Monday, April 16, 2012

First Pasture Walk

Paul and I went to our first Pasture Walk this weekend.  The North Arkansas Meat Goat Association hosted a morning of speakers, lunch and a pasture walk.

The first speaker was from the University of Arkansas and presented information on the "300 Days of Grazing Program"", which was very interesting.  There was also a couple from one of the test farms that participated in the 300 Program and it was nice to hear from "real" people and not just look at slides and statistics from the University.  Basically, the grazing program focused on planting seasonal grasses like rye grass and bermuda along with legumes and Brassicas (i.e. turnips and kale), stockpiling those crops in-the-field for later grazing, effective storage of hay and pasture rotation.  

Although it was interesting, some of the practices were just not going to be conducive to our little farm; namely the planting of the turnips. There is just too much labor involved (and additional equipment that we don't have) in the yearly planting of crops to make it worthwhile for us, not to mention the expense.  What "pasture" we do have currently supports white clover, hops clover, plantain, fescue, bermuda, wild geranium, henbit and other grasses I have yet to identify.  Now it's just a matter of continuing the clearing of land and encouraging the growth of those forages that can provide our goats, mule and mini-horse the nutrition they need.  To many, it may seem odd that we're going to try to encourage plants other than fescue or bermuda grass; aren't all those other things, well, just weeds?  But we're not only trying to provide a variety of plants for our animals, but trying to establish a pasture that will yield green material for as long in the seasons as possible.  Will we be able to get a 300-day grazing period out of it?  Maybe not without implementing some of the more "drastic" measures suggested by the UofA (planting crops of brassicas), but we'll still try to implement some of the suggestions. 

The second speaker was a "Grassland Specialist" from the USDA and she gave a presentation on different types of electric fencing (I was hoping that she'd speak about 
grasses, but oh well).  We used to have the goats in an area protected with electric fencing, but it was destroyed in the Ice Storm of 2009 and we never put it back up.  We'd like to implement electric fencing again here, but mostly for separating interior pastures.  We plan on having the perimeter fence some type of heavy-duty small-square field fence with a standoff electric wire to keep the animals from leaning or standing on the fence.  The speaker also showed several uses of electric netting used for creating temporary grazing paddocks, although I still doubt the ability of the fiberglass step-in post to actually penetrate the "soil" (i.e. rocks) in our area let alone stay upright and keep the netting in position.   Paul says he wants to give it a try.  It would be a great way to get the goats more grazing area as our neighbors have repeatedly mentioned that they wouldn't mind it if we grazed the goats & equines in their pasture.  Free feed for us and free fertilizer and lawn-mowing for them!

The last speaker (I forgot where he was from or what company/department he was representing) talked about using goats for brush control as an actual business.  Although we intend on using our goats for clearing up the brush in the Evil Forest that surrounds the homestead, I just couldn't see a goat-powered brush clearing enterprise taking off around anywhere around here.  Interesting concept though, and I have heard of goats being used in more urban areas for controlling weeds & brush on steep slopes surrounding highways, mall properties (Look Mommy, goats!  Lets go see them and then go shopping!) or utility rights of way.

Lunch consisted of an array of dishes made with goat meat and I got to sample most of them, my favorite being the boring ol' seasoned & slow roasted goat.  The others were good, but you really couldn't tell it was goat meat you were eating.  Although this may be a boon to those trying disguise the fact that they are serving their guests goat meat, I am actually particularly fond of the taste of goat meat and don't try to hide it in my cooking.

The Pasture Walk was scheduled after lunch and was being held at Critter Ridge, a local meat goat farm.  This was the main reason for us coming to this event.  The livestock we saw consisted of two Narraganset tom turkeys (one which was very enamored with Paul), a llama, guard dog(s), three Boer bucks, half a dozen first freshener Boer does and their offspring and fourteen older Boer does with their offspring.  They also had two or three bottle babies since they don't keep more than two kids on a doe.  I thought that was odd, but later realized something else "odd" and probably the reason for limiting the dam-raised kids to only two; the does only had two teats!  Not sure why they raise / breed for only two teats on their Boers (they usually have four as opposed to two on dairy breeds) and I didn't get a chance to ask them why.

The owners, Ken and Candy Ziemer, gave us a tour of the pastures and showed us what types of vegetation grew on their land and what they encouraged in their pastures.  And guess what?  There were clovers (sub-terrarium, arrow leaf, white and hops), plantain, fescue, bermuda and wild geranium in abundance.  Exactly what we have in on our property!  So now I felt a little better knowing that somebody else was growing their goats on the same greenery we were planning on using.  

And now for your viewing pleasure, some pictures from our Pasture Walk at Critter Ridge:

Group of 2+ year Boer does & their kids.
Ken (in red) calling the slacker-goats to a different pasture.

This Tom turkey followed Paul around the ENTIRE time.

1-year Boer doe and her first set of kids.

Paul & I left before the main group and on our walk back to the car,
we caught a glimpse of the Tom following just behind us.
I think he was trying to get the license plate number off our car
so he could continue stalking Paul.


  1. It makes sense that a variety of plants would be similar to a wild diet. Goats are used in the foothills above Boise by the BLM for invasive weed control, and some places rent them to small holdings. Great idea!

  2. I love the white turkey!!! And who WOULDN'T follow Paul around?!?

  3. We too enjoy pasture walks and the more we go to the more we have learned...there is no ONE perfect pasture. Each must grow what works for their area and their livestock. The best pasrt is connecting with others like minded folks who think animals do best on grass NOT on concrete. Do you guys subscribe to GRAZE magazine? good publication, and I'm not just saying that because I'm one of their free-lance writers. :)

  4. Nancy, actually, we're just too cheap to buy a bunch of "grass" seed! :)

    Christine, um, anybody that had half a brain or didn't want to end up looking down the barrel of a shotgun?? Hmmmm, what does that make ME then?? Bet you didn't think there were "different" turkeys, did ya?

    Donna, I'm looking forward to more pasture walks, it's nice to see what other locals are doing & pick their brains. Thanks for the magazine suggestion, I'm going to see if I can look them up online.

  5. Well, slap me silly and call me stupid! I did not realize that Boer goats had four teats! (But then I've never met a Boer goat up close and personal.)

  6. Looks like a fun and informative day. I wish we had "pasture" here for our goats and/or our horses!! I like the taste of goat meat too, hubby, not so much...
    That Tom Turkey is kinda scary! ;)