Our farm consists of 85 acres more or less in central Missouri. We manage a flock of 90 rare breed Karakul sheep and 24 llamas. We use llamas for predator control. We exhibit for ALBC (American Livestock Breeds Conservatory) and show our sheep all over the United States educating the public on the benefits of conserving a rare breed animal, and in the use of fiber obtained from sheep and llamas. We did rotate our animals, but did not use the type of grazing system we are using now.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
My goal is to improve our pasture to go from an endophyte infected fescue non-productive field to a pasture of all season grasses and legumes for increased hay and extended grazing time. Also, to have a chestnut tree orchard to provide extra income from nuts and to provide shade for my animals.
I grew up in England with chestnut trees all around our house. Here in Missouri, the climate is very similar. I started checking with nurseries and suppliers to see if I could get trees, and if they would grow here in central Missouri. My first trees came from Holland. They produced 75-80 pounds of nuts each year which we sold to a grocery store in Columbia, Missouri that catered to Chinese customers. The store owners were interested in obtaining more chestnuts so they could supply their stores in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri. I then contacted our University Extension. I also contacted Dr. William Reid at Kansas State University who put me in contact with Greg Miller at Empire Chestnut Company in Ohio.
We planted our trees in rows of 25, spaced 50 feet apart. Initially, we placed a wire cage around each young tree. Because llamas and deer are browsers, we are in the process of fencing each tree with two cattle panels cut in half secured by T-posts. This has worked for the sheep, llamas and deer, but we have had a vole and rabbit problem burrowing under the trees and eating the roots. We planted trees in both the spring and the fall, and seemed to have had more success with trees planted in the fall. Another problem we experienced was watering the young trees. We used a 500 gallon water tank carried on the back of a pickup truck and driving to and from the trees caused damage to our hay pasture and probably reduced our hay yield. Also, we experienced a problem with a neighbor’s cattle. They found the grass on our side of the fence to be greener, jumped the fence and in the process damaged some of our trees. We reinforced our tree enclosures by adding T-posts and are paying greater attention to the condition of common fences. This past year we harvested 50 big round bales and 125 square bales form our chestnut tree pasture. After harvesting the hay, we rested the pasture until October because we were experiencing drought conditions and wanted to give the grass time to recover before grazing the sheep.
Dr. Bill Reid, Greg Miller and Todd Lorenz.
We had an increased hay crop of 10 big round bales and 125 square bales. From the end of June until September, we had drought conditions and had to water the trees. We set up 5 gallon buckets to measure the water per tree. We started intensive grazing in October. We estimate that we will have pasture until February. We also had a small production of nuts from several of our new trees.
I learned from this grant to plant the trees in the fall for best results. Keeping the trees clean around the base is very important to keep rodents out. Water must be readily available for both trees and livestock. Trees must be fenced to prevent damage from livestock and wild life. This project would work for anyone. Also, it could be implemented by using any type of trees, i.e. pecans, walnuts or fruit trees. Fencing the trees added a considerable expense and labor time to the project. Cattle panels had to be used. Llamas have long necks and can reach the leaves and bark of the trees unless we make a large space between the tree and the animal. Sheep push woven wire fencing and can get their heads through. Neighbor’s cattle were a different story. Because they are more powerful and can push the panels, it may be advisable to keep them out of the pasture all together or to use electric fencing around the trees.
I have emailed a number of my sheep associates and have given a presentation to a Missouri Natural Colored Wool group in Nevada, Missouri. Present were Nancy and Bill Beam, Tom and Carolyn Parry, Jerry Bartlett, Phyllis Shipman and Donna Turney. Nancy Beam is going to plant chestnut trees this coming spring and will try my intensive grazing format. She raises Lincoln long wool sheep. I recently showed my sheep in Louisville, Kentucky at the North American Livestock Exposition and gave a small group of producers information on my project and informational handouts along with the information on my sheep. The group included Diane Bales, Tucson, Arizona; Jan Caulfield, Cornersville, Tennessee; Sharon Thiel, Tigerton, Wisconsin; Janet Tulloch, San Diego, California and Letty Klein, Michigan who took pictures. I will be giving a seminar at the Missouri Sheep Producers 2 day symposium in Columbia, Missouri on December 11 and 12 on guard llamas. I plan to incorporate my project as a tool for providing shade and extra income from the chestnuts or any other nut producing orchard that the shepherd would like to incorporate with intensive grazing practices associated with silvopasture. Our farm is open to any interested person who would like to see what we are doing and how it is working for us. I will continue to give out as much information to neighbors and sheep producers that I come in contact with. I will continue to promote silvopasture practices as a great way to improve, and to obtain more income from otherwise useless fields. I will continue to pick Dr. Reid’s brains on chestnut tree management and I am hoping to be able to use students from the University of Missouri Agro Forestry School so we can learn together how to manage and maintain the trees.