

 
John Natoli
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I have one area of about 1/4 acre and another adjacent area of similar size that I would like cleared out. One for planting annual beds and the other for pasture. One is of higher priority than the other, so I may focus on that one to start if tackling all of it is too much for me at once. The soil seems to be fairly compacted, of a high clay content and not particularly well draining. There are a number of mid-sized trees that were planted by the previous owner, so roots are an issue. The groundcover is mainly garlic mustard. I plan to remove most of the trees in this area as they are on the South side of the property and shading much of it, and are mainly ornamental. I don't have the means to rent heavy machinery to clear this land and would prefer not to anyway. However, I have absolutely no experience with any of this other than basic vegetable gardening and no experience with animals.

My thought is that I can remove the trees (except the stumps) and build a perimeter fence for goats, pigs and chickens and let them do the work of clearing the land. That's basically where my idea stops though. Things I don't know:
Is this a good way to prepare the land for annual vegetable planting?
How many of what types of animals could both live there comfortably while at a high enough concentration to actually clear the land within a year?
How do I know how much external feed I should provide?
What type of fencing should I build to contain the animals and how will this choice be affected by the density of the animals and the feed that I provide?
Will the animals (mainly pigs, I suppose) handle most of the roots, and up to what size roots can they handle?
What other things do I need to know?

Big Picture:
I've got about 2.5 acres that I would like to convert to a working homestead with about half of it dedicated to an edible forest garden. Again, I have no experience with this other than a lot of reading on permaculture. This has been my dream for a long time and I worked very hard to purchase this land in NJ. I'm almost a little embarrassed to post my work-in-progress plan for the property because I'm sure it's very silly at this point, but I figured it might help add context to the question. Thank you for your help!
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Dana Jones
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There is nothing silly about posting your plans and dreams. I have them too! We used hair sheep first to clear brush and lower limbs of trees. Then we cut select trees and let the sheep eat the tops as they lay on the ground. Now my sheep run to the sound of a chainsaw. LOL We used a machete to chop greenbriar vines and dragged them out of the tree tops. The sheep ate all the green leaves off the vines, then we picked them up and piled them for burning. Free food! We spent last summer clearing about an acre like this and now it is a decent pasture. We planted winter rye grass for the sheep this winter. In another few weeks, we'll have to take them off and sow summer grass seed and keep them off long enough to let it get established.

We used pigs in winter 2015-2016 to root up the garden spot. We had already dug out a tremendous pile of stumps, green briar roots and other things, but the pigs really finished rooting up things. After we took them to slaughter, I smoothed out their moon craters with the tractor and planted a garden.

At this moment we have 4 pigs in a half acre pasture that needs help. It is not as infested with briars as the one acre pasture was, but they are happily rooting their way all over the place. We'll take them to slaughter in May, then smooth it out and sprig Bermuda and plant a variety of grass seeds.

I don't mix the sheep and pigs. Never get only one pig as they are social animals and need a friend. I use 2"x4"x48" non climb horse wire for all my fencing. It even keeps the chickens in.

Hope this helps!
 
John Natoli
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Thank you Dana! That's all very helpful. It's great to hear that you've had success with some similar approaches. I had no idea that sheep would eat trees like that, but I know nothing about sheep. My wife as a knitter is partial to getting sheep. Do they eat pretty much any kind or are they picky? How many did you have for that acre area and how densely wooded was it? Do you move your fencing around or do you have permanent enclosures? Thanks again.
 
Dana Jones
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Here's a link to the acre we cleared. We have hair sheep, Dorper and Katahdin crosses. We have 5 ewes, a ram and currently 4 lambs.

https://www.backyardherds.com/threads/i-hate-green-briars.33715/

We fenced with 2"x4"x48" non climb horse wire. It is woven wire, PLEASE don't buy welded wire, it is total crap! Our's is permanent fencing and we built it to stay for a loooong time. There are a lot of wool sheep breeds, your wife would have a good time trying to decide which breed to get!

