Texas County livestock breeders utilize innovative grazing technique
for the Houston Herald
MORE ABOUT BF FARM
For more about BF Farm Black Hereford cattle, log onto www.missouriblackherefords.com.
For more about BF Farm Kiko goats, log onto www.bffarm.net.
For more about BF Farm kunekune pigs, log onto www.kunekunebreeders.com.
THE KUNEKUNE PIG
Originating in New Zealand, Kunekune pigs are small, hairy and stout, and are known to have a gentle demeanor. They come in a variety of colors, and are thought to be descendants of an Asian domestic breed introduced to New Zealand in the early 19th century by whalers or traders. The Kunekune (“cooney cooney”) is the only true grazing pig and can be maintained with grass alone without supplementary feeding. They are also the only pigs that don’t grow throughout their lives, reaching full size at about three years of age.
It’s like a livestock triple-threat or a grazing trifecta.
At BF Farm in Huggins, Mo., owners Mark Bengtson and Jodey Fulcher are breeders of Black Hereford cattle, Kiko goats and Kunekune pigs.
They use a grazing regimen involving all three species taking turns working over the same space.
The technique is particularly effective because of what the three species like to eat. The Kunekune (pronounced cooney cooney) is a small breed of pig native to New Zealand renowned for being an effective method of maintaining, managing or eradicating unwanted pasture weeds. Meanwhile, goats are well known for voluntarily munching on larger undesirable plants (like multiflora rose, knapweed, ironweed and more), while cattle prefer eating grass.
“The goats prefer a woody forage and the pigs prefer a weedy forage,” Bengtson said, “and the cattle, of course, like grass. Each one of these species has different needs and wants in the fields, so they compliment each other well.”
The result is a more uniform pasture, because more plants are involved in the grazing. And with “undesirable” plants being regularly eaten, there’s no need to spray pastures with herbicide.
“I hate the use of chemicals, and this provides an alternative to people who think that’s the only answer,” Bengtson said.
Kiko goats are also native to New Zealand. The presence of goats in a given field not only promotes undesirable plant control, Bengtson said, but helps control what grows in “difficult” areas, like steep hills or banks.
GOATS ARE AMAZING
“Goats are amazing,” Bengtson said. “They’re very resilient in terms of finding food, and they can utilize protein in wood. That’s why people sometimes see their goats eating bark.”
Bengtson and Fulcher will sometimes even place a species in a field based on what’s growing at a given time of year.
“We try to keep an eye on that,” Bengtson said. “Like right now, clover is coming up like crazy, so the cattle are in an area where there’s a lot of it. It’s about an eight-acre space, so they’ll go through that in about three days.
“But we’re not going to let that go to waste.”
The cattle-goat-pig rotation also promotes parasite control. Once the eggs of most harmful parasites get into the ground, a host must be found within a week.
“That’s the key,” Bengtson said. “If you constantly move the animals, the parasites are never going to be able to reinvest.”
Another bonus to having the three species share land is that parasites are “species specific.”
CHECKING FOR PARASITES
“A goat parasite will not affect a pig and vice versa,” Bengtson said. “Same with the cattle. Basically, once the goats are done in a field and we bring in the pigs, any parasites left behind by the goats won’t affect the pigs.”
A low level of parasites means the animals’ own immune systems can work properly. It also means not having to use parasite medicines or supplements.
“We refuse to use chemicals in our animals,” Bengtson said. “It’s like you’re poisoning them to keep them alive, which is just a silly thing to do. You’re never going to have a totally parasite-free goat, for example, but all you need to do is keep them at a level that’s naturally manageable.”
Bengtson and Fulcher moved to Texas County from northwest Georgia about two years ago. They sell mostly breeding stock, preferring to raise animals based on “quality, not quantity.” BF Farm covers about 200 acres, with about 50 acres cordoned off into 12 pasture spaces ranging from two to 10 acres. The sections are where the three-species rotation occurs and are separated by about 14,000 feet of goat fencing and feature 23 gates that make moving from section to section easier. The rest of the acreage is dedicated solely to cattle.
“Fifty acres is sufficient for what we want to do with the goats and pigs,” Bengtson said.
Another technique employed at BF Farm is one that’s slowly becoming more popular: Stockpiling. Basically, it means growing tall grass in given fields that hold over as cattle feed in cold, non-growing months.
“We don’t do any baling of hay whatsoever,” Bengtson said. “We have two fields where we’ll start stockpiling during August and that gets our cattle through the whole winter. Another advantage to just having fewer quality animals is that we don’t need as many animals and therefore don’t have to bale hay. Compared to most other breeders, our feed costs are extremely low.”
And no baling, of course, means no expensive baling equipment.
“I’m a businessman,” Bengtson said, “and our strategy of getting a good return on our investment has worked. But the animals are eating dried out grass in the winter, which is basically the same as hay.”
In large part due to the quality of goat droppings as fertilizer, not much fertilizer is purchased for spreading on BF Farm’s fields. Bengtson said that’s because of the unconventional approach he and Fulcher take, they enjoy a much lower total overhead than most livestock farmers and breeders. They also enjoy telling people about what they do and how they do it.
“There are definitely alternatives,” Bengtson said. “We have no intention of keeping anything we do to ourselves. We would just as soon see lots more people doing the same thing.” ❖
— Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.