Pasture Management: Concurrent grazing with multiple species

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Arborethic, Oct 18, 2005.

  1. Arborethic

    Arborethic Well-Known Member

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    I've been running a pasturage experiment for the last two years. One area of my place is a 20 acre grazing/hay pasture. It had been neglected badly, so the improved grass (Coastal Bermuda) had shrunk greatly in density. At the current prices of fertilizer, and due to a prolonged drought, I just couldn't justify some of the maintenance costs. Fuel, time, and fertilizer would have brought too small a return on the capital investment.

    So I went to the BLM auction and bought 4 jennies (minimum bid of $125 each). I tried to pick younger jennies that appeared to be in foal. Two of them reinforced my judgement, we quickly added another jenny and a jack. The jack is just getting old enough to do his job of providing more donkeys.

    Donkeys are becoming better recognized as cheaper cost and maintenance alternatives to livestock guard dogs. Invading canines such as coyotes, stray dogs, and feral dogs get 'rolled up' by the donkeys in pretty short order. So eventually I'll cull the herd and sell a few.

    I also added a half dozen haired sheep to this pasturage. Haired sheep do not have to be sheared, they shed their wool in the spring. They also have the reputation as being better tasting than domestic wool production sheep. Essentially, the haired sheep are wild animals, and never get very tame, even when you bottle feed them. Next year, when the flock is large enough, we will 'fix' some of the new rams and grow them for the meat market.

    But, the point of my experiment was to monitor the effect these animals have upon pasturage. The sheep will eat weeds before they touch the grass. The donkeys are the same, to a lessor degree. The donkeys love thistle! The sheep kill the lambs quarter weeds by over grazing them. Without the use of herbicides, these animals have reduced the over all population of weeds by fifty percent. Concurrently, I've reduced tractor time in fighting the weeds to just 10% of past years.

    In this part of the country, with light grazing, I don't have to buy hay for these animals. I sowed several acres of rye, and along with the 'standing hay', both species get through the winter in fine form. Neither seems to have much problem with parasites or hay, though we wormed everyone prior to turning them out to pasture.

    My next step is to determine how many cattle I can run on the 20 acres without over grazing. I suspect they won't winter as well, so I may have to just cycle them through seasonally.

    Anyone have any feedback on such pasturage management with multiple species? Also, are there other 'exotics' that might provide a better profit level and fairly low maintenance?
     
  2. turtlehead

    turtlehead Well-Known Member

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    I found your post both interesting and exciting. I think that the more we can do to help nature manage our homestead, the better off we are. I'm still at the reading stage, with NO experience, so you should definitely consider the source in whatever I say :eek:

    I have just read "All Flesh is Grass " by Gene Logdson. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. His approach is that he is a grass farmer rather than a sheep or cattle farmer. If he takes care of the pasture, the pasture will take care of the animals.

    In using 20 acres to graze animals, he would recommend partitioning it into several smaller portions. Then rotate all of the animals through the small portions. Sometimes he leaves animals in an area for 30 days, sometimes for a week. It depends on how much they're grazing, what time of year it is, how fast the pasture is growing, how much rain is falling, etc. The idea is that if the animals are confined to a smallish area they will graze it thoroughly, rather than chewing their favorite items down to the roots while ignoring everything else. Before they have time to damage the paddock by creating a mud hole around favorite feeding areas, he moves them to the next area.

    He sometimes groups his animals, so that lactating animals graze a pasture first, then when they move out the other animals move in. This gives the higher need animals access to the choicest plants without a lot of competition.

    His ideas seem sound, and he has a LOT of experience. His methods seem to make a lot of sense and to be healthier for the pasture land. Its' definitely worth a read.

    I'm wanting to grow pigs by rotating them through pasture/woodland lots. From what I can tell, I'll be a pioneer :D
     

  3. Arborethic

    Arborethic Well-Known Member

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    TH, Logdson's methods have been around for some hundreds of years. I know my Grandfather and Great-grandfather used them. :)

    My place is fenced and cross fenced, plus I have two one acre paddocks and one two acre paddock. I also have a system of pipe corrals with an 80' south facing shed with a loading chute. The east side stalls in the horse barn each have their own corral. It makes it pretty easy for me to handle and sort the animals. I'm also lucky enough to have piped water to the barn and corral system.

