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Multi-Species Pasture Stacking
This article was first printed in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of the Organic Broadcaster, published by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
[ The Bauman’s have been APPPA members for a few years. In early 2009 Rosanna Bauman, a dynamic young woman, earned the title of Kansas Rural Center Farmer-Educator specializing in poultry/egg production. Rosanna, her parents and five siblings recently completed a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Farmer Rancher Project on Multi-Species Pasture Stacking. Portions of the Bauman’s 2009 SARE report are reprinted here. The Bauman's will be presenting a workshop on Multi-Species Pasture Stacking at the 21st Annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference in February 2010.]
In 2001, at the ages of 40, my parents, John and Yvonne Bauman, took their six children (aged 14-1) and bought a farm near Garnett, Kansas. All of their family and friends thought this was a ludicrous idea. Everyone in this agricultural county had grown up with the slogan-Get big or get out! The average farmer’s operation had about a minimum of 1,000 acres. We were buying a puny 160 acres. We had raised enough backyard chickens, cows, and sheep to get a taste of farming, but we really had no knowledge of how to run a financially successful farm. But with the help of many neighbors and organizations, we are well on our way to establishing ourselves as a multi-generational sustainable farm. While 5 of the family members still work full-time at the family home furnishings business (owned by John’s dad), we have still managed to grow into a full-time farm with employees only for processing or tour days.
As of spring 2008, we have 380 acres under cultivation and organic transition and certification (over half is rented). Cedar Valley Farm specializes in organic soybeans, milo, wheat, alfalfa, clover, hay, and straw. CVF is home to Hereford/Angus beef cattle, Jersey dairy cattle, Cornish Cross broilers, Bovain layer chickens, Pekin and K.Campbell ducks, BB White turkeys, and Polypay sheep. All of the livestock are incorporated in a Multi Species Pasture Stacking (msPS) system, and the ruminant’s diet is 100% organic grass and hay. All of our meat and dairy products are direct marketed off the farm, at the local farmers market, or to groceries, restaurants, and delis.
Since our farm was founded in 2001, our mission has been to be a sustainable farm. There were only three other farmers in our county who actively practiced sustainable farming, but we knew that if we wanted to operate a small farm, the only practical, economic choice was to practice sustainable methods right from the start. The first year we began transitioning all of the crop and pastureland for organic certification, and started some broilers on pasture. Each year since then we have continued to diversify and further the sustainability of our farm, including: filter strips, erosion control and terraces, pasturing all of our livestock, implementing clean water practices, composting all bedding and offal, no chemical fertilizers or herbicides on the pastures, fields or gardens, no growth hormones or antibiotics for livestock, only natural vitamins and homeopathic treatments.
In October 2007 we opened a State Certified on-farm poultry processing facility, ANCO Poultry Processing. Trickle-down economic impact from laborsaving msPS has allowed us to operate this inspected processing facility, which employs 3-6 locals once or twice a week for 36 weeks, plus members of our family. Employees range from 47- 8 years of age. This results in over $5,000 of wages to locals each year for work that was formerly not available in our county.
Goals of the Project
Versatile Water System
After testing four styles of watering pans, (cup, bell, open pan, gravity flow, high pressure) we soon found the most versatile watering system would be to use open pan waters for all species of livestock. Turkeys, sheep, and beef use a 5-gallon black rubber tub with a float. This works easily and cheaply, as a short length of garden hose connects the main line and the water tub. Because of their smaller size (and lower IQ) a shallower tub (2 gal) is used for the hens and broilers. Longer lengths of garden hoses are needed for these as the water pan needs to be right outside their shelter.
We are extremely pleased with the versatile water system. It has resulted in better animal health and labor reduction. The frost free hydrants in the pasture enable us to keep our livestock on grass in the winter months instead of using a feed-lot or barn. The pressurized water system has increased our animals’ health, growth rates and quality of life.
A more sustainable (and economic) option for the livestock waters would be to use our own water from our own land. We plan to purchase a pump and filter to bring water from the ponds now that they are fenced off. We could then treat the water with hydrogen peroxide, which is better for our animals than the water district’s chemical treatment, plus it would still provide intestinal pathogen control and algae reduction.
We recently discovered that it was a bad idea to place the water lines directly below our electric fence wires, because of ground currents. A solution may be to cover the water lines with a several inches of dirt to act as an insulator without needing to go to the expense of trenching.
The biggest advantage for the cattle’s access to the ponds is that they could cool themselves in them during the hot, humid Kansas summers. We would like to find some way for the cattle to cool themselves since the pond is not an ecological option.
