John & Susan Merrell
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Scio, OR 97374
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Diversification

Diversification is one of the most obvious things when one looks at nature.  From the smallest drop of pond water to the sweeping temporal rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, nature is filled with wondrously diverse, yet closely interdependent systems.  If one is to use nature as a model for sustainable farming practices, then diversification is an obvious place to begin.

But, diversity with an integrated plan is unlikely to achieve the goal.

Take livestock as an example.  Different animals have very different grazing habits which on the surface may complement each other, and they are susceptibel to different diseases and parasites, which may help with general herd health.  However, while some combinations of animals may compliment each other, others may not do so well in that regard.

For instance, sheep, goats and camelids (alpacas and llamas) tend to suffer from a common set of parasites.  While their grazing habits might be complimentary and encourage good forage growth, the paddocks parasite loads may well become overwhelming since there is no time for natural recovery.

A more successful blend of livestock might include cattle, swine, either sheep, alpacas or goats, poultry, and perhaps horses.

  • Goats tend to browse, trying a bit of everything in the paddock.  Unless forced, they will not tend to take forage too low.
  • Sheep, are grazers.  They prefer shorter grass, and they tend to clip the grass low to the ground.
  • Alpacas, like goats, are browsers, and like sheep they prefer shorter grasses.
  • Cattle are grazers, and prefer longer grass.  Unless forced they will not tend to eat grasses too low to the ground.
  • Swine eat anything, and with their tusks will tend to turn over the soil in search of roots and grubs.  (They also have the disgusting, but helpful habit of eating manure, from whence they are able to extract nutrients left behind.)
  • Poultry will tend to scratch apart manure piles in search of grubs and maggots.  This habit not only spreads fertilizer on the paddock, but also contributes to the dessication and death of parasites, as well as providing a natural control of insect pests such as flies, ticks and fleas.

Properly rotated through the paddocks, a mix of livestock and poultry will not only encourage increased forage growth, but they will work with each other to control pests, disease and parasites.

Rotated improperly, they will destroy the forage and contribute to each other's illnesses.

For instance, the h. contortous worm (knwn as the Barber Pole worm) has become a serious threat to the health of sheep, goats and alpacas.  It can cause severe anemia and death, and it has developed significant resistance to pharmecutical wormers.  Research has shown that it has approximately a 30 day infectious cycle.

Understanding this, we can see that it is important that animals susceptible to this parasite not be brought back onto a paddock until it has had opportunity to rest for a minimum of 5-6 weeks, allowing time for eggs to hatch and the larvae to die a natural death.

Yet, it is common for livestock owners to rotate like kind animals through their paddocks on a 3-4 week rotation during the spring flush of forage growth.

Far better to bring on a different type of livestock if it is necessary to graze the paddock.  Let cattle and swine have the paddock and keep the sheep, goats and alpacas off.  Better still, hay the paddock and give it a complete rest for grazing.  (Remember those buffalo.  They would not return to the same grazing land for months at a time on their migrations north and south!)

With the introduction of crops, even more diversification is possible.  Swine will do a wonderful job on a field of corn stubble, eating stalks and turning the soil to get at roots, all the while spreading natural fertilizer.  Grain fields (wheat, grass seed, oats, etc.) provide wonderful winter forage for sheep, goats and alpacas.

The goal of this article is not to explore the details of an effective program of diversification, but simply to introduce the concepts.  There is a wealth of literature available in print and on-line for those that choose to begin the practice of sustainable agriculture.



 
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