    When we begin grazing rye in the winter, we limit grazing time and run them out so that we don't create any gastric problems. I don't feel comfortable letting any animal unlimited grazing on green grass after having been on standing hay for a while. Vet bills sort of cut into the profit margin.

    But I do wish I could find more info on multiple species grazing systems. The concept doesn't seem to have much scientific literature produced yet. I know cattle grazing limits, but running multiple species requires a different 'formula', which doesn't seem to have been quantified at this point.

    As for your hogs, it was common when I was a kid for us to turn out hogs to forage in the woods, and people still do that. They can get pretty fat on acorns, tubers, and browse. The problem is getting them back! :grit: Hogs do not 'herd' like sheep, horses, and cattle. The only effective way is to have a good hog dog. I had one about ten years ago. He'd grab a hog by the back leg and let me catch it up. I'd secure a burlap sack over the hog's head and pretty much have him under control so I could move him to a trailer or into a pen.

    The other method we used was to build a pen in the woods and supply fresh water and a bit of corn mash to keep them coming back every night. When we wanted to shut the gate we'd sneak up and yank on a long rope accessible from a good hiding spot to swing the gate and latch it. We could then sort the hogs and cull them.

    Again, when I was a kid, all the neighbors would get together with sacks and dogs, then capture the hogs and sort them out to the respected owners. Unnotched shoats and pigs would be divided up according to how many nursing sows each farmer had in the woods. The problem these days is knowing your neighbors and having neighbors that respect your ear notch (or ear tag) as a sign of ownership. We have a large population of feral hogs, all pretty much decended from domestic stock that became very shy of humans. So these days a lot of hogs that stray from the owner's property wind up getting harvested as wild animals.

    BTW, feral hogs aren't really dangerous unless you purposefully put your hands on them or attempt to restrain them. But domestic hogs often have little fear of man, and can be unbelieveably dangerous to the neophyte that can't 'read' them and predict their actions. Picking up a shoat that then squeals can bring several hundred pounds of Momma down on you. Besides outweighing you, she has better teeth, and knows how to use them to protect her young.

    If I ever grow any more pigs, it will be just cycling a couple through for meat...fatten them as quickly as possible and then slaughter them. No way do I want to live in the vicinity of a hog pen ever again in my life! They make outhouses smell like roses! :)
     
  4. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Why don't you buy a pregnant cow (or two or three) and do your own test? You can butcher the calf next fall. You will be able to get a better idea of how many cows you can run on YOUR pasture. I know in our pasture we have quite a bit of grass that doesn't get eaten because we have sheep and donkeys. The donkeys eat grass, but as you know, aren't grazers the way cows are. I'm sure we could support at least one cow in addition to the other livestock, I just don't want one!

    When you come up with a formula (taking into account the percentage of each type of grass, forbes, rainfall, etc) I'd love to see it.
     
  5. Arborethic

    Arborethic Well-Known Member

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    Maura, I can give you some preliminary info. Our annual rainfall is about 42 inches, though we are about 12" behind so far this year, and each year for the past three years. Grass population: about 25-35% Coastal Bermuda, 45% native sedges, and about 10% in annual and perennial rye. But I do have a lot of weeds interspersed with the grasses.

    The first year I shredded four times in order to prevent weeds from seeding out. The following year twice. This year, to date, I've only spot shredded the worst patches of leaves. Shredding is a real chore...takes a couple of days because my Kubota will only pull a 5' shredder, and it is an industrial type tractor (very narrow track and short wheelbase) so it pitches one about so badly that you MUST wear the seat belt. Pretty hard on an old worn out back. LOL...

    The spot mowing seems to pay off if I knock the weeds down just before or just after a rain. The thin Coastal beneath the weeds comes on pretty strong then.