Each species of animals has different fencing needs to keep them in their proper paddock. Multi species fencing for our operation began with permanent, 5-strand barbwire fencing around the pasture perimeter. The interior of the pasture was then divided into large paddocks with two strands of high tensile hot wire. From this base, we then moved the various livestock through the paddocks by using temporary fencing to move them through the paddocks a little bit at a time. The temporary fence for each species was different as each species has different needs.
Beef temporary fencing: One or two strands of electrified poly-wire kept the cattle in proper rotation most of the time. It worked best if we did not have them immediately ahead of the poultry. Otherwise, the cattle could see/smell the chicken’s grain and would try to get to it. A clumsy cow can shred poultry netting quickly. A week’s worth of grass separating the two species helped with that problem.
Sheep temporary fencing: Sheep have the same problem as cattle when it comes to chicken feed. They don’t shred the poultry netting, they just become impossibly entangled in it. Two strands of poly-wire easily contained adult sheep, with the exception of an occasional bad apple. Lambs however did not follow their parent’s lead.
Experiments with using poultry electrified netting to help contain the lambs, were not successful. Electric netting for sheep was purchased, with much better success. There is a reason for separate netting styles. One challenge of using sheep in a msPS system is the lambs. We prefer to enclose them in a shelter at night to discourage predators. This limited the distance we could rotationally graze them, as they had to return to their barn each evening. To get around this Kevin (age 15) fashioned a PVC hoop house with sturdy, 2 foot sidewalls. This shelter is still easily movable, and the sheep can be enclosed at night. This allows us to graze the sheep everywhere the cattle and chickens can go. We have used single and multi-stand poly-wire fences for the sheep, and the multi-strand was definitely more effective with the various temperaments of sheep. However, the electric netting performed far superior to the multi-strand poly-wire fencing when used in a temporary-fence setting. The E-net from Premier One Fencing Supplies in Iowa is more expensive than the poly-wire but is a lot faster and easier to move. Time-savings is what counts when you are moving fence twice a week.
Poultry temporary fencing: this was the most challenging category as it had to meet both goals of being easily moved and labor-saving, while not losing any of its protective values for the poultry. In addition, each poultry species requires different modes of shelter. We used 5 different shelter/fencing prototypes during the two growing seasons. Growing season 2006 revealed the best systems for the turkey and layers shelter and fencing needs. Slight adjustments were made in 2007 revealing…
Turkey shelter/fencing- The best fit for the turkey’s free-roaming lifestyle was a simple hay wagon for shade. Our turkeys did not want to sleep under a roof. Sleeping on the top of the wagon satisfied the turkey’s roosting instincts. Turkeys need no rain protection in the average fall shower. In times of extended, multi-day rains, tin or tarps are used to cover the wagon bed. Initially, we put poultry netting around the haywagon shelter. A turkey’s appetite for grass and grit is much greater than a chicken’s, thus the netting enclosure for turkeys needed to be moved more often than the chicken’s. This was more time-consuming, so we decided to eliminate the fence. The turkeys returned each night to their wagon roost, and no predator problems were experienced. Our turkeys come in two batches a month apart, separation in the field was not necessary because they were all dressed at the same time.
Broiler shelter/fencing- this was more complicated, as these poultry are less self-sufficient. We went through several prototypes that were close, but still lacking in one of the needed criteria: ease of mobility, adequate ventilation for summer, adequate shelter for storms and cold snaps, wind resistant… We began to wonder if there was a shelter that was Kansas-proof enough to shelter dumb broilers.
The current favorite is designed to shelter 350 birds: 12’x 14’ Beechard hoophouse, constructed of PVC hoops and 12 oz tarp. These are light enough that one person can move it, the taller hoops prevent the wind from tossing it, the PVC bows are easily repairable if damaged, it’s very ventilated for summer heat, but not as great for early spring/late fall weather.
Electrified netting is set up to supply a week’s worth of grass; the shelter is moved daily within the enclosure.
A mobile lifestyle is an adjustment for any species of poultry, because of their roosting instinct. Providing a roost for the poultry to sleep on can combat this, as they will gladly follow the shelter to sleep on their familiar roost. Broilers are too fat to fly, but a floor in the broiler hoop houses would probably provide them with a roost delusion and help draw the birds back under shelter. The poultry shelters we have settled on are what worked best for our operation and region. For regions with more predictable and less violent weather than Kansas, shelters could be much simpler. We recommend that broiler producers with less than 800 birds on the field use a Salatin model of pen. These provide excellent predator protection, and are easy to move.