This is my fence link
https://www.backyardherds.com/threads/non-climb-2-x4-horse-wire-fence.32922/
 
Marco Banks
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If you are not familiar with Sepp Holtzer, Google him and read everything you can about his techniques and use of animals in land management.  There are all sorts of YouTube videos of him out there --- several entertaining ones with him and Paul Wheaton. 

I mention him because he's a big proponent of using pigs to do the tough work of rooting out trees and such. 

One idea that (I believe) came from him is to get a small soil auger that fits into a cordless drill.  Use it to drill holes in the soil under tree stumps and things you want uprooted.  Drill down a couple of feet and then pour corn down into the hole.  The hogs will dig and dig to get every last piece of corn out, saving you the hassle of digging out brambles and small tree stumps.

http://www.gemplers.com/product/226383/power-planter-soil-augers-1-2-hex-drive?gclid=CKr9r93a0tICFUdlfgod50sIhA&CID=25SEPLA&s_kwcid=AL!3210!3!171103506386!!!g!146111885545!&ef_id=WAEyUAAABO2pk@Kq:20170313050614:s

You may wish to use electric wire to bunch the animals up (mob-stocking), so as to get them to clear one space before moving on to the next one.  I don't think you want to leave them on for too long, however.  Keeping them moving from paddock to paddock is the key.

As for poor soil, the answer is always more bio-mass.  Cover crops, bringing in lots of mulch, chop and drop, mob grazing livestock  . . . there are a number of ways to get carbon onto your soil surface.  If you haven't watched any of Gabe Browns videos, do so.  He's a farmer from North Dakota who has been regenerating his land for years with permaculture and no-till principles.  He does a lot of cover-cropping and integrating his cattle into the land to build soil.  His no-till philosophy is central to build soil health.  Check him out.

If you've got access to wood chips, take as many as you can and spread them all over.  The so-called "Back to Eden" method comes from a film that goes by that name: B.T.E.  Watch the movie.  Get wood chips and spread them all over.  They are garden gold.  I used close to 60 yards of them on my 1/3rd acre lot every year, so with your big space, you'll be able to take dozens of truck loads of them.  Your access right off the road might be a huge asset.  I'd get a big piece of plywood, and make a sign:  "Wood chips wanted."  Put it where any arborist might drive by and see.  Then, stealing an idea from Joel Salitan, you might mix corn into your wood chips to encourage the pigs to get in there and spread them out for you.  If you were standing there as they are dumped off the truck with a 5-bucket of shelled corn, just toss generous handfuls of corn into the chips as they get dumped.  If the corn is slightly fermented, all the better.  The pigs will make quick work of that pile, tearing into it to get to the corn.  They'll piss on it, crap all over, and integrate all that wonderful nitrogen and carbon into the soil.

Best of luck.
 
Michael Cox
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Question - that woodland areas to north of the property that you plan to clear. Does it provide shelter for your working area? In my garden we had to make a hole through a brushy area like that for access - that spot is now a windtunnel. This would need observations of your local climate and conditions. You might decide to leave half of the width as-is to provide the windbreak effect.
 
Travis Johnson
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I was going to mention Sheep for clearing land but Dana beat me to it. I could not agree more with what was said and can back up everything with my own experience with sheep. They are land clearers, which is why the settlers in New England employed them 200 years ago. Most of the time when someone mentions land clearing, they think of goats, but sheep actually work better. They not only clean out the browse like goats do, they are easier to keep contained, have bigger appetites, love other forages like weeds and vines, and have even used them personally to graze out of existence poison ivy and raspberries. (Poison Ivy is their preferred fodder after all!). It is why in environmentally sensitive areas utility companies employ sheep farmers to mob-graze their powerline rights of way. You just don't get that naturally ability any other way than with sheep, and why sheep are used.