    The donkeys eat a lot more than grass! Perhaps it is because they had to browse a lot in the Mojave, where they were captured. I've been surprised to see them gobble thistle and other pretty noxious weeds. Last fall they went around and ate the seed pods off all the goatweed! Both the donkeys and sheep browse heavily on any kind of vines they find.

    I'm keeping pretty good records, and including the local County Extention agent involved. If the results are promising, then that expands the market for the sheep and donkeys I produce.

    BTW, some of the local small stocker operations have moved pretty heavily into Longhorns, who seem to convert poor forage to beef much better than a lot of other breeds.
     
  6. Arborethic

    Arborethic Well-Known Member

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    Currently, I have no fowl. Living so close to a native woodland with a spring fed creek means we've got predators running our of our ears. Even with a near bullet proof chicken coop, one or another of them constantly penetrated it...and that was with a well trained, territorially defensive, American Staffordshire Terrier housed adjacent to it. I just got tired of getting up in the middle of the night to go dispatch some varmint. There were coyotes, bobcats, snakes (after the eggs and chicks), possums, coons, hawks, owls, feral cats, feral dogs, brush wolves (hybrid coyote/Red Wolf/domestic dogs), weasels, fox, and no telling what else. And they ALL had a taste for chicken! LOL... Around here, free range chicken is just a way to increase the body fat of the predator population.

    Over thirty years ago, while growing ALL our food, I kept a wide variety fowl. So built a 'chicken tractor'. Back then they were just called 'small chicken coops'. Using scrap lumber, one inch mesh, and an 8' piece of green corrugated fiberglass, I built a coop that fit in between my garden rows. I hung a waterer from the roof, then put a couple of dozen young pullets in it. It would take them about four hours to remove every trace of weeds and bugs. They thoughtfully tilled the loose soil several inches deep, concurrently mixing in their high nitrogen fertilizer. I LOVED that coop! I'd move it frequently and my weeding chores went to nearly zero. But that was in a more civilized place while I was in college. Here, if I turned my back for ten minutes, some coyote would rip the mesh open and have all the chicken salad he could eat.

    Just yesterday, a young ewe wandered a couple of hundred yards from the flock, and the 'guard' donkeys. In broad daylight a coyote took her down and killed her. Guess I'll have to break out the Mini14 and see if I can catch it returning to the kill tonight.
     
  7. bretthunting

    bretthunting Well-Known Member

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    i hate to sound stupid, but i have never heard of a chicken tractor. sounds like something i would like to try.could someone please eloborate a little more.
    ie: size, shape,materials etc.
    thanks
     
  8. turtlehead

    turtlehead Well-Known Member

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    Trying to be brief so as not to hijack the thread.

    A chicken tractor is a portable pen for chickens that protects them from predators but can be moved easily, allowing them to forage fresh areas. Search on this site for chicken tractor (esp. in the poultry forum) or do a google search for "chicken tractor" in quotes.

    Arborethic, you're way ahead of me on all this. I appreciate your comments on pigs immensely. Your description sounds very much like what folks in the Carolinas did in the mid 1800's. That's what I plan to do, too, coupled with rotational grazing.

    I'll keep the rest of my comments out of this thread, as it's supposed to be about grazing mixed species. I'm interested in reading the responses.
     
  9. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

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    This is all very interesting.

    Why don't you add a Livestock Guardien Dog to your pasture mix? They don't kill predators, but they are big and they bark. They work by breaking the stalking - kill pattern of the predator. When wolves or coyotes are bothered, they go away and stay away a long time (the rest of the day or the rest of the night), unlike a dog. I have nothing against donkeys, my two miniatures guard the flock, but I've only got six acres and ten sheep. The only problem would be introducing the LGD to the donkeys. Donkeys hate dogs, but they usually accept or at least tolerate the family dog.

