This winter, I approached Johann Zietsman about publishing an audiobook for his masterpiece, Man, Cattle and Veld. To my great delight, he, and publisher Paul Butler, have embraced the idea and given the reins over to me to complete the entire project. I am pleased to share that the audiobook should be available on Amazon/Audible shortly, with a tentative release date of April 9, 2022. It should also be available on more than 30 other audiobook platforms within the coming month. I will update this post and make another when more information is available.
What is Man, Cattle and Veld?
I mentioned Johann in my recent post discussing sheep and forage management. He is a pioneer among several pioneers (especially in southern Africa) re-igniting harmony between cattle and grasslands through breeding, selection, and grazing management which treats man, cattle, and veld (pronounced felt) as a whole ecosystem. The primary aspect of Man, in this relationship, is the goal of maximum sustainable profit per acre (or hectare), wherein sustainable refers to lands and ecosystems being maintained or improved while stocking rates trend upward.
Non-selective grazing, joined with proper supplementation, is the day-to-day method by which the goal is achieved, and progress is witnessed from season to season, year to year, by the ability to carry MORE CATTLE, NOT LESS (as Zietsman’s many articles urge) and a herd’s condition and fertility improves.
Not only is there much more to be said about how to ranch in nature’s image, many of us have ideas in mind which need challenging and washing out. Man, Cattle and Veld and confronts such mistaken ideas, and offers replacements based on Zietsman’s own experience as real rancher with cow dung on his boots–dung from the grasslands of Africa, not a stud breeding mansion-feedlot.
Livestock guardian breeds make excellent companions and property guards.
is a three year old Maremma/Karakachan from Crane Creek in Iowa. Max excels at alerting to disturbances, learning quickly, guarding chickens, and overall sweetness. He is gentle with children, playful and energetic. He is not trained other than to come, but I suspect he is smart enough to learn still.
Partly because Karakachans are more given to building and roaming territory, and partly because Max’s older brother is very dominant, Max wants to venture from the farm whenever he gets the opportunity. This is the only reason Max is being rehomed. He would be best suited in a single dog home, with chickens to guard, and either ability to roam freely or enclosed in a large pasture.
$0 to a good home.
Angie or Pinky
Maremma yearlings as of 3/11/22. One of these two will be joining my cousin’s new sheep flock in the coming months. Until then, prospective buyers have choice between them.
Both grew up under their mother’s tutelage (see more below) in the sheep paddock, where they have learned to be gentle with lambs and ewes, and usually move at moderate speeds when responding to disturbances. As a pair, and for some time with Uncle Max, they guarded my weaned replacement lambs this fall. When I let the two of them out of the paddock, they have generally travelled 200-300 yards to examine the area, and return on calls/whistles. I don’t think they recognize their names. I will write below about their parents to give character estimations.
Both like to be near to me, and are playful, but don’t wish to be touched or held. They are compliant with being gently caught and handled for care. They are not trained other than to come, and I think would resist leashing.
About their litter mates: Talia was randomly selected from the litter at 5 months of age as a sheep and goat guardian. She is performing well on her own in Minnesota, at Heart and Soil Ridge Farm. They have one brother who is a house pet, weighing in at over 100 lbs, and is loved. Their sister Sammy is also waiting to join my cousin’s flock, showing slightly more consistency than Angie and Pink.
February 20 litter – 2 males, 1 female available
Maremma. Three of the litter of six are sold/reserved. They are approaching 15 lbs and spend their days wrestling and learning to bark. They are very relaxed–on their journey to the veterinary clinic, they laid on Kristin as if she were one of them. Their mother is guarding the barn and staying very close.
Available April 16 with initial vaccinations.
$333-$1500, depending on arrangement. Non-refundable $100 deposit to reserve.
Garth is mostly friendly and very accepting of people. He does not look for pets from strangers, but accepts the many visitors that come around. He slightly on the hyper side of mild. He barks aggressively when things seem very out of order. Garth is very good about understanding where he has been placed. He occasionally ventures to neighboring properties (where he is respectful) and usually returns without my knowing he was gone, balancing his curiosities with his duties. He is sometimes stubborn about remaining at the barn when I insist he be in the pasture.
I wish I had trained all my dogs to jump into my truck and walk on a leash. At over 100 lbs, Garth is a load when making a trip to the vet clinic or some such thing. He is happy to hop onto livestock trailers and follow a load of sheep.