I am not so sure about using pigs. I have seen this a lot on homesteading forums, but in practice I have seen a lot of people try it, but not work much of the time. I do a lot of land clearing, an while I would love for this to work out for me, as well as others I land clear for, most of the time the landowner gives up on pigs, brings in heavy equipment and the area is finally cleared that way. I say not to be cynical, and perhaps it is just where I live due to the forest, terrain or law of crows or whatever, but I have yet to see it work.

As for wool. What your wife is proposing certainly can be done, and I know a lot of people that do that. In fact I know of 50 farms or so that raise 25 sheep or so, make products from that wool and do a pretty good business in the fiber-arts as it is called. I am not into that, but it can be done. I am a commercial sheep farm engaged in it for the meat side of things, but have woolies only because they produce more meat. Wool is just a byproduct. For the really big sheep like Hampshire, Suffolk an Montadale (also known as Western Sheep), they produce 8 pounds per fleece (per sheep). I have these in my own flock, but my greatest percentage is a dual purpose type of sheep; the Corriedale. These produce 13 pound fleeces. They are still pretty big, but give more wool. I prefer this breed only because they are so docile, more motherly, and make a nice sheep on many fronts. But don't get me wrong, I think I have tried every breed there is practically; and for one reason or not, gravitate back to Corriedales. Some people get locked into a breed and think it is just the best, and I do not wish to convey that here with Corriedale, its just that we go back to Corridale because they just seem to work for us better. That is experience talking and not some sort of bias towards the breed. There very well may be a better breed out there that we have yet to try...I am not sure.

I am not sure how far you are from Maine, but if you were close I would give your wife some wool to try in any case.

 
Dana Jones
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We have 8 acres and it is sand. Think beach sand, sand, sand, SAND! And no ocean!! LOL As Marco said, cover with wood chips. We have contractors working in the area, clearing power line right of ways. They are based in a town about an hour away, so we let them park 3 of their big trucks and chippers here on our place at night and on weekends. They are delighted as they only have to run back and forth in pick up trucks. We have received close to 60 chipper truck loads of wood chips. We spread half of them already around the barn and on the driveway. In the summer, it is hot, dry and walking outside feels like a sand storm. We were blessed with FREE 4-5 year old wood chips that had decomposed down to a rich black crumbly garden gold, and that's just where it is-in the garden. We had the contractors dump 10 loads off to one side, which we will let rot down for future gardens. All the rest are being dumped on a natural gas pipeline that runs through our place, so we have to move it as we can't have stuff on top of the pipeline.

How to find wood chips? ASK! Find power line contractors, call the power companies, landscaping companies, sawmills, etc. We also cruise neighborhoods in the fall when people rake their yards and bag up their leaves. They do all the work and we reap the benefits. We load up the truck with bagged leaves! I put them in the sheep lot, in the sheep shed and in the chicken coop. The animals do my composting work for me. If the leaves get poopy, throw in some more bags! Clean out every so often and pile up for the garden.

We were given 2 loads of hay-cow manure winter lot leftovers, and have another one waiting. They are about 12 yards each. We have them dumped on the side of the pipeline to compost. Then I'll spread them down the pipeline in an effort to enrich the soil for planting grass for the sheep.

You might want to buy your own chipper for small branches. You are going to cut trees, chip up those branches and leaves! Take the tree trunk and larger branches and bury them for flat style hugel beds. Don't plant fruit trees on top of buried trunks or they will sink as the tree trunks decompose. Plant fruit/nut trees off to the side of flat hugel beds. Return the nutrients to the soil, and the wood mass will hold moisture. A neighbor planted watermelons on top of a flat hugel and had a great harvest!

@Travis Johnson, that is interesting about the Corriedale sheep. My present flock is my "learner" sheep, so if I kill them out of ignorance, I haven't lost an expensive $1,000 registered ram or ewe. But I did choose hair sheep so I wouldn't have to shear them. There is no shearers around east Texas that I know of, and I don't know that I could handle that. I'll keep them in mind. I am leaning toward registered Dorpers or Royal Whites.
 