    I've been thinking that since you've reduced your "weed" population down so much, you may want to stop weeding. Sheep will eat grass, especially when it is young, but they are really meant to eat forbes. Many of the weeds you are killing are healthy for your animals, and some of them act as parasite control. In time of hard drought or heavy rain, sometimes all that is left are some hardy weeds. Our soil is heavy clay and we have problems in the early summer with wet fields, then in late summer with no rain. There is always some place that I can graze the livestock.
     
  10. Arborethic

    Arborethic Well-Known Member

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    I'll keep the rest of my comments out of this thread, as it's supposed to be about grazing mixed species. I'm interested in reading the responses

    Well, I don't have a problem with a thread going off topic. It is easy enough to return the thread towards the original topic with one post. Sometimes the 'evolution' of a thread can reveal some really interesting information.
     
  11. Arborethic

    Arborethic Well-Known Member

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    Maura, thanks for your thoughts. I've considered a Great Pyrenees, Puli, or Komondor, but their all BIG dogs, fairly expensive to purchase. And in our Texas heat, they just don't function well outside of the shade, which can be for 6-8 months of the year. And daytime is when I need the protection. The sheep are locked in a secure barn at night. But I have been thinking about a Border Collie. They certainly can't take on a coyote, but they can raise an alarm. In fact, NO DOG can take on a coyote. And the ones we have around here are very aggressive (little hunting pressure varmint control anymore). I've seen them slice and dice a very large dog and send him packing in just seconds.

    Oh, my goal isn't to totally eliminate all weeds, not at all. Right now we are in the midst of a three year drought. Another year of this and all I might have left is weeds to keep the soil in place! LOL... But when I acquired this last twenty acres, the weeds dominated, and I do want to graze some cattle, at least for long enough to produce some beef for the family.
     
  12. Jenn

    Jenn Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Arborethic we've given you so much grief in some other threads I just wanted to thank you for this one- I see here we DO have a lot to gain from your joining us here. I had a few sheep in central TX (you must be in the east with all that rain) and unlike my neighbor had much lower numbers and external inputs but never got to the point of PLANTING appropriate forage- I'm allergic to tractors- guess I should do a mechanics course before I buy my next farm. I hear what you say about hogs- I'm taking a pig course for my bday to overcome my fear of them- but the point probably is that my fear/concern is appropriate.
     
  13. Arborethic

    Arborethic Well-Known Member

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    Jenn, No one gave me any grief. LOL... I'm a big boy now and unless someone is actually shooting at me I don't get very excited about it. But I am used to working very hard, so that tends to spill over into 'debates'.

    As for forage planting, you don't need a tractor. A riding lawn mower, ATV, or even a truck can tow a good sized spreader (I bought my towed spreader for about $150 at Tractor Supply). Rye is a good winter feed for many types of livestock. You do want to stay away from fescue if you have or plan to have equines...it can act as an abortificant.

    I didn't fertilize, plow, or till. I just waited until the weather cooled off enough and broadcast the seed. I did try to coincide my sowing with approaching rain in order to hasten germination. Check with your County Agent for the best variety for your area. Some varieties can actually help fix nitrogen in the soil, if you use innoculated seed. He might have several choices for you, and can help you select one that will serve you best. Sometimes TWO varieties can give you longer winter production.

    In years past, when money was much shorter in supply, I've seeded 40 acres in a LONG two days with a hand cranked spreader. I thought that shoulder strap was going to bisect me vertically! LOL... But I got a crop of vetch in and made enough feed for the livestock in the winter and had seed to sell for cash. I had the crop combined for a share of the crop.

    As for tractors, you might look for one of the Kubota models with Hydrostatic drive. I've owned several of them and found them to be the best of all the tractors I've ever owned, light years ahead of the old Ford 8/9ns of my youth, or my Grandfather's John Deere Model B. The Kubota has power steering, 'automatic' transmission (push the front pedal to go forward; the back pedal to back up.) My oldest grandson was driving it and operating the front loader and backhoe when he was just 3, while sitting on my lap. At five he could stand and operate the foot pedals, too. I buy my tractors new, because I need the depreciation for taxes, but used Kubotas are stout workhorses and you let someone else absorb the big front end depreciation.

