Like Animal Clockwork: Rotational Grazing
BF Farm uses a unique natural approach to raise three types of livestock
By Doug Davison
It’s like a livestock triple-threat or a grazing trifecta.
At BF Farm in Huggins, Missouri, owners Mark Bengtson and Jodey Fulcher breed black Hereford cattle, kiko goats, and kunekune pigs. They use a grazing regimen that involves all three species taking turns working over the same space.
BF Farm, which specializes in breeding stock, covers just over 200 acres, with about 50 acres cordoned off into 12 pasture spaces ranging from 2 to 10 acres.
These spaces are where the three-species rotation occurs. They’re separated by about 14,000 feet of goat fencing and 23 gates that make moving animals from section to section easier. The rest of the acreage is dedicated solely to cattle.
“With the 12-pasture rotation system, no one species returns to the same pasture for a period of six weeks,” Jodey says. “As a result, overgrazing and erosion are prevented because each species consumes different types [of] plants. There is also a rest and recovery period for every pasture since some pastures are not occupied during the rotation.”
A NATURAL FARMING APPROACH—AND A FEAST FOR THE ANIMALS
Rotational grazing is particularly effective because of what the three species like to eat. The kunekune (pronounced “cooney cooney”) is a small pig breed native to New Zealand and renowned for helping manage and eradicate unwanted pasture weeds—a delicacy for the pigs. For their part, the goats enjoy munching on larger undesirable plants, such as multiflora rose, knapweed, and ironweed. “The goats prefer a woody forage and the pigs prefer a weedy forage,” Mark says, “And the cattle, of course, like grass. Each one of these species has different needs and wants in the fields, so they complement each other well.”
The result is a more uniform pasture, because more plants are involved in the grazing. And with undesirable plants being eaten up regularly, there’s no need to spray pastures with herbicide.
The kiko goats, which are also native to New Zealand, do a particularly good job in managing invasive plants, as they help control what grows in difficult areas, like steep hills or banks, Mark says.
“Goats are amazing. 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.”
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,” Mark says. “If you constantly move the animals, the parasites are never going to be able to reinvest.”
Many parasites are species-specific. “A goat parasite will not affect a pig and vice versa,” Mark says. “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 will be vacuumed up by the pigs.”
A low level of parasites means the animals’ immune systems can work properly, and that BF Farm doesn’t have to use parasite medicines or supplements.
In large part due to the quality of goat droppings as fertilizer, Mark and Jodey don’t have to purchase much fertilizer to spread on BF Farm’s fields, either. That simply adds to the operation’s overall green objectives.
“By allowing the animals to do what they do, there is a much lower impact on the environment,” Jodey says. “They do the trimming, weeding, cleanup, and natural fertilizing.”
Mark says that because of the unconventional approach at BF Farm, he and Jodey enjoy a much lower total overhead than other livestock farmers and breeders. They also enjoy spreading the word about rotational grazing.
“We have no intention of keeping anything we do to ourselves,” Mark says. “[We’d love to] see lots more people doing the same thing.”
To learn more about rotational grazing and kiko goats, black Hereford cattle, and kunekune pigs, visit BF Farm’s website.
Doug Davison is a writer based in Missouri.