Lee Pitts: Using multi-species grazing on the ranch
July 3, 2016
I happened to be a practitioner of 'multi-species grazing'.
That's a fancy way of saying that I ran my sheep, goat, dog, chickens, cattle and horse all together in one big pasture. I didn't do it because some university professor said it was the smart thing to do. It isn't.
I did it because I leased the ground and didn't want to improve another man's place at my expense, particularly one who charged WAY too much for the privilege. I was also WAY too lazy to build the required fence so that each species had a home of their very own. Heck, there were times my wife and I didn't even have that.
The only problem that I found with multi-species grazing was that the animals that ran in the same pasture tended to take on the characteristics of the other species. For example, within a week of turning the sheep in with my cattle the cows had started to assume sheep-like traits. The cows began to crawl under fences, abandoned their babies at birth, balled all night and they started dying for no apparent reason.
Likewise, the ewes started to acquire more bovine-like traits. The sheep started getting on the highway, visiting the neighbors, they became murderous when cornered and required massive doses of antibiotics, before dying for no apparent reason.
To make matters even worse, into this mass confusion I introduced another big unknown — my super horse Gentleman. I figured Gentleman might acquire some improved hygienic habits by hanging out with sheep and better manners from cows. But the other animals in my menagerie were so disgusted by Gentleman's behavior that within two days the goat left. And we all know how difficult it is to offend a goat.
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After sharing their home on the range with Gentleman, the cows started cribbing and the sheep got colicky. Poor old Gentleman didn't know whether he was one, a wether I mean. Another unforeseen problem was that when I used Gentleman to gather the cattle there was no respect shown my magnificent horse. I suppose it was hard for the cows to respect their good drinking buddy.
Despite all the negative effects it was having on my horse, my wife liked the idea of multi-species grazing. With all our animals being located in one spot it was much easier for her to check on them. And usually Gentleman was right in the middle of the pack, except for one sad day when he "went missing."
"Where's Gentleman," asked my wife as she entered the house where I was resting to give me her daily report on the status of our livestock dynasty.
"I don't know. That's your job. Isn't he with all the others?"
"Didn't see hide nor hair of him," answered my wife.
"Well I guess I'll have to get the horse and go look for him," I replied.
"You idiot," my wife accurately declared. "If we knew where the horse was we wouldn't have to go get him to go look for the missing horse, now would we?"
"Uh, I suppose you have a good point," I said grudgingly.
So for the next two days we searched high and low for Gentleman but could not find him anywhere. I wouldn't have been surprised by such behavior from a cow or a sheep but not from my super horse. We were worried sick.
On the third day of this traumatic experience my wife entered the house where I was resting to give me some very good news. "I found Gentleman today."
"Great! Where was he?"
"The neighbor called and said that Gentleman had broken in with his son's 4-H swine project."
"What was Gentleman doing," I asked my wife incredulously, "in a pen with a bunch of hogs?"
"Social climbing, I suppose." ❖