    My first Kubota was a small 12HP diesel. It had a blown headgasket, but kept on running for year after year. When I bought it, it looked like it was ready for the scrap heap. But it just kept working and working and working. I paid $2800 for it (included a backhoe, 4' shredder, and front loader). About six years later I traded it in on a new Kubota of twice the size. After I struck my best deal with the dealer, I then hit him up for the 'trade-in'. He gave me $5K for that old 'worn out' Kubota. Guess he knows how good they are! LOL...
     
  14. faol

    faol Registered Monkey Tater

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    I just took a couple of pigs to slaughter. They have been out in the planted pines fending for themselves for a year and a half. We bought them as shoats for $40 each, in the spring of 2004. They ran in this pine pasture with goats and we would take garden cuttings and put them in the pasture occasionally. We would also put out a little corn or old bread from the local grocery store, but nothing consistent. We never had ill tempered hogs.

    There were no antibiotics, hormones, or anything else unnatural used on these hogs.

    When it came time to take them to the butcher in September of this year, I backed my stock trailer into the pasture and left it there over the weekend. I went out to the pasture on Tuesday, threw some bread in the back of the trailer, then 2' further, then 2' more, and they just walked up. It took all of 3 minutes to load them in this manner, in an open pine tree field. I backed up to the trailer with my truck, hooked up, only gave them water for the next 24 hours, and took them to slaughter.

    The hanging weight (after kill and gutting) of both hogs was 463 lbs. 390 lbs of meat was obtained, mostly boneless.

    Total costs:
    2 hogs: $80
    2 hogs kill price: $80
    2 hogs processed: $120
    cost per pound of meat (sans head and most bone structure): 71.9 cents per

    At Publix, pricing for "natural" pork starts at $4.99/lb. You can raise two hogs on any pasture, and it will NEVER smell like a hog pen, because you will not have a hog pen.

    As an aside, the sausage that we obtained is so lean that we have to add oil to the pan before cooking. I add olive oil and the hand-formed patties will soak it all up. Awesome taste and no drippings.

    While the goats ate the wisteria and kudzu, the pigs rooted up the roots. What could be better, when their purpose driven life ends up as sustenance for yours?
     
  15. Darren

    Darren Still an :censored:

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    From what I understand, parasites are the big issue. As long as you have enough plots for the rotation to break the cycle, you'll do fine. I think Acres USA had some articles on mixed species grazing in the past.

    http://www.acresusa.com/magazines/magazine.htm

    If you think about it, it just makes good sense to use multiple species to harvest all the forage.
     
  16. Pops2

    Pops2 Well-Known Member

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    i hope you're just exaggerating for effect. i happen to have sitting in my lap the head of a dog bred for the purpose of catching & killing coyotes (although here i am trying to get him on deer). i also know of a USDA trapper that uses a 30# patterdaleXpit whose job is to go down into dens & kill EVERYTHING especially any adults that might be protecting the pups.
    my credentials on this include shooting a pack of coyotes off one of my uncles cows while she was calving (i only got one as it was my first time shooting something alive and i hadn't yet learned to shoot well, my uncle got two, all took finishing shots). and a bit of hunting for hog & bear. there are plenty of dogs that can handle individual coyotes and even a rare few that can take on pairs or trios. as i recall from my youth TX coyotes just aren't that big that they can freely molest large well bred bulldogs, LGDs or hard hunting dogs. JMO based on MOE
     
  17. Firefly

    Firefly Well-Known Member

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    I think you'll like this site. http://journeytoforever.org/farm_animal.html I'm trying to figure out what I can do with little muscle, no experience, and one acre of lawn. :rolleyes:
     
  18. 3girls

    3girls Well-Known Member

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    Please get the Logsdon book(s) as well as at least two of Joel Salatin's books (Pastured Poultry and Salad Bar Beef).

    There are other books by Dayton O. Hyde that appear to be reprinted recently--available on Amazon. Wilderness Ranch (aka Yamsi) and Don Coyote. These look at predation in an entirely different light and are worth your read. His ranch is much larger than most and in an area of lots of forests. He found that he could use predators to control varmints such as mice, voles, ground squirrels, etc. In the 20+ years he was active on the ranch, he never lost a calf to a coyote.

