The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Maintainer livestock: Chickens, sheep, and cows

Pastured lamb

Yesterday, I talked about colonizer livestock (pigs and goats) that can be used to turn troubled areas into pasture.  Today, I'll discuss what you do with those new pastures to make them more diverse, fertile, and nutritious every year.

Maintainer livestock live on good pasture, where they have two jobs.  First, they need to keep the pasture cropped relatively short so that it'll keep producing succulent new growth that is easy to munch up (and that won't turn into those less nutritious weeds that only colonizers enjoy.)  Second, maintainers add nutrients to the soil with their excrement, fertilizing the pasture as they graze.

Joel Salatin's system uses cows and chickens as his maintainer species, and in general a grass-eating ruminant paired with some sort of poultry is a good combination.  Megan and Erek focus primarily on hair sheep and chickens, both being raised for meat.  Megan notes that the chickens, especially, increase the fertility of the pasture dramatically, while the tearing action of the grazing sheep seems to stimulate plant growth.

Salatin style chicken tractor

Salatin claims nearly unbelievable savings on feed by raising his chickens on pasture.  He notes that his laying hens are able to eat just corn instead of balanced rations while on summer pasture, getting their protein from the land (a savings of 42% in cost per pound of feed.)  Meanwhile, these hens are only eating 0.07 pounds of feed per hen per day compared to 0.3 pounds that some of his neighbors feed and 0.25 pounds that we feed.  His broiler savings are pretty serious too, with feed costs 30% less than they would have been off pasture.  And, of course, the meat and eggs from the chickens and cows are high quality, pastured products.

Although the cost savings are a bit debatable (others have trouble replicating Salatin's results there), the pasture quality changes are dramatic.  Grazing two or more maintainer species that have slightly different food preferences keeps the pasture extremely diverse and healthy.  Farmers who follow Salatin's lead say that they're growing pasture, not animals --- this is additive farming, the furthest thing you'll find from extractive, modern methods.

Our chicken waterer makes tractoring easy, cutting watering time drastically.

This post is part of our Salatin-style Pasturing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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