Hesperian Health Guides

Raising Animals

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 15: Sustainable Farming > Raising Animals

Chickens scratch beneath a tree as a woman picks fruit.

Animals bring many benefits to the farm besides the food they produce. Just like plants, a variety of animals is better for the farm and the farmer.

Bees make honey to eat, and they also pollinate flowers.

Chickens, geese, and ducks eat weeds, weed seeds, and pests, and leave manure to fertilize the soil. They also turn the soil when they scratch for food. Let chickens run in one section for a month. Then move the chickens to the next section. Rake and plant the first section. The chickens will weed and turn the soil as they go.

Pigs turn the soil when they dig, and eat the deep roots of spreading weeds. Make small pens to move them through your garden, just as with the chickens.

Goats clear land by eating brush. Because goats eat everything, you may need to tie the goats next to the brush you want them to eat.

Grazing animals

Grazing animals such as cows, sheep, and goats, can either help or hurt the land, depending on how they are managed. When animals graze in overgrown pastures, they reduce weeds and add manure. But if grazing animals eat all the grass, the soil dries out and forms a hard crust. When rain comes, water runs off and takes the soil with it. When soil is eroded from overgrazing, nothing grows.

Keep animals enclosed near the house to make it easier to protect them and to use their manure. But if their space is too small, they get sick easily when flies, parasites, and diseases grow in their manure. Clean pens regularly, especially in the wet season, to prevent animals and people from getting sick. The manure can be composted and used as fertilizer.

Whether your animals are fenced in or graze freely, keep only as many animals as the land can support.

Move animals from pasture to pasture

Cows near a watering hole diverted from a stream.
Make a watering hole instead of letting animals graze next to streams or ponds.

If you let your animals graze wherever they want, they will eat the grasses down to the roots. Next year, those plants will not grow back well. Move grazing animals between pastures when half the leaves of grazing plants are eaten.

If you can make fences, divide your grazing land into small pastures according to the type of plants that grow there. Move the animals between the different areas. If you graze cattle, even low stone walls will keep them from moving between pastures. If you herd your animals, you do not need fences.

Take care that livestock do not graze in and around water sources used by people. If manure gets into water people drink, or where they bathe, swim, or fish, disease can spread. Make a ditch from the stream to a watering hole for your animals.

How often to move animals

How much time animals stay in one pasture before they are moved depends on the number of animals, and the size and quality of the pasture. Each year, let one part of the grazing land rest completely, with no grazing at all. This will prevent soil from being compacted and allow grasses to grow back.

For example, if you divide the land into 3 or more pastures, move the animals through all but one of the pastures. Leave that one to rest. The following year, let a different pasture rest. Or, after each harvest, let your herd eat the crop stalks, weeds, and grains that fall on the ground. They will clean up the field and spread their manure.

Illustration of the below: a pasture divided into thirds.

Rotational grazing system
No grazing for 1 year
Full grazing
Graze after grass seed ripens

How many animals can your land support?

Animals provide security when times are hard because people can sell or eat them. They also bring respect. But when people try to earn more respect and security by having more animals than the land can support, both the animals and the land become unhealthy. The amount of land needed for animals depends on how green and wet the area is. In dry lands, much more land is needed for grazing than in very green areas.