Wendy was purchased out of a friend’s goat herd reduction. By my friend’s estimation, she was more or less feral. He had never worked with her as a puppy. It’s important to note: these dogs do not want to hurt people. Though Wendy strongly prefers distance from people, she peacefully complies with being picked up when the need arises.
Wendy is my best dog. She jumps my 42″ electric fences and goes where she pleases to hunt rodents, but spends the vast majority of her time right amongst the sheep. She mostly leads her pups by example, being a calm presence and slow-moving responder. I have not seen her scold her pups for their occasional roughhousing with lambs and ewes. (Her previous litter have much softer mouths than Garth and Max did in their first year.)
A prospective shepherd messaged with some questions/concerns, which I thought I would be better answered at length, so this venue seemed more suitable.
I am wondering about your use of electric netting. It looks like you use it on a large scale? Is it effective for you and a herd this size? I’m not in the sheep business yet, because the farm I manage does not have the proper fences. With electric net, I could move along with sheep, but I’m worried about the labor and stress that might come about with moving it often in a regen system.
This kind of message is fun to read, because it brushes most all the relevant questions for someone in his position, and I am perfectly teed up to give the answer(/update) that follows. I promise, I will answer, it just might not look straight-forward.
“Nature is both complex and simple.” -Johann Zietsman
The logic of the non-selective grazing approach is simple. Communicating its application is complex.
I will make a subsequent post to describe non-selective grazing.
I can only describe my use of electric net fence as definitely effective. Combined with sufficient charging from (usually) high impedance solar chargers, net fence is the most versatile and reliable tool I think I could use in my system, to suit my goals.
To approach an idea of whether net fence might be most effective for you, or whether strands of polybraid might be better, you will need to refer to your goals and objectives.
My goal is maximum sustainable profit per acre.
… While reducing my labor per animal (and hopefully capping total labor per day below five hours).
I’m not only trying regenerate the land, I’m trying construct a lifestyle, or time schedule, that finally seizes the promise of a technologically advanced civilization: less time spent working.
My main objective is to use standing forage for twelve months, via non-selective grazing, to produce high quality sheep and lamb.
What is your goal?
In order to pursue mine, I must strive to (1) hold the maximum stocking rate at any given time, (2) commit to high-utilization grazing, which (3) relies on (and can unlock) high inherent body condition and high relative fertility.
I will stick to covering 1 and 2 in this post.
In order to do meet these objectives in conjunction, I need to expect that my animals will be where I need them to be (they do break out, but we’re progressing).
I do not think–at this point–that I can get my sheep to eat 80-95% of the plant material in a paddock while constrained by a strand fence.
I have seasonal trouble with lambs that go through net fence; I do not think four strands would not offer me peace of mind. I suppose a better charge is to be considered, but I’m not optimistic. When I heard David Boatright (Sedalia, MO) speak in late 2018, he was on the verge of switching from one or two poly strands, to nets, to manage a flerd, as well as chickens. A friend in Canada trialed Gallagher’s multi-strand product a couple years ago for his 400-ewe operation (some non-selective); I noticed that his subsequent photos contained nets.
The next question that comes up is time related to choice of fence. I can remove a fence in one minute or less, if I want to move that fast (I don’t). An average removal and re-placement of a stretch of net fence is about 7 minutes, depending on field conditions.
I use six to seven 164-foot fences at any given time to manage 175 ewe pairs. I own around 20 of these fences (Premier1 Supplies, single and double spike). Having several more than necessary allows for operational flexibility and time savings. As the flock moves from one side of a 40-acre field to the other, the strands that comprise one side are left in place to be used on the return pass.
164 feet squared amounts to 6/10ths of one acre. I hope to reach the day that that square feeds 350 ewe pairs for one day.
Create a second square adjacent to the first, with three more fences, and you’re set move the flock from A to B, and move the three ‘A’ fences forward.
There is a chance that I could save some time by using two strands of polybraid–perhaps 15 minutes versus 20-30 with nets–but could I keep the sheep contained?
High plant utilization is the reason I am able to push stocking rate.
Net fence is the key to high plant utilization (versus sheep pushing through fence).
If I cannot attain a stocking rate in excess of 4 ewes per acre, I cannot compete with soybeans.
When I ran the numbers to start this venture, I thought I could net $100+ per ewe, and that I could stock at least 3.14 ewes per acre.
When I tabulated my Year 1 data on a plot of established fescue, the harvested ewe-days per acre accounted for a stocking rate of 4.18 ewes per acre per year, blowing away my estimate. I thought I left plenty on the table.
Year 2 data exceeded 5 (5.2? I don’t remember.), and I think I still left forage on the table.
I’m not just aiming for 6 ewes per acre–more than twice the conventional cattle-equivalent stocking rate–I’m aiming for 12.
This all revolves around net fence.
I state all this before addressing labor and stress because readers might want to ask themselves, “How hard am I willing to work to do something incredible?” And “Do I want to fit [livestock] into my present routine, or would I prefer to adjust my life to reap the benefits of an intensive grazing system?”
I do not want to spend the warm months working eight to fourteen-hour days to manage crop land and its companion machinery.
If I could manage 350+ ewes in the span of 4 hours, and devote the rest of the day to fun and marketing, then why the hell not?
It’s a process in progress.
Labor of Love? (Of course.)
I said that I can take down a net fence in one minute. I do not want to. I typically spend two minutes on the down, and three to four on the up. I’m also usually using the UTV to push down a path for the fence to get it to to the ground. Getting the bottom (non-metallic) strand within three inches of the soil surface is a good way to avoid sheep and dogs attempting to escape.
Again, I estimate the time to manage one strand at seven to eight minutes.The minimum strands to handle, in plentiful forage, is three per day. Most days, this is a casual affair for me. I’m not trying to hit a PR.
Move the water/shade wagons, feed the dogs, get a look at individual sheep… That’s 45 to 60 minutes. Travel one mile roundtrip to refill a 300-gallon water tank: add another 20 minutes.
I’m seldom in a hurry, and what can be done in one hour, I often spread across two.
I have frequently had two groups of sheep at separate locations, so I have spent two to four hours per day tending sheep over the past two years. This includes making two or three “moves” per day.
If I want to be gone for three days, I can set things up for someone else to do everything in an hour or less. I would prefer to not be gone during the extremes of heat or ice/snow.
As far as stand-ins go, I want them to practice setting fence with me, and for the dogs to know them.
Is it worth it?
Again, I want us all to stop using glyphosate, and I am tired of the mere idea of a fleet of tractors and implements that revolve through the mechanic’s shop. The entire premise is worth it. If I end up having ONLY a flerd, but managing them for six to eight hours per day, I will live. I mean it; I will LIVE.
What do you want?
Whose Stress? About What?
Yes, sheep and goats will get stuck in the fence and die. Others will get stuck and survive, while allowing the rest of the flock to escape the paddock. There have been tricks and avoidable pitfalls learned, but it still happens, even when I’m pretty sure that I have done a great job.
Are net fences clunky? Maybe a little, but making use of them requires controlling your klutz-iness.
I could not offer you a perfect fencing system. I can offer you a robust or anti-fragile grazing system, which includes culling all sheep that violate the boundaries.
I keep the fence electrified as much as possible–including WHILE I am moving fence. Otherwise, within minutes of moving to a new paddock, lambs are prone to going for choice plants beyond the boundary. Move to new ground, unhook the back strands, turn on fence, then move the back (old) paddock strands (stretches).
Practice makes perfect. You’re going to screw up this folding process. You will have a mess, a mess which is almost always preferable to wadded-up polywire. You’ll need to coach your helper how to not muck it up.
Tips for Not Mucking it Up
Line up the BOTTOMS of the posts as you fold
When moving fences from one pasture to another pasture, roll the fence into its as-sold form
Get plants to either side of the fence, not mashed under it
When high winds or heavy rains are expected, stagger posts into a wavy line, so that the 164′ strand spans only 155-160′
Eliminating variables favoring chaos is a way of reducing stressful events. There’s been plenty of stress in the last two years since expanding the flock. Though I have dreamt of a faster, multi-strand fence, it’s difficult to paint that over the past and expect that my stress and anxiety levels would have been lower. And I am very doubtful I could have accomplished so much… There’s a ways to go yet, but an amazing transformation of the land is beginning. Hard to be stressed about that.
As with anything, one must themselves in positions to succeed. All animals must learn that the fence is shocking. Some will have to learn that by being stuck in it for several seconds.
What are the alternatives? Selective grazing that tends toward reducing forage species and imbalanced rations? Less “paddock agility?” With minimal work, I run net fences through wooded draws and along curving boundaries.
A final thought: If I were about to start out with a new flock, even selective grazing, I would want net fences. Even though the cost is about 10x per foot, I would want the (imperfect) security I have experienced.
Leave me your thoughts in Facebook comments or messages, and I will edit this further to address common concerns.
I’m sure you know that massive herds of bison once traversed much of North America. You probably know that caribou still migrate over around the top of the world, feeding on next-to-nothing. Wild sheep still wander through Mongolia. Multiple species of grazing animals move through the Serengeti together.
They are essential to our lives on Earth, not harmful.
For much longer than humans have been relevant as apex predators, such animals have roamed and evolved—evolved with the lands and plants beneath them.
When tall grasses came onto the stage of life, around 500 millions years ago, they had a counter-intuitive need, in order to not only self-replicate, but to keep on living.
The tall grasses needed to be eaten and trampled. Occasionally.
That is just what large herds of grazers did. As well, the animals spread their saliva and waste behind them, re-inoculating the land with their own special gut flora every time they visited.
These enormous herds did not visit but once or twice a year—perhaps not every year—but when they did, they mashed down much of the plant matter they did not eat.
Thus, they exposed the bases of perennial grass plants to sunlight, allowing them to keep growing. And dead, oxidized plant matter was trampled back to the ground, where it became habitat for a new set of (tiny) creatures before decaying fully.
These great animals—bison, buffalo, zebra, horse, caribou, sheep, elephant, mammoth, cattle, and many more—have not only been essential sources of human sustenance, but the gears of a gigantic photosynthetic engine powering the planet’s oxygen supply and carbon cycle. They are essential to our lives on Earth, not harmful.
How we interact with and manage wild herds and livestock is the determining factor in the preservation AND ENHANCEMENT of our planet. Fertile soil and functioning water cycles require better grazing management (as well as less crop farming).
It’s with these thoughts in mind that I’m pushing to add goats to our operation. And I’m asking for your help so that I might also add cattle this year, while simultaneously purchasing bees and growing mushrooms.
One little farm a time, focusing on farming in nature’s image, can bring us the environmental resilience and quality of life we seek.
Not everyone is up to speed on the very desirable nature of grazing animals. It is true that our dominant methods of raising main livestock species are disconnected from the land in ways that decrease planetary and human health. And it’s on these grounds that many advocate for the abolition of meat eating. If you’ haven’t seen it yet, you will. I have been following the effort for more than ten years (beginning with groups that thinly disguise themselves as animal advocates.
One of the latest moves contributing to limiting food independence and meat production was a Facebook policy change banning the advertisement or sale of any live animal on its platform. Facebook’s change was devastating for a number of people using the platform to transact thousands of dollars worth of chicks, dogs, sheep, and many other animals.
I don’t mention this event to pry into Facebook’s motivations. I’m interested in the results.
The internet has become the central pillar of society. Facebook plays no small part in that. As we look toward forming regenerative systems, I’m certain that a main pillar is getting face to face again. Regenerative society means up-cycling the energy between us, and reducing the exposure to energy being whisked away (such as by third-party whim).
What does this have to do with Promote-A-Goat?
After submitting an advertisement to Facebook yesterday, I soon realized that my ad was not obviously (enough) composed to communicate that I’m selling goat and lamb meat. 20 hours later, that ad is still pending approval, and the new ad I submitted one hour ago was accepted 30 minutes later.
Why an ad?
Though I truly want to market healthy meat as close to home as possible, I accept that the most ready markets for lamb and goat are more than an hour away. And the first task on my plate, in the process of direct marketing, is selling to those who already want the product.
Again, why bring up Facebook and the backstage stuff?
I’m trying to make this a regenerative process, wherein anyone can learn what it’s going to take to regenerate, whether as a farmer or regenerative consumer.
So, watch where your energy goes. See where it’s wasted. See where it swells.
I know my energy is not swelling on Facebook, so it’s time to think more about next steps.
I drove off in January to buy some ewes off of a farm. I didn’t know what I’d see or bring back, but I wanted some sheep. Why? I wanted the experience, the additional stream of income, and a hedge against economic woes to come. I brought something different back to Border Street.
So when I showed up and saw an average bunch of ewes, though much smaller than the sheep I’m accustomed to, I pretty much said, “Get on board, girls.” Continue reading →