Part of my training in permaculture has taught me to utilize animals to work for you. One of the biggest challenges has been to clean brush and briars our of overgrown pastures, fence lines, edge zones, and laneways. An edge zone is where one ecological area transitions to a different area such as when a pasture meets woods. There is an area where the two blend before transitioning. We have been utilizing sheep, goats, and pigs to reclaim areas. This has a multi prong approach and benefit.
Sending in the goats first they eat and knock down much of the brush. Eating roughly five feet down to 6-12 inches above the ground. the will even walk down saplings as tall as 14 ft to get to the new growth at the top.
Using the animals allows us to have 32 acres and currently no tractor, and relies less on physical labor from people and machines. The animals get brush and browse in their diets, we have less feed costs, they fertilize the soil while cleaning, and they are light on the land. Using heavy machinery on some of our sloping hills would leave ruts and add to erosion. The animals can get to places equipment cannot in and around trees, and on hilly terrain.
Other than putting up fencing, cleaning a path to install fencing, and building structures for the animals to get our of weather, we haven’t done much to manually clean the area. Once all the brush has been eaten down and mainly grasses remain, we may go out and clip the canes and saplings at the ground.
Many people go out and buy a tractor as soon as they get a large tract of land. Unless you have cash on hand, this sends you into debt when you could allow the animals clean the area for free, and actually save money in the way of reduced feed, no fertilizer, no gas for the tractor, no maintenance costs, or interest on loan for a tractor.
This is what the same area looked like after 2 days of eating for 4 hours each day.
And another 2 days
Here is one paddock before
Here is a comparison of two paddocks on the left after sheep/goats then pigs. On the right regrowth several months later.
Below is a paddock on the left which had only sheep. on the right regrown from of the pasture above left.
This picture is of our middle pasture June 2016.
This is what it looked like June of 2017
Here are the pigs moving in after the goats.
In one year we have cleaned 7 acres of brush and brambles with nothing more than the animals. The number of animals have doubled in the last year as we expand further into wooded areas and overgrown pastures. Still not using any machinery except occasionally a chainsaw to remove trees and branches from fence lines or fallen trees.
We have noticed letting the land choose what to regrow after the animals has lead to an unexpected benefit. We harvested a number of plants and herbs that we can use, and sell that we never noticed before the clearing. Plants such as Yarrow, Mullein, Bergamot aka Bee Balm, Goldenrod, and others.
As our herds grow we would like to offer this brush cleaning service to others who want a more natural way to clan property. Currently our goat herd is at 30 (Nov 2017) and we would like a herd around 50 so that some can remain on the farm, and some travel.
The one downside we have found is the sheep love to browse just as much as the goats and as a result their fleece becomes embedded with thorns, burs, twigs and junk.