by Meghan A., age 18
The secrets of farming were passed down through generations. Then at some point, things changed, and cost efficient agriculture in small scale farming was lost. Problems with parasites became prominent, and multiple chemical solutions were invented to combat them. Unfortunately, the parasites have continued to become immune to the stronger and more effective dewormers, leaving the manufacturers no choice but to continue to increase the chemicals in the medication. Studies then showed the horrible things these drugs were doing to the animals and to people. So what does the average farmer do? In more recent years, old farming concepts are beginning to be explored and reestablished. One of these, multi-species grazing, is a term that refers to a number of different kinds of animals that work as a cohesive group in a field to enhance the pasture and the livestock’s quality of life. Having separate diets and needs, the animals complete a cycle of grazing that works to the benefit of all involved, including the field.
A major concern in dealing with animals in general is parasites. A parasite is simply an organism that lives in or on another organism. Most can only survive by taking nutrients from the host animal. There are two categories in which parasites are presently placed, external and internal. Of the two, the internal parasites tend to be the worst. These include a series of worms that live in numerous parts of the animal. For instance, there are intestinal worms, worms that reside in the organs, and worms that travel in the bloodstream. External parasites often irritate the skