Supporting Animals and Sustaining the Land in the Backyard and on the Homestead [audio]
There’s been a noticeable increase in interest from landowners in backyard livestock, from laying hens to pigs and sheep. Whether you just have a little bit of outdoor space or a lot, incorporating animals may be a viable option – and undoubtedly many of you already have. While this episode is not a comprehensive how-to guide to raising backyard livestock, this conversation with UNH Extension Dairy, Livestock and Forage Field Specialist Elaina Enzien weaves together an exciting array of topics relevant for raising animals on a small scale. After listening, you might be inspired to not only learn more and dig deeper, but bring some more animals onto your property.
Featured plant: jimsonweed (Datura stramonium)
· UNH Extension resources on backyard livestock
· Teach Cows to Eat Weeds: The Science, the Steps and the Reasons why Cows Shout Eat Weeds
· Manual of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Agriculture in New Hampshire
· Manure Management for Small and Hobby Farms
One correction: At one point in the episode, Elaina referred to cattle, goats and sheep as monogastrics. A listener pointed out that ruminants is a more accurate term - and he's absolutely right! So we're issuing this correction.
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Transcript by Otter.ai
Nate Bernitz 0:00
Welcome to the Granite State Gardening podcast, a production of the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. As you've probably surmised, today's topic is more gardening-adjacent. But with so much interest in the past couple of years in backyard livestock, we're betting many of you have animals or want animals for your guards and homesteads. I wouldn't call this episode a how-to guide to raising backyard livestock or anything like that. So don't expect this to be the A's, B's and C's of everything you need to know to raise animals. But nonetheless, I think you'll find it really interesting and learn a lot, and perhaps even be motivated to learn more. I know I was.
Greetings Granite State gardeners. I'm Nate Bernitz, Public Engagement Manager for UNH Extension, joined by horticulturist and UNH Extension Field Specialist, Emma Erler.
Emma E 1:00
Elaina Enzien 1:02
And Elaina Enzien, Dairy, Livestock and Forage Crops Field Specialist, also for UNH Extension.
Nate Bernitz 1:08
So Elaina, what does that mean? What do you do?
Elaina Enzien 1:14
I basically am a Livestock Field Specialist. So we've got the Dairy, Livestock and Forage Crop Team. And I'm the the livestock part of that team. Mostly what I do is I'm going out to commercial farms around the state or folks that are interested in starting livestock production: doing site visits, helping them with their goals, achieve their goals, and also putting on programs and providing education for folks that want to know about livestock.
Nate B 1:47
Awesome. Well, today that includes Emma and I, and hopefully folks listening as well. I want to actually ask you Emma, what do you see as the relationship, potentially, between livestock and gardening and landscaping? And then I'll see what Elaina thinks about that as well.
Emma E 2:02
Well, it's a great question. I think part of it for some people - they get real involved with homesteading, I guess I would call it, where you're trying to grow a lot of your own food. And for me the first thing I think of is often vegetable plants or fruits. But that can mean livestock as well, whether you're growing or producing animals for meat, or whether you just have a few chickens for eggs, maybe even are trying to produce some of your own dairy. So it can fit together. I think for some people too, it can even be an aesthetic thing - you like having, let's say, chickens wandering around your garden, so they become pets to a certain extent, and maybe have more of a functional role in the landscape as well. Elaina might speak to this a little bit, too. I know some people get excited about poultry, in particular, for tick management. Now I don't know how well poultry actually manages ticks around the garden and landscape, but it's something people have in mind when they bring them to their properties.
Elaina Enzien 3:05
Yeah, totally. I love everything that you just said, Emma, as far as livestock and gardening, and where these two worlds come together. Especially when we're speaking to a homesteading audience. I think there's a lot of really neat opportunities to layer livestock systems with gardening systems. I mean, you've got nutrients that come from the livestock that can be really beneficial for your gardens. Like you said, tick management. While chickens do a pretty decent job of managing ticks, you might have even better luck with guinea fowl, or some species like that. But it's certainly nice to have them around. And I think the aesthetic piece is a very real thing for sure. They certainly provide a lot of services in the landscape as well. As far as if you have larger pieces of land with maybe a good chunk of pasture land, doing some managed grazing can do a lot for your soil health and water infiltration, and really sequestering carbon back into the soil. So there's a lot of cool opportunities to play around with that stuff, even at a really small scale.
Emma E 4:20
That just made me think of people using goats or sheep for managing invasive plants too.
Elaina Enzien 4:28
Yes, that's a really great point. You see that a lot in backyard homestead scales too. It's a great way to manage some poison ivy or bittersweet. Even cattle, they'll go to town on bittersweet. If you just stick them in an area with it, they'll clear your fence line. And you can teach livestock to eat weeds if they're not already eating them. So there's a lot of cool ways to again layer them into your existing system.
Nate Bernitz 4:55
You can teach livestock to eat weeds, how do you do that?
Elaina Enzien 4:58
Yes, so Cathy Voth, she's done a lot of research and written a lot of stuff about livestock. I think she wrote a article called "Cows Eat Weeds". Essentially, you can teach livestock to eat weeds. At a larger scale, if you have brood cows that you're keeping around and you're breeding them, you can teach those mama cows by introducing different weed species with some food that they like. Then gradually wean them off. Say you throw it in with some grain or molasses, you add less and less grain and molasses every time and more of the weed you want them to eat. And they start to get accustomed to it. There's a lot of good nutrients in some of those weeds too, for these animals. Some of them are really high in protein. Eventually, they'll learn, oh, this is a really good food for me, and they'll go and find it out in the field themselves. Then the really cool thing is that they will then, if they're your mom cows, so you're keeping them around year after year; they'll teach their offspring to do the same thing. Because their kids, their calves, whatever, if it's sheep, if it's goats - they learn what to eat and what is safe to eat from their mothers. It's pretty cool. I thought it was fascinating when I learned about it and heard Cathy speak about it.
Nate Bernitz 6:26
Elaina, what animals would you say you're most passionate and excited about as backyard livestock?
Elaina Enzien 6:33
My personal passion, in terms of livestock in general - I grew up with cattle, and was actually working at a horse farm, but they also had cattle. So we got to play around with the cows on horseback, and I got to learn about low-stress handling. So cows will always have a very special place in my heart. Especially going to UNH, and doing the cream program there, working with the dairy cows. But at the farm where I grew up working, we had pigs on a small scale, we did chickens. I'll raise meat birds - not this year, because I'm just far too busy - but generally, we like to do a batch of meat birds for our own personal consumption every year. So those are probably the ones that I'm most passionate about, on a personal level and professionally, too.
Nate Bernitz 7:27
This is a really general question, but do you think that people may assume that some of these animals aren't really realistic for them? When in fact, maybe they could be? Do you think there might be a disconnect between the amount of land for example, that someone thinks they need to have cattle, versus how much land you really do? Or do you really need a good chunk?
Elaina Enzien 7:50
Yeah, with cattle in particular - well, first with the disconnect piece: I think sometimes having livestock, a lot of folks... it is a huge responsibility. Rightfully so, it's natural to kind of be like, oh, gosh, I'm not set up for it and I don't have the capacity for it right now, which is definitely a fair assessment. But on the other side, with cattle you do need - the general rule of thumb is 1000 animal units for every two acres. So 1000 animal units is maybe one horse or whatever makes up 1000 pounds of animals. It might be a cow and her calf, or you might have two 500-pound steers that you're raising. So if you have a couple acres, you can typically sustain that. But then it depends on what kind of shape that acreage is in. Is it all just soil, weeds, invasives land? Is it woodland? That's going to dictate what you can do with it and how much that that land can sustain. So, yes and no. Chickens - those certainly are one of those easy, we call them the gateway livestock species, because you don't need a lot of acreage for them. They can really integrate quite well into your existing gardening systems. Probably the next one up from that, I would have to say, is either goats or sheep. Some people are really interested in bringing pigs onto the land too, because of the idea that they can really till up the ground and sort of help clear land for you. But you definitely have to be careful there as well, because they can start to be a little bit more on the destructive side.
Nate Bernitz 9:53
I could see how all of those animals could be disruptive potentially. Even chickens, right? Chickens trampling through your garden, maybe pecking at things you don't want them to peck at. There's this idea that they're just out there eating bad bugs and dropping manure for you in all the right places. But I imagine you need to manage them a little bit. Not to mention, you want to keep an eye on your chickens just to make sure that they stay nice and healthy and aren't in the belly of a predator.
Elaina Enzien 10:23
It's not always just get the chickens and let them go. With any livestock species it comes down to good management. In terms of pasture quality, if you set animals out and you don't rotate them, and you just have a set stock system, which means you're just raising animals in one paddock 24/7, there's nothing wrong with that - a lot of people do that. But don't be surprised when your little paddock that used to be green, maybe a few years later, turns into a dirt lot. Actually chickens can do that within a season. We had laying hens, and we weren't rotating them. We just had them fenced into an area with their coop. Half the summer was gone, and it was completely torn up. So every now and then they'd get out and they'd get into the gardens and those little claws, those little talons, they sure do a number in the garden every now and then if they can get to it. They might eat some of your nice tomatoes that are ripening up. But it's really true, Nate, what you said, for any kind of livestock species you have to have some kind of management, depending on what your goals are, in order to maintain whatever landscape picturesque system you're looking for.
Nate Bernitz 11:50
Emma, a while back we had a conversation with Becky Seidman about, among other things, using compost and manure in the garden and landscape. I was wondering if you could maybe bring us back to that conversation and bring some of the highlights of how to use manure and how not to use manure. And then maybe we can have more of a conversation with Elaina about it.
Emma E 12:12
Manure can certainly be a wonderful amendment for soil. It's rich in organic matter, rich in a lot of nutrients. A lot of people use it exclusively in their gardens, because they have an easy, readily available source. If you have chickens, if you have goats or cattle, you're going to have plenty of manure to use. And it is a good source of organic matter. The only real downside I can see to using manure in their garden - well, there's a couple - but the first is that it's really high in phosphorus. Most soils in New Hampshire already have plenty of phosphorus in them. Phosphorus can be a real concern when we're talking about water quality, freshwater quality in particular. Phosphorus is a limiting nutrient and it can cause major algae blooms when it runs off of the landscape into water bodies. It's something we think about, particularly if you live near a lake, stream, or pond. By the same token, you're also wanting to pay attention to your nitrogen loading of the soil as well. Not so much concerned about that with manure, but we're always thinking about nutrients and where they're going, whether they're actually going to get used by plants where we're putting the nutrient down. Compost, too, can be problematic if you're using fresh, raw compost that hasn't had time to age or break down at all around vegetable plants in particular - things that you're going to be trying to consume. There is potential for there to be bacteria or other pathogens in that manure that could cause you to become ill. This happens all the time, even in commercial agriculture, when they're big recalls of say lettuce or other produce. This can happen potentially in your backyard garden too. So if you are looking to use manure in the landscape, particularly in your vegetable garden, you're going to want to let it age for a while. I think probably at least six months before you're planning to harvest a crop from your garden. The longer the better.
Nate Bernitz 14:27
Why don't we talk about manure management for a little bit then. So what do you do with fresh manure logistically in the garden and landscape? How are you aging the stuff and then how are you literally using it? What is it for? How do you incorporate it into your soil?
Emma E 14:46
Sure, I'll take that one. So in terms of aging it, I think probably the easiest approach for most people is just to have it sitting in a pile. And you're going to have multiple piles that are in various stages of decomposition. Something that's going to speed up or slow down the process is going to be how well aerated that pile is. So if you are collecting a whole bunch of manure that's very wet or heavy, mixed with maybe not a whole lot of bedding, there's not going to be a whole lot of oxygen getting to the middle of that pile, particularly if it's very large. Decomposition happens very slowly without the presence of oxygen. If there is a fair amount of bedding mixed in, let's say something like hay or straw that's going to allow a little bit more oxygen in, that's going to be helpful. If you're actively turning that pile, that's better still. So if you have a tractor with a bucket or, talking very large scale, a front end loader or something, or even on a small scale, just getting out there with a pitchfork or another compost turning tool, is going to help oxygenate that pile - get it breaking down faster - so that you're not putting raw manure on your garden. Really, the ideal if you're going to be using manure in your beds, is that you don't want to be seeing a lot of recognizable pieces in there. You don't want to be seeing bedding that still looks the same as when you put it in that pile. You definitely don't want to be able to see whole droppings that tell you that pile hasn't broken down enough.
Elaina Enzien 16:23
Just to add on to that, some considerations for getting the manure to that point. When you have livestock in your homestead or in your system, some things to think about are how much manure those species are going to be producing a year, a month. Then do you have the ability, space, and capacity to store that for a period of time without causing any environmental issues that Emma mentioned before, like runoff, rainfall? Do you have it under cover? Is that necessary? So thinking about some of those things. In addition, with most livestock, you're probably going to have some kind of housing system for them. So how are you going to go in and clean that out? Is it just going to be by hand? Are you going to have a bit of a larger system where you might need some equipment to get in there? Interestingly, and I'll use chickens as the example since it's a little bit more common on a smaller scale, they don't necessarily need their coops cleaned every single day. Like say, if you had a horse farm and you had your horses, you'd be picking manure every day, cleaning those stalls out. With chickens, in their coop you can kind of use a bedded pack system, is what we call it. As the shavings get soiled and full of manure, you might go in pick the wet spots, and then just a layer more on top of it. Some larger cattle farms, sheep, they'll do this at a large scale and actually turn the bedded systems and sort of compost it in there to incorporate that manure, break it down. And it's actually still very safe for those critters. You can scrape it off and spread it on your fields or row crops or whatever once it's been broken down properly. It's another thing to think about these different systems for managing manure before it gets to the point of composting it or storing it. There's also opportunities, like if you don't have a way to store manure, you just don't have the space for it, which is very... that's a real problem people have and happens. There are companies that do manure removal. I believe the Department of Ag has a list of folks that you can either buy manure from, and buy compost from obviously, which is another level of production. But there's also folks that will come and pick up your manure so that you don't have to hold it for a really long period of time if you don't have the capacity for it.
Nate Bernitz 19:29
So you asked some rhetorical questions, like does it need to be covered and things like that. Maybe you can just answer those questions - like what is the ideal manure storage and aging situation?
Elaina Enzien 19:43
Actually, New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food has a best management practices manual on their website. That is a great reference for what's the ideal setup, like what is the best management practice for manure storage. Ideally, you have a way to store the manure, whether it's concrete, so that it blocks any kind of leachate from coming off the pile, or you have some kind of cover over it. It's not required that you have your manure pile be covered., but it is a best management practice. If you find that it does tend to leak some fluids after rainfall, which is inevitable, right, it's manure, and when it gets rained on, it's gonna get squishy. So thinking about your placement of it - I can't remember exactly what it says in the BMPs - but you want to think about where your well is located, nearby water sources, bodies of water, etc. Certainly you don't want to be putting it anywhere - think about your neighbors. Having your manure pile up front and facing your neighbor's house might not go over very well. And that kind of leads me to - this will take us down another rabbit hole - but just checking in with your town to what types of things [it allows]. A lot of towns are expanding their agricultural zoning and allowances in very urban areas, too. So they might have special requirements in place based on the town for what you need to be doing based on what they actually allow in the town.
Nate B 21:40
Do you happen to know the minimum requirements that might exist just generally in the state? Or how might you think about that, if you're not sure what your town does, but you do know that regardless of what our town requires, there's at least these baseline requirements or guidance?
Elaina Enzien 22:01
It's interesting, because New Hampshire doesn't necessarily regulate manure management. Vermont, on the other hand, they're doing a lot where there are regulations in place where you have to do proper nutrient management. But here in New Hampshire, we're not necessarily there yet. But there are those baseline management practices, like making sure your manure pile is, maybe Emma you remember, it's either 50 or 75 feet from your well, maybe further. Things like that, and making sure that if you do have your manure pile that you have a way to contain the manure. Those would be some of the very base ones that I can think of off the top of my head, but I don't know, Emma do you maybe have a couple?
Emma E 23:00
Off the top of my head, no, but the the whole manure conversation is absolutely something worth talking about. And I think something that people aren't always really thinking about when you're planning to get livestock for your property. Particularly if you have a small, more urban property, you might not be really thinking about all of the waste that you're gonna have to deal with. It could be of great benefit to your garden. Or [using] some of the services you mentioned, of actually needing to have manure hauled away, might be something you need to consider too -ideally before you bring anybody home, and are adding any livestock to your property.
Nate Bernitz 23:42
Is it okay to have chickens walking through your garden and doing their their business? Or is that potentially a food safety issue or personal preference?
Elaina Enzien 23:53
Yeah, interesting that you say that. There are some food safety concerns, obviously. Chickens can carry salmonella, E. coli, which is an issue for us if we come in contact with that, especially young kids. So the CDC came out with those guidelines a while back when the backyard chicken industry just exploded. They said if you have kids under five years old, try to keep them away from your chickens, from your baby chicks. If they do touch them, don't let them touch their face or mouth. Make sure they wash their hands first. There there are some food safety concerns because there's various zoonotic disease or parasites that can be transferred between animals and humans. Certainly with chickens, that's a great example. Ideally, you have a way to fence your chickens out of your garden, not only because of the the manure issue, but also because you know that they'll be pretty destructive with it.
Nate B 25:11
Are there some livestock that are an exception to that, where you actually can use fresh manure and there aren't food safety considerations? Or is that just true for livestock across the board?
Elaina Enzien 25:22
I think it's better to be safe than sorry, when it comes to dealing with poo.
Nate B 25:30
I feel like I've heard that it's okay to use fresh rabbit manure, but maybe that's more of something people say, and not so much what we should do.
Elaina Enzien 25:42
Yeah, maybe. Honestly, I don't know. I do know I've heard that rabbit manure is amazing for the gardens, the cream of the crop.
Emma E 25:55
Well, the nice thing about rabbit manure is that there aren't going to be many weed seeds in it, because you're probably feeding them some sort of pelletized diet. And this could be true for other livestock, too. You have this nice source of nutrients and organic matter that isn't going to sprout any sort of weeds in your garden.
Nate B 26:13
I'm glad you brought up the connection between diet and manure, because I wanted to ask about that. In terms of manure quality, how much is what those animals are eating, playing into how useful that manure is? If you are a landowner, you're not necessarily intensively managing the small pasture you have, because maybe you think of it more as a field, or something like that. It's not a commercial enterprise. What are some basics of what you should know about the types of plants that are out in that field that your animals are going to be grazing on? What are really good for them? What maybe, is not so great for them?
Elaina Enzien 26:58
Hmm, it's a really good question. As far as manure quality goes for the gardens, I don't know so much. I don't know as much on the manure side and applying that finished product to your plants. But from the animal side of things, Emma mentioned weed seeds, it is pretty common that if you're not composting your manure from your animals, you'll definitely get some weed seeds that pass right through and survive in the gut. That can be beneficial if you're doing some managed grazing, and that nutrient distribution in the field is excellent. Not only are you getting some nitrogen in there, maybe you're getting some seed dispersal while you're at it. But also, it's a great way to freely add nutrients back into your pasture system. If they have a grass-based diet, if they're consuming grass and recycling it back onto the ground, I can't think of anything that would be much more beneficial than that. Even if they have some grain in their diet, I don't think you're gonna see too much of a lesser quality manure product in that respect.
Nate Bernitz 28:32
Definitely. I think that there is a corollary with plant-based compost. I certainly would to some extent care about what was in the compost. A compost that was just from leaves and grass clippings is going to be great, but maybe if it's even more diversified with kitchen scraps and other things, it's going to even pack more nutrients. Going into the other part of the question, just in terms of the quality of the forage, what plants are really good for animals and what plants are more like empty calories? Is that a real thing? I might just be projecting or anthropomorphizing.
Elaina Enzien 29:16
So your monogastrics are your cattle, sheep, goats, and forages are going to be their main diet. It's going to be the cheapest way to feed them. And some of those forages rise to the top and some of them are like what you said, empty calories. So forages that are really good, they're like sugar, they're delicious, high in protein. You've got your legumes, your clovers, birdsfoot trefoil, alfalfa, those types of things. You've also got Timothy, you've got brome, ryegrass, fescues. These are all things that people like to see in their pasture mixes. And of course, orchard grass, that's a really common one you'll see in the field. So those are all a kind of diverse mix of forage species. That's what's gonna give your livestock a really good gain - good calories, lots of protein, help them gain well. Your empty calories are probably going to be some of those weeds species. However, not all of them because like I mentioned earlier, there are some weed species that are pretty high in protein and a good one to add into the mix. Something like bedstraw is a common weed you'll see in old hayfields. It'll creep into your pastures too. It really, unfortunately, it just has very little nutritional value. It's such a bummer, because it's one of those weeds that we see a lot and we're like, oh, let's just graze it. And they will eat it. It's just empty calories, like you said. Diet is a huge component of whether it's chickens, pigs, cows. What goes in is what you get out. So it's definitely a huge part of livestock - name of the game.
Nate B 31:18
My favorite part of your answer is when you said and "of course, orchard grass sitting here over" like, wow, you're giving me way too much credit.
Elaina Enzien 31:28
I love orchard grass. It's so cute. It's a nice little forage. Everybody loves orchard grass.
Nate B 31:35
I love me some orchard grass, but I had no idea it was an animal superfood. I'm very excited about that. What type of soil conditions or growing conditions are going to be best for supporting all those good plants?
Elaina Enzien 31:48
For your soil conditions you're looking at a more basic ph. So 6.5. and above - 6.7 is typically where those forages like to lie in your soil range. Make sure you get soil tests done. Just like with your gardening systems, if you're planning on providing forage to animals, that's definitely a good range for it to be in. Through our soil testing you'll get those recommendations. I'm sure you guys have talked about soil on here a time or two, but you're gonna see our soils are pretty acidic in New Hampshire. I work a lot with folks that are purchasing new land, and maybe doing some land clearing to create pasture. So that's a huge first step, getting your soil tested, in order to make sure your soil is where it needs to be before you decide to seed something.
Nate B 32:58
So to what extent are the plants in a regular home lawn good for animals?
Elaina Enzien 33:07
Emma, maybe you know the species in a home lawn better than I would. What are they Emma? What are the common ones?
Emma E 33:17
If we're talking about your standard, cool-season turf grass lawn, which would represent most everything in New Hampshire, you'd be talking about things like fescues - probably tall and fine fescues. Perhaps some perennial rye grass, Kentucky Bluegrass. You might also have some white clover mixed in - a lot of people do. And if you haven't been real diligent with your lawn, in terms of keeping it up, there's probably some crabgrass mixed in, hawkweed often mixed in, and maybe even some sheep sorrel.
Elaina Enzien 33:52
A lot of those species are not bad for your livestock. I mean, they will absolutely eat it. Kentucky Bluegrass is a great forage species for horses because horses tend to graze down really low. Just their grazing behavior with their front teeth, they can really get close to the base. And so Kentucky Bluegrass can handle that constant mowing pressure. Hence why you probably see it in your lawns quite often. I've been to small farms where they're absolutely grazing their sheep on their front lawn. I think it's really awesome because, again, what a great way to layer a system and add some nutrients into your lawn, as long as you don't mind stepping on some landmines every now and then. A lot of those species are totally fine for your livestock as well.
Nate Bernitz 34:56
Well, don't mind me. I'm just sitting here fantasizing about using the original horsepower to mow my lawn so I don't have to!
Elaina Enzien 35:06
Yeah, it all comes down comes down to management. Like we talked about earlier, any system can go south quickly if you're not taking the time to move those animals every once in a while. So the folks that I have seen doing some grazing on their front lawns, they maybe have their livestock there for a day, and then they're moving them back to a holding area or something.
Nate B 35:36
I figure at least some people are listening to this and feeling like wow, raising livestock and pasturing them sounds kind of complicated, or maybe more complicated than you might think. So what do you recommend to folks who want to get into it? Or maybe are doing it but not really knowing what they're doing? What are those really good learning resources?
Elaina Enzien 35:58
So good pasture management, strictly speaking on pasture and forage management, [there are] some really great resources if you're looking to dial it in and get that good carbon sequestration and improving soil health. I'd recommend looking into any research-based resource discussing managed intensive grazing. Folks may have heard of Allan Savory. He pioneered the Holistic Management Institute and the savory hubs around the country, and has done a lot of work in Africa with converting deserts back into forage land. I'm blanking on the name - does desertification but undoing that, basically. Any resources discussing manage-intensive grazing, you can get a ton of info on that. It can be as intense or as simple as you want it to be. It certainly doesn't have to be overly complicated. There are folks that are doing this for a living, so they do have to really dial it in, because that's how they're finishing their animals. So you really do break it down to a science, but there's a lot of art behind it as well, which is a book. It's called The Art and Science of Grazing by Sarah Flack. It's a great book, I have it - not here but at home. It's a really great resource. Even if you're just a beginner, or if you're just really into managed grazing and learning more about it, it's a fabulous resource for sure.
Nate B 37:41
I'm glad you brought up carbon sequestration. So I'm wondering, acre per acre here in New Hampshire, in northern New England - what have you, how do you think about pasturing ruminant livestock as a land use from climate change perspective? Just answer that in like 30 seconds.
Elaina Enzien 38:06
Okay, here we go. No, I think, again, lots of research is being done right now. There's a researcher in Michigan State that is looking at this very thing about carbon sequestration from grazing systems. Actually, UNH did a study a couple years ago about it. There's a lot of opportunity there to sequester carbon back into the soil. In New Hampshire, obviously, we're mostly wooded; we don't have a ton of pasture land. But there's opportunity there. And there are a lot of folks, partially driven by consumer demand for grass, grass-fed, grass-based products, but also just out of concern for our environment; they see the results from more intensively managed grazing land, just in the sheer mass of forage that bumps up from that. We have these massive rainfall events and we see a lot of flooding these days. That could be attributed to some compactions, and a lot of compacted soils, and just the loss of pasture land that we once had, too. Using the land that we do have and doing some good management systems. It's not just through grazing. In New Hampshire, there's no till - a lot of folks doing that. These are systems, though, that can help catch that rainfall. And we have the ability to sequester and infiltrate the water a lot better. What we're seeing now is a lot of flooding. If we can use these systems and buffer that soil and build the water holding capacity, hopefully we can just keep building on that and keep sequestering it. In addition it does help sequester carbon as well. Just thinking of pastures as different from forest land, but kind of the same because that grass - they are little solar panels - and they are taking carbon in from from the air and putting it back into the soil. It's really quite fascinating what some of this stuff can do for the land. I don't think that was 30 seconds.
Nate B 40:36
I know you could keep going. I'm just thinking about grasslands with these warm-season grasses that have really deep roots, and are doing all this great stuff for the environment. If you don't mow that at all, woody plants are going to grow in and that's going to revert to something other than pasture. So you have two options, right? You can either mow it with some gas-powered mowing implement, or you can have animals out there. Well, I suppose you can be out there with a scythe or something. There are different options. But if you want to keep something as pasture, as grassland, you have to do mowing, whether it's you or the animals you're raising.
Elaina Enzien 41:25
There's a lot of folks that are buying new properties, coming into New Hampshire - welcome. But if folks have land that's open, and there's a lot of opportunity, farmers are always looking for land base to expand their operations. A lot of them are willing to lease, or hay it, even. Just knowing that that option is available too. If you're not looking to get your own livestock, you might be able to have somebody else bring them onto your property, if it's worthwhile for them and you.
Nate Bernitz 42:03
So can you just say a tiny bit more about how someone might look into that?
Elaina Enzien 42:11
I have received some emails from folks saying, hey, I've got land if anybody's interested. So I guess, just reaching out to your county extension agent, if that's something that you have available. We would probably know who might be looking for land or where to point to. There's also Land for Good, which is more - well, I think they do leasing too - but they are in the business of connecting farmers and landowners to land: people selling land, people looking to buy land. That's a really great service that we have in New Hampshire. That's basically just about land access, and land sourcing from one person to the next and keeping it in agriculture production.
Nate B 42:57
I love that. My understanding is historically, we have quite a bit of forest right now, compared to 100 years ago, something like that. What's your perspective on our changing landscape and how animals fit into that?
Elaina Enzien 43:16
It's funny, my husband's a forester. So our worlds collide, when the woods come in and the agriculture comes in.
Nate Bernitz 43:24
Wait, do you feel like you're on the same team? Or are you sometimes at odds, what's that like?
Elaina Enzien 43:31
No, honestly, I do feel like we're on the same team a lot, because we both care about land, and what the land can do for us and what we can do for the land. So it's really kind of a nice harmony together. We do have a lot of woodland, which is great. I think it's a really critical characteristic of New Hampshire, our woodlands. But also there is opportunity to again - I keep saying layer - by layering livestock systems into woodlands. You have to be really careful with that because having animals in the woods can do quite a bit of damage, if you're not managing it properly. But things like silvopasture are coming. Well, that's been around for a long time, and there's a lot of folks that do silvopasture. There was some research that did come out of UNH and I believe in partnership with Cornell, maybe UVM was involved too, but basically they they defined silvopasture as having three agricultural products, or not agricultural but land products, in one system. Silvopasture is when you are managing a woodlot and trying to get a harvest from the trees. You're managing a pasture system within that woodlot. So you're managing forage production, and then you're also adding in animals. So then you're managing for animal production. In a true silvopasture system, you're seeing these three products being raised together in harmony without detrimenting one system. Oftentimes what can happen, and there's certainly nothing wrong with this -I always tell new landowners if you want to have livestock in your woods, I think it's great quality of life for the livestock. And it's a really cool system to have. But just know, if you're not careful, those trees can get pretty damaged. You might not see that damage for 10 years down the road or longer. Just that trampling - a lot of those tree root systems are pretty shallow. Having large animals in there can do quite a bit of damage. So you just have to be careful in those systems. But again, if it's a low producing, low value wood lot - you're not really looking to make income off of those trees - it's certainly a good opportunity to have a little wiggle room and have livestock in there. Just recognize that those trees might potentially; you might see some die back in the next several years.
Okay, so I had to do some digging on agroforestry after we stopped recording, and I'm glad I did. For one thing, there are some nesting terms here. Silvopasture, for example, is one practice associated with agroforestry. But there are others, and all of them combine agricultural and forestry practices to improve environmental quality, production and economic returns for landowners. Practicing agroforestry could mean constructing windbreaks with trees and shrubs for fields, farmsteads and livestock. Then specifically for us going into silvopasture, there are a ton of great resources to support landowners who want to integrate trees, forage crops and grazing livestock into one system. I could spend all day looking into it, but that day is unfortunately not today. So let's jump back into our conversation. Emma, I've been hogging the mic. What questions do you have for Elaina?
Emma E 46:41
Well, I know a question that has often come up in my experience with Extension is what sort of housing is required for a livestock that you're bringing onto your property? Be it be it chickens, be it goats, a horse? What kind of light can you shed on that Elaina?
Elaina Enzien 47:51
So again, gonna throw another reference out there, but we have the housing and space guidelines for livestock on our website, UNH Extension. We map out the space requirements and ideal conditions and the recommended boundary setbacks there. I actually have it open on my computer right now. From horses to chickens, it's all going to be a little different. I'll start with chickens and any kind of poultry species. Everything loves to eat chickens. So having some kind of actual enclosed, coop structure and fencing is really important. That's something you'll definitely need for for chickens, just to keep them safe from predators and they don't become a snack. And also to keep them contained as well, because another thing is good fences make good neighbors. That's something you need for all livestock species across the board - got to have good fencing. That's like the bare minimum infrastructure that you need. Housing I guess, you could loop it into that. When you get into sheep, cows, goats, even a horse actually; surprisingly, if you're just doing it for meat production - things get a little more complicated when you you do dairy production because then you need a birthing setup for calving, lambing, kidding. But if you're just doing meat production the bare minimum for a structure, especially in the winter, would be a three-sided shelter. You don't necessarily need them to go into a button-up, to an enclosed barn. Unless, if horses can't get into the shelter for whatever reason, you might need to have a space to bring them in. A lot of these livestock are pretty good at regulating their own temperature. They do pretty well in the winter. The biggest threats to them are going to be extreme heats, and extreme wet cold and wind. So [it's good] having a three sided structure that is south facing, making sure it has adequate dimensions to fit everybody in there. (And again, that's on our housing and space guidelines.) That'll be really important just to provide them with shade, a place to stay dry and get out of the wind.
Emma E 50:38
And do you make them go inside on that wettest coldest day in the winter?
Elaina Enzien 50:43
Yeah, sometimes they have their own ideas and and they don't go in the structure. Most of the times I've seen they will, even if you have a wooded area. That could be a real nice buffer or a wind row or something for the animals to hunker up against and be fine. You can certainly close them in there. But typically, they're pretty smart, and they're going to know what they need. But it's always good to keep a close watch on them, especially if you have a younger species, or a younger animal, I guess species across the board. If they're a bit younger, naive, don't really know what they're doing, and you see them shivering out there, standing in the middle of the pasture, it might be a good idea to have some kind of backup situation where you can bring them in and get them warmed up.
Emma E 51:36
And I have one more question for you, Elaina, just because I think it's something that the beginner livestock owner doesn't think about. What sort of advice do you give to people when it comes to processing? Where are you going to go? Is this something that you should expect to do yourself? Are there places people can take maybe just two pigs, or half a dozen chickens?
Elaina Enzien 52:03
This is my favorite topic. I love it, because it's this is the the part we're all waiting for, right? This is why we raise meat-producing livestock species. So processing, just plain and simple, is a challenge in New England across the board. We do have and have had a bottleneck in our processing facilities. We have four New Hampshire, four USDA processing facilities. You can call ahead and book dates to these facilities. You drive your animals there, drop them off, and then pick them up when they're ready. The challenge here is that there's so many people that are doing this for a living, for fun, as a hobby, etc,, that we see a huge surge in the fall months, because a lot of people don't want to keep their animals through the winter. It's expensive to feed them through the winter. Because of that bottleneck in the fall months, you have to book your dates for a processing facility almost a year ahead of time, depending on the facility. Now with those USDA facilities in New Hampshire, you only have to go to a USDA facility if you are looking to sell your animal afterwards, or sell cuts of meat out of a farm stand, or to the farmers market, or to your neighbors. In order to sell that product, you have to go to a USDA facility. The good news is you aren't limited to just those four in New Hampshire. You could go to Maine, you could go to Massachusetts, you could go to Vermont, you could go to New York if you wanted to drive that far for a couple of animals. That's the good news - you're not limited to just the few in New Hampshire that we have. You can take that out of state. If you are not looking to sell cuts afterwards, you have the option to use a custom processor. That processor would process your animal for you. The only difference is that there's not a USDA inspector on site to give it the stamp of approval that you can sell this after it's been processed. We have a few custom processors. They're a little bit harder to find. We do have some contacts, but it's certainly not a comprehensive list. So if you're a custom processor, let me know. You can go through a custom processor and some of them are mobile. Some of them will come to you to process your animal or you might have to drive to them to get it done. And then you asked about doing it yourself? Absolutely. Chickens are fairly easy. It's labor intensive, but it's one of the easier ones to do yourself. But I would not recommend doing it, just for anybody to process their animals. It does require quite a bit of skill and know-how, you want to make sure you're doing it humanely, and making sure that that animal is comfortable, happy, and it's done right. It definitely requires some skill and depending on where you are, and what kind of housing situation you have, you might not even be able to necessarily process in your backyard. Again, that's where it's super important to check in with your zoning ordinances in your town, just to see what you can and can't do in terms of livestock production.
Nate B 56:03
So I know processing is one bottleneck. At least for certain types of livestock, and I guess for me what's coming to mind are backyard poultry, but veterinary care is another bottleneck for the backyard livestock situation. Our commercial producers, I assume, are in pretty good shape in terms of getting the veterinary care they need. But what suggestions do you give to folks either considering getting backyard livestock or who already have them but maybe haven't lined up veterinary care in case something does happen?
Elaina Enzien 56:42
The first thing I always recommend to anybody, commercial or not; you really have to develop a veterinary client-patient relationship. Your veterinarian is really one of your first defenses against illness and they're going to help you come up with a plan to prevent illness in your flock or herd. So it's really critical. And like you said Nate, it is hard, especially on the chicken side of things, to find a veterinarian that will come to you and help you with your backyard chicken flock. We definitely run into a lot of phone calls asking health questions. It's hard because we can't necessarily answer or direct people to particular drugs or or stuff like that without a professional diagnosis by a veterinarian. We're really lucky that in New Hampshire we have a diagnostic lab in Durham, The New Hampshire Vet Diagnostic Lab, where you can send fecal samples for parasite, fecal egg counts. If you have a poultry, a chicken, die, you can send your chicken for necropsy to figure out what the cause of death was, and hopefully get some answers that way. No matter what kind of livestock you're producing, even if it's just one sheep or one goat, definitely do your research and look up your closest veterinarian office and see what they can offer you. Usually they're pretty good about helping and finding other folks as well, hopefully. Number one, find a veterinarian if you can in your area.
Nate B 58:37
To go back to something Emma asked about which is processing, you said how passionate you are about the subject. I know it's not just something you're passionate about in your work, but it's also something that you've actually been focusing on in your education, too. Can you tell us a little bit about your master's program, what you're focusing on and what insights maybe you've gleaned and want to share?
Elaina Enzien 59:00
Sure. I'm working on my Master's in agricultural science at UNH. I'm just starting to really dig into the research portion. Basically, what I'm looking at is what are those processing constraints for beef producers, specifically in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont? I did some preliminary research just asking that general question, not even specific to processing, like what are the biggest constraints to allowing beef producers to expand in northern New England? Of course, the thing that rose to the top was processing, which wasn't a surprise. The other thing was land access, which was really interesting. Those are those two biggest constraints: they can't expand the business because they just don't have the access to land and they can't get their products produced in the way or at the rate that they necessarily want them to, because processors are just so maxed out right now. The next part now - that was my preliminary data - I'm going to be digging into what are some solutions? What are some opportunities here, looking at that stuff? Is it a matter of doing more collaborative work between commercial beef producers? Land access - is there a way to collaborate together and utilize the land that we have in New Hampshire to benefit the whole? I'm really excited to dig more into it. I actually was working on my thesis proposal earlier today. It's been really fascinating. Not surprising, but since the Covid-19 pandemic, we did see a huge surge in folks wanting to raise their own livestock, which is great. It's exciting to see that interest and desire to go back to raising your own products. But it also put a big strain on our processing facilities, even more so than before the pandemic. Where the bottleneck - they might be operating at 100% capacity in the fall months, they were operating at 100% year round, which is typically unusual for processing facilities. I'm sure that slowed down a little bit, as we are getting somewhat back into normalcy. But it definitely raised this issue to the top of a lot of people's lists of of to do's. So there's a lot of conversations happening around it. And it's been interesting, for sure.
Nate B 1:02:01
Well, some of those issues have been covered in pretty mainstream media outlets. I've seen pieces in the Concord Monitor and Union Leader and other major statewide papers talking about some of these processing issues. It's great that you're focusing on such a need. Not everyone's Master's work focuses on something that very many people care about or issues that really affect a lot of people. So that's really cool. I was actually wondering, you said that with the COVID pandemic, there's been a bunch of increased interest in raising your own livestock. What are the trends around interest and demand in local meat products?
Elaina Enzien 1:02:46
They're very much related. Our producers last year - due to the pandemic, their sales went crazy. And again, this is just speaking to beef producers for my preliminary data, but anecdotally, we can pretty much infer the same across the board for meat producers. People started seeing grocery stores not have any product on the shelves, meat product. So folks really relied on their local pork, beef, chicken, sheep, you name it, producer to provide them with their their meat needs for the year. So that was really great. But the beef producers I interviewed, they were like, Oh my gosh, at first we're like, this is amazing. We're selling so much product! And then their freezers emptied. And they were like, wow, we're not even halfway through summer yet, and we just sold all of our product. So it was a good thing, but it was also kind of like, well, now what? Because they need more product and for beef animals it takes almost two years to finish a grass fed animal, maybe a little less than that. It's a substantial amount of time before you can get to that finished product. There were some reports from the beef quality assurance and beef checkoff saying there was a huge surge in consumer interest in beef products in general. But at a local scale, I think we saw a lot of consumers demanding that local product and I hope it stays that way. Hopefully they got a taste for it and are jazzed about it. If they did it themselves, kudos, because hopefully it worked out for them as well. But if folks didn't do it for themselves, there are certainly producers out there that can fill your freezer for you, too.
Nate B 1:04:59
Well, the more I learn about livestock, whether it's from you or or other folks, it just makes me a lot more appreciative of our local commercial producers and happy to pay them for their excellent products. I'm certainly glad that folks like you are out there supporting the commercial industry so they can have plenty of product for all the hopefully increasing demand.
Elaina Enzien 1:05:22
It's fun to be able to help them as well and see the growth. It's exciting for sure.
Nate B 1:05:30
All right, any closing thoughts from you two?
Emma E 1:05:32
I'd say just do your research. And know that if you have a little chunk of land in New Hampshire, that's pretty level, not right on a pond or lake, livestock could very much be in your future.
Elaina Enzien 1:05:44
Well said Emma, I totally agree. If livestock is something you're excited about adding into your system, don't be afraid of it. Definitely do your research and check in with the folks that you need to check in with, with your town and your neighbors. I think there's a lot of opportunity for it. There has been over the past several years. I certainly love seeing it and it's definitely an important part of our rural character of New Hampshire. Good stuff.
Emma E 1:06:27
The featured plant this episode is jimson weed, Datura stramonium. Jimson weed is a member of the Nightshade family, Solanaceae. And unlike its cousins the tomato and eggplant, jimson weed is poisonous to people and livestock. It's found growing throughout much of New Hampshire, even though it's actually native to South America. Growing as an annual, the plant flowers and sets seeds, producing a new crop of plants the following season. Jimson weed is a large statured plant that's difficult to miss in the landscape because it grows three to five feet tall, with thick stems that are green or purple. The alternate leaves are up to eight inches long and six inches across, with large lobes along the margins. The flowers are particularly striking, funnel shaped and five inches long and two inches across, and usually a pale violet or white color. The flowers give way to large spiny seed pods, which give jimson weed it's other common name of thornapple. It's good to be able to recognize jimson weed, especially if you keep livestock, because it is toxic. Keep an eye out for this plant in your pastures. And take a moment to enjoy its unusual beauty before you yank it out by the roots.
Nate B 1:07:54
Well, among other things, we spent a lot of time chatting about manure today. Not unusual for Extension folks, as those of you who have listened to the podcast have gathered at this point. But worth acknowledging, and also it's a great segue to me talking about an in-person event we've organized on, you guessed it, manure. I've got a link for you in the show notes, but it's on Saturday, September 25 in Durham, New Hampshire, and is on using manure in your garden. There'll be hands-on learning and lots of demonstration. I simply can't wait. I'll definitely be there. Space is limited, so be sure to look into registering sooner rather than later. In addition to that link, we've got a bunch of other resources we've referenced throughout our conversation, all conveniently linked for you. Lastly, I'll say that we're going to get into some great gardening topics coming up. We're talking about trees, invasive plants, cover cropping, transplanting shrubs and perennials, putting the garden to bed and preparing for winter, and countless other timely topics we've heard from you that you want us to cover. So stick with us and share the Granite State Gardening podcast with all your fellow gardeners. All right, as I say farewell, send photos of your adorable chickens and other backyard animals and we'll talk with you soon. Granite State gardeners and homesteaders, thanks for listening. Granite State Gardening is a production of the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, an equal opportunity educator and employer. Views expressed on this podcast are not necessarily those of the University, its trustees, or its volunteers. Inclusion or exclusion of commercial products on this podcast does not imply endorsement. The University of New Hampshire, US Department of Agriculture, and New Hampshire counties cooperate to provide Extension programming in the Granite State. Learn more at extension.unh.edu">extension.unh.edu.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai. Transcript edited by Rebecca Dube.