John Natoli
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Wow! Amazing advice, thank you so much.

I'm so glad you all have taught me that sheep can do this work. I'd much rather be managing sheep than pigs. I'll likely still use pigs, but in lesser numbers. Pardon the ignorant question, but is there a decent market for mutton as opposed to lamb?

I've just done a video walkthrough of my property that's about 10 mins long. I'd really appreciate if you had the time to watch it and I'll post the link. I was trying to keep it short so didn't go into much detail, just did a general overview. I'll create some more videos that go into more detail on specific things and will probably start writing posts about those topics.

I did some woodchip gardening after watching BTE a couple years ago and it was great!


Marco, those are some excellent tips about getting more from woodchips and I'll definitely check out the references mentioned.

Michael, that wooded area actually doesn't really exist yet in the form of my plan. It's somewhat wooded currently, but not thickly.

I think that my main decision right now is if I should start by fencing in the entire property first, or creating separate enclosures. We have a lot of deer coming through, so I am going to have to address that at some point anyway, though I don't know if I can make the initial investment of a fence that will both keep deer out and sheep/pigs in. Haven't done the research but at first blush it sounds heavy-duty. I'm also just not sure I want to manage moving fencing around — it seems there's more chance that it will be flimsy or faulty and animals will get out. I live in a suburban neighborhood and really need to avoid that if I want to fly under the radar and stay on my neighbors' good sides. Since the area I need cleared is only about 1.5-2 acres, I'm thinking I might be best off with a permanent fence all the way around, but then I suppose I'd need a lot of animals to clear that area within about a year.

I have little kids running around and I'm a little intimidated by electric fence. I've seen a video of a guy who pastures his pigs using cattle panels attached with trampoline springs. He just slides the whole things around and creates a circle where he needs them. It seems pretty manageable, but is that enough to keep sheep in?

I think I've just done so much reading that I have an intellectual understanding of the theory behind it all but I'm getting stuck on the hands-on logistics, ie. what kind of fencing, when to move it, how big an enclosure, how many animals, etc. I know I've just got to dive in but want to avoid any mishaps that may put a serious damper on things and attract negative attention from the township, such as pigs wandering onto a main road.

Thanks again!
 
John Natoli
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Here's the overview video. I hope to improve the quality and content of these a LOT and I have a bit of video editing experience, so I will — but I just wanted to get something started and have an excuse to go outside on this icy day.

 
Dana Jones
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http://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/non-climb-horse-fence-48-in-x-200-ft?cm_vc=-10005

This is the wire I used. You need real good wire to keep your animals IN and other animals OUT. Bear in mind the number one predator of sheep is dogs. In a suburban area, there will be lots of dogs. Hopefully people keep them on their own property, but some people are not very thoughtful of others. We have Great Pyrenees livestock guard dogs because of coyotes. On a small acreage like yours, you can probably put your sheep up securely at night and be ok. But you need a GOOD fence. Put up a good solid parameter fence, then cross fence into what pastures you want. You won't put it all up at one time, so buy a roll or two, with T-posts and put it up. Then do the next stretch.
 
John Natoli
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Dana Jones wrote:http://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/non-climb-horse-fence-48-in-x-200-ft?cm_vc=-10005

This is the wire I used. You need real good wire to keep your animals IN and other animals OUT. Bear in mind the number one predator of sheep is dogs. In a suburban area, there will be lots of dogs. Hopefully people keep them on their own property, but some people are not very thoughtful of others. We have Great Pyrenees livestock guard dogs because of coyotes. On a small acreage like yours, you can probably put your sheep up securely at night and be ok. But you need a GOOD fence. Put up a good solid parameter fence, then cross fence into what pastures you want. You won't put it all up at one time, so buy a roll or two, with T-posts and put it up. Then do the next stretch.


Thanks, that looks like quality stuff and good advice. I'm also going to need to keep deer out, so not sure how I'm going to handle that yet.
 
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