    Salatin successfully has built beautiful pastures on which he grazes beef followed by chickens. The chickens sanitize the fields after the beef, cutting way down on parasites. He has not seeded, plowed, fertilized the fields. The "weeds" are different plants (forbs) that supply different nutritional needs for the various animals. Although he does not currently run sheep, they can be run concurrently with cattle. They eat different things. He uses carefully built "tractors" and lots of electric fence for his pastured poultry. All the animals inside and out respect the electric fence. He uses mesh from Premier. I have a DVD from him that shows all this. He has another field near the forest edge that is used for pigs. It is divided into about a dozen 1/4 ac. paddocks thru which the animals rotate. I love all the synergistic methods he uses in his farming. I also like the way he uses nature rather than fighting it. I should be talking about they, as this is a family operation involving all his family.

    I literally shed tears that I am not able to implement some of these elegant solutions myself.
     
  19. YuccaFlatsRanch

    YuccaFlatsRanch Well-Known Member Supporter

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    "Maura, thanks for your thoughts. I've considered a Great Pyrenees, Puli, or Komondor, but their all BIG dogs, fairly expensive to purchase. And in our Texas heat, they just don't function well outside of the shade, which can be for 6-8 months of the year. And daytime is when I need the protection. The sheep are locked in a secure barn at night. But I have been thinking about a Border Collie. They certainly can't take on a coyote, but they can raise an alarm. In fact, NO DOG can take on a coyote. And the ones we have around here are very aggressive (little hunting pressure varmint control anymore). I've seen them slice and dice a very large dog and send him packing in just seconds.
    "

    Whoa Arbor - you need some education on LGD's and BTW a Border Collie is by no means a LGD and if left with the stock will literally wear the feet off the stock. They will never get to graze due to the constant herding by the BC.

    I live in the Texas Hill Country and raise Anatiolian SHepards - they handle the heat very well, and will shred a coyote in minutes. I have never lost an animal, sheep, goat or chicken to predators, but then I never leave my sheep without the protection of their LGD.

    As for expensive Icharge $200-250 for a puppy that has been raised with sheep for a MINIMUM of 4 months. I also never sell a puppy that shows even minor agression towards stock. About all I will tolerate is a growl if a sheep tries to take food from the dogs and I don't like that.
     
  20. Pat

    Pat Well-Known Member

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    As we go along we are going more and more towards Gene's program. We're currently looking at buying some Highlands to go along with our hair sheep.

    While I really like the Border Collies, (I have one, and have a contract on a puppy for late January) they are not LGD's! They help with the hair sheep tremendously, and I am starting to cross train for cattle. (We currently have 3 hereford feeder calves.)

    I agree whole heartly about the pigs, but we do raise feeder pigs. I use something similar to the chicken tractor for them. It's a 4 by 16 luggable pen that we move through the garden (we use the wide row concept in the garden). I plan on finishing them by our new pond (for some flower beds). Moving them regularly all I get is the nice fertilizer besides them tilling the garden (and eating all the stuff I left and the grass that creeped in from the sides).

    I disagree that LGD's can't take a coyote. While I don't think 1 could deal with a pack, singularly I've heard from several people in our county that have the hide to prove differently. Also, just the deep bark and growl tends to make the coyotes try for easier feed. We are currently running two LGD's one a Anatolian Shepard / Great Pyrenees and the other a Komondor / Great Pyrenees... only problem we've had (and that was before the Kom/Pyr was bought) was neighbors dogs. And the Anatolian/Pyr is only a year old. I know many shepards (with both sheep and goats) that once they got a couple LGD's their predator problem went away.

    We also use the same concept with birds (we have chickens, ducks, Muscovy Ducks, guineas, turkeys and geese). The mulitiple species gives us much better insect control.

    Actually using the same concept in the orchard too with multiple species there too.

    Pat