Best livestock for the soil

Discussion in 'Holistic Farming' started by ste stuart, Dec 3, 2017.

  1. ste stuart

    ste stuart Member

    its been mentioned on several threads lately about the soil being raped, lack of stock and less than ideal rotations.
    It's also been said more than once that a livestock enterprise not run really well can end up losing money.
    I'm just wondering how much of this loss can be offset due to the reduced (hopefully completely) use of bagged fertiliser. Isn't it worth having stock costing a few quid rather than spending of fert? Surely it can't take up too much time to look after some hardy stock? Maybe less than doing everything involved with buying/moving/spreading fert and less weather dependent?

    Taking this a step further do these livestock actually have to produce anything taking into account their benefit to the farms biggest asset? So could one just have stock for the sake of it and not necessarily animals for food? If the powers that be want farmers to be park keepers could they keep alpacas/horses/zebras whatever for the same effect and also give joe public something nice to look at.

    Has there been any difinitive research done into which animal is most beneficial to the soil from a fertiliser point of view?

    Just something I've been thinking about and I'd be interested in others views.

    TIA Ste
    Kiwi Pete likes this.
  2. Nearly

    Nearly Member

    North of York
    Zebras might give lynx and wolves a kick.

    Best animals would be the ones that eat the worst forage and spread their muck far and wide. Cattle, giraffe or elephants?

    I've 30 suckler cattle and 100 acres arable. The cattle recycle the straw. I should really double up on the cattle and have 60 acres arable but I'd need another £30k for cattle and probably another shed, so I'll carry on as is until there's money available. :(
    Kiwi Pete and spin cycle like this.
  3. Barleycorn

    Barleycorn Member

    We graze our dairy replacement heifers on a neighbouring organic farmers fertility leys. The results have been excellent for him, (and us!). The ground ploughs totally differently, and the soil is friable. I really think that muck 'straight from the cow' improves soil far more than stored / spread slurry, probably due to the living bacteria etc in it.?
  4. Kiwi Pete

    Kiwi Pete Member

    Owaka, New Zealand
    Multiple classes of stock, in my opinion.

    In nature... :rolleyes:

    In nature though, nothing is excluded and everything has a niche in the ecosystem, from big heavy cattle to trample, their calves, sheep and lambs, ducks and geese, little birds.... :)

    Each do a maintenance job and help keep the soil foodweb in order, the birds especially help rake the dung around and keep the parasites slugs snails beetles in balance.

    It's difficult to properly mimic nature in a farming system, as you either need to be busy moving things around, or let them manage themselves.

    On our little ranch I'd ideally have about 1 cow to the acre and 5 or 6 sheep equivalents, I think that 1:5 ratio is good for here.
    They complement each other well, eating at different levels so they don't really compete in reality as they do on paper - hope that makes sense?
    And parasites are minimised as the cattle parasites are cleaned up by ewes, the lambs worms are cleaned up by the older cattle :cool:

    Good question (y)

    I think what I'm aiming for is to have the younger stock eating the best, and the older stock with immunity vacuum cleaning the rest.
  5. martian

    martian DD Moderator

    N Herts
    As our Kiwi friend above says: multiple classes of stock.

    Cattle are your apex species, anything bigger (eg elephants) and fencing becomes an issue. They are the best for mob-grazing and that is where you'll get the fastest results. As you say, you want a hardy breed and good forage converters. A lot of modern cows 'need' concentrates and there goes the profit. The clever bit is stacking other livestock enterprises onto the ground without taking from the cattle. As Pete points out, sheep can do this, but again you want a breed that doesn't need worming every ten minutes. Ideally you don't want to worm at all, as the residue in the poo can play havoc with dung beetles, earthworms and other important soil creatures lower down the food web.

    I couldn't help noticing that both our permanent pastures and 4 year herbal leys were incredibly popular with the local pheasant population this summer. Unscrupulous farmers (it's hard to imagine, but there might be such a thing) could probably run a nice little shoot just by enticing their neighbours birds over with the lure of pasture raised grass-hoppers and beetle grubs. We're going to have a go at mob-grazing some chickens next year. They can add a bit of value to our wheat and some rocket fuel to the grass in their droppings.

    We also seem to be carrying an increasing population of hares and deer which also add their bit to the glorious cycle, as do the flocks of starlings and other rootling birds. Multiple classes of stock...
  6. CornishRanger

    CornishRanger Member

    Unless your happy with a low input, very low output system I won't tell your fert salesman he's a thieving g*t quite yet, tho you may think it,

    As I see it, dung, especially from cattle housed in straw sheds is great as a soil conditioner and also provides a good source of potash, pig and poultry dung can be quiet hot stuff and very useful if used correctly, but realistically to optimise your crop yields you will still need to turn to the bag for availability of nutrient and timing.

    Livestock will never return more to pasture than they eat as they need it to grow etc themselves, so they still remove nutrients from the cycle, but not as much as selling your grain and straw would, and they do benefits the soil in other ways.

    Keeping livestock is a 365 day a year commitment, and they require a different skill set to arable farming. I think if you worked it out, per unit of nutrient, there would be far more time involved in keeping animals than handling and spreading bagged fert. Also however hardy they may be you need to think about housing or supplemental winter feed, fencing will be very important, cattle in the corn does neither any good, handling facilities or gathering points are essential, I'm afraid as you will need to catch them and the less you do it the more they object generally!! Veterinary work, paperwork and records, etc etc. Also if you have stock year round then they will probably take land out of crop production too.

    Don't mean to sound pessimistic tho, mixed farming does work! and can work extremely well, but every enterprise needs not only earn its pay but also work well along the others on the farm. As above I'd stick with cattle and maybe sheep, you need a decent number of anything (relative to your area) to make a difference.
  7. tr250

    tr250 Member

    Completely agree with everything you say arable farming can be a job and generally a pretty easy one but livestock is a way of life. On arable land I would stick to sheep as they don't poach as deep personally I would want to cultivate if cattle were grazed in any numbers as they can make land unlevel where they go round obstacles troughs etc but sheep only consolidate to a couple of inches deep. We have about 750 sheep 500 cattle and 400 acres combinable at that rate we have enough muck and grazers to make a difference
    CornishRanger likes this.
  8. CornishRanger

    CornishRanger Member

    True regarding the following cultivation, down here pretty much everything is ploughed so I hadn't considered how you deal with the additional "mess" cattle can create in a shallower cultivation system, a big plus for sheep not that I'm bias or anything....

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