Rotational Grazing and WORMS – Management Series Part 4

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Rotational Grazing. Can it apply to goats? Does it work? Why should you even consider it?

Rotational Grazing and WORMS

While rotational grazing is usually applied to cattle and sheep, it’s an incredibly powerful tool for goat owners as well.

jasmine

The Basics

The basic principle behind rotational grazing is moving animals frequently like they do in nature. Grazers, in nature, do not stay in one spot for days on end. They move. Frequently. Grass gets mowed down and regrows quickly because it’s not being eaten as it tries to push up new sprouts.

Ever wonder why conventionally grazed pastures – pastures that have animals on the whole thing for the whole summer – look so dead? It’s because they are. That poor grass tries to grow and gets eaten every single time it pushes up a new sprout. It finally gives up, giving way to weeds and undesirable vegetation.

That’s the grass side of the equation. In a very short story 🙂 To learn it in detail, check out Greg Judy and Joel Salatin.

The animal side of the equation: the quality of grass or forage drops drastically in a conventional system. Nutrients are not getting replaced. The grass isn’t allowed to rest. (among a myriad of other things)

The parasite side of the equation: parasites LOVE short grass. They love animals eating at dirt level. They love animals being on the same pasture for weeks on end.

Very basically, in a standard pasture situation, you end up with a dead/very weak pasture, lots of worms, and less than healthy animals. To fix that, dewormers, additional feeds/grain, and hay is brought in.

But, a very simple solution is rotational grazing.


What is rotational grazing – exactly?

It is the practice of moving animals every day. Sometimes two or more times daily. Small pens moved frequently. Animals only have access to what they will eat within 12-24 hours. And then they are moved on.

For my doe herd, I have 4-6 electric sheep nettings. Depending on the density of the forage available, they get 1-2 nettings per day. On grass, it’s always one netting because I want them eating the grass fast and moving on quickly. When they are on grass, I am moving them twice a day. If they are in brush with very little growing directly on the ground, they get 2+ nettings and I move them less frequently.

The reason behind that is parasites float up damp grass and into a goat’s mouth. Parasites can only float up about 6″ on wet grass. So it isn’t as urgent to move them quickly through brush as it is when they are on grass. Parasites simply can’t climb brambles, brush, and trees that are quite a bit higher than 6″ from the ground.

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Benefits of rotational grazing (or foraging)

In no particular order, as everything is related…

A healthier pasture. Animals can be very picky, as we all know! 🙂 When rotational grazing is used, animals have less time to be picky and are more focused and simply eat before someone else gets the food before they do! This also ensures they’re not eating and re-eating things they enjoy and leaving plants they don’t. Because those undesirable plants will be the ones to reproduce and eventually take over a pasture.

It can save money. Because animals aren’t consistently eating all the grass down but only portions of it at a time, other areas have time to regrow and provide food later on. Basically, you get more out of your pasture and land by rotational grazing.

Animals are more healthy. Healthy, strong, vibrant pastures and forage equal that in animals. What you feed your animals is what they are. And what their meat and milk are.

Fewer worms. A parasite larvae’s life cycle is 3-5 days from egg to hatching. If a goat isn’t there to eat that larva, the goat doesn’t get parasite problems. This is why it is vital to move goats off a grass pasture within 3 days. Any longer and there’s the risk of goats ingesting the parasite larvae.

Do grass and goats mix?

Historically, goats didn’t eat grass or pasture as their main diet. They foraged on shrubs, trees, and bushes. Technically they are browsers and this is why many people run into parasite problems when goats are on pasture. Another technical point is that they shouldn’t eat grasses below their knee in height.

A goat’s parasite resistance isn’t as high as cows or sheep who eat close to the ground and basically had to develop a high parasite resistance.

Yet another point is trees, bushes, and shrubs have deep roots. They bring up more minerals and micronutrients than grass. Grass often doesn’t have the amount of minerals goats need.

So on one side, no. Goats and grass don’t mix well. But on the other side, we have tools to make it work. Namely, rotational grazing and high-quality mineral mixes.

When to put goats out on grass is another topic. I recommend researching it. For now, the best time is just before it goes to seed. Too early and the grass is weakened. Too late the quality of it goes way down.

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How to start rotational grazing

People wonder why we have very, very few permanent fences. The reason is simple. Permanent fences can’t be moved. And that isn’t very helpful when we rotational graze EVERYTHING. From chickens to cows. Every single animal species on this place is rotationally grazed or browsed. So everything is portable. From shelters to fences.

So…HOW do you start doing this whole rotational grazing thing?

Throw out the idea of everything being permanent, concrete & page wire solid. Yep. ‘Fraid so. (Except for a buck pen…that NEEDS to be concrete & page wire solid!)

Invest in electric nettings. Ukal in Canada (which supplies many local feedstores) and Premier1 in the States are two excellent sources of nettings. And a fencer, poly wire, and fibreglass poles. We use Stafix fencer and a mix of brands for polywire and poles. While upfront it can be expensive, these all last a long time if well taken care of. We still have our first sheep nettings which we bought back in 2011. And those things have seen MANY animals.

Teach your goats to come when called and to follow a feed/treat bucket. I can take my herd anywhere without leashes or fences because they’ve been taught this. It can take young kids a few days to learn to stick with the herd, but they catch on quickly. It’s also best to have at the very least two nettings. One for the current pen, one for their next pen.

More Tips

  • Set up your fencer, a polywire & posts, along with your nettings. Put fiberglass posts on the corners of your netting to keep things high and tight.
  • If your goats are not trained to electric fence, put this in an area where it’ll be easy to catch any potential escapees. Be sure it’s hot and well charged!
  • Once everyone is trained, you can move them out to your pastures with it.
  • I’ve found it’s best to have nettings set up side by side and to teach the herd to go under the fence when I lift it up and call them. That way you’re not constantly chasing goats all over the place.
  • Move the first netting to the other side of your second netting. Leap frog style. Now it’s ready for the next move.
  • Ta-da! You are now rotational grazing your herd.

If you only have a small herd (5 goats or less), you can do a figure 8 style pen with one netting to get two pens out of 1 netting.

Final Thoughts

Try not to overthink this. The very basic principle is to move them over 12-24 hours and within 3 days at the most.

If you have chickens, run them 3 days behind the goats. They’ll help deal with parasite larvae that are hatching and reduce flies.

Yes, it is more work. But in the long run, it pays off. I very, very rarely have to deworm my herd in the spring/summer/early fall. I have a portable mineral shelter that goes with the goats along with water buckets.

Or course, some breeds will do better with this style of management than others. My Kikos do amazing in it! The Nigerians do pretty well too. I can’t speak to how other breeds would do.

Do you rotational graze? Or is it something you’ve just heard out?

Comment below! I’d love to know 🙂

Til next time,

Megan

Rotational Grazing and WORMS – Management Series Part 4

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