Second year trials revealed a 50% increase in turkey carcass weights when the turkeys were allowed no-boundaries grazing. If there are multiple groups of turkeys that must be kept separate, we suggest keeping the younger batch surrounded by electrified netting.
These two instances reveal that both the fencing and the watering systems are equally important to animal health and growth.
Having our own state-inspected processing has provided us with a unique opportunity to measure the bacterial health of our chickens that most producers do not have. We have performed approximately 20 e-coli tests and 13 salmonella tests on our broilers since October 2007. The results from these have mostly been within the accepted criteria. Other long-time poultry processors have told us that traditionally, pastured poultry have higher e-coli counts because of their non-medicated feed. This is an issue that many pastured poultry producers are not aware of, nor would they have the resources to measure their own bacterial counts.
Our on-farm processing facility greatly benefits the poultry’s mental health and meat quality as it eliminates the one-hour transport to the processor. In fact, our turkeys actually walk on their own accord up to the slaughter door on processing day, drawn by their own curiosity. This makes the lowest-stress transport to slaughter ever achieved by any turkey producer!
Soil and Water Health
Our winter feeding grounds for the livestock is strategically located to help prevent run-off. The ponds have been fenced off, and a lagoon built to prevent wash-down water from our barns from entering into the water supply.
We have been able to undertake more cropland, even beginning some custom haying. We were able to build and operate our own processing facility on farm, which requires about 15 extra hours of management time each week.
Discussion of the Project Results
Isn’t the water system expensive?
How long do the animals stay in each paddock?
Impact on the Community
Our local groceries and restaurants are now asking for 50% more products and we realistically expect our retail sales to improve by about 25%. Wholesale Meat sales increased 40% from 2007 to 2008, while our prices from 2006 have increased 40%. Can the Bauman’s keep up with this demand? By gaining more control of each aspect of the meat’s journey to the consumer, Cedar Valley Farms will be able to move beyond success and become profitable as a family farm that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable.
The certification of our on-farm processing facility in October 2007 opened up a whole new education outlet. Being the processor gives us a unique opportunity to demonstrate the advantages of natural poultry production. As a processor, we can tell if the chicken had proper nutrition, sufficient protection from elements and predators, and the presence of any disease or mineral deficiencies. We then show the producer how this lack results in a particular problem or blemish on the carcass. We then are able to make recommendations that would correct the problem in a holistic way. Producers do implement our advice, and further poultry from these farmers have shown distinct improvements in quality.
While neighboring poultry producers are waiting for their birds to be processed, our msPS system is easily observed from the facility location. We use our position as a processor to illustrate the benefits of natural poultry raising. The results of our pastured-poultry bacterial studies provide us with data to improve a part of poultry health that is otherwise unseen and undetected. We want to educate other producers about this little-known schism in pastured-poultry health, and teach them how to reduce these pathogens in their live poultry.
Because of the lagoon construction (we built, we did not hire it done), we were unable to conduct a water-quality test of the runoff. We do have the confidence, however that the water quality has improved and will continue to improve. The lagoon was constructed to ensure that wash-down water does not leave our property and enter the water supply. The lagoon now has a healthy stand of grasses covering its dam.
Erosion: When we purchased the farm there were multiple washes 12 foot wide and 3 feet deep. With dirt work and reseeding then implementing msPS they have been healed. Even grazing and manure distribution creates a consistent grass stand, helping to eliminate bare spots that cause erosion. We received 27” of rain in 68 hours in June 2007. This caused massive flooding and the destruction of a lake spillway ½ mile from our farm. None of the pasture at Cedar Valley Farms suffered erosion, not even the spillways from our three ponds. We credit this to our established pasture grasses.
Pasture health: The biggest threat to pasture health as a result of practicing msPS was one of the styles of poultry shelter we used. We found the heavier, more enclosed A-frame shelter was detrimental to pasture health when used for broilers. (Hens did not have this problem.) The broilers would not range outside of their shelter much, creating heavy manure concentration. This not only created the need for a longer pasture rest, but also uneven manure distribution. The heavy pen was moved by truck or tractor (that would tear the sod) and in rainy weather could not be moved at all. This resulted in extended stays in one pasture location, which would burn and kill the grass.
It is good stewardship to be able to do more with less. The msPS method teaches us a conservative approach to land-use. There is no more land being created, so it is conducive that we begin to use our land to its fullest potential. Conventional farming is extravagant and wasteful in its use of acreage.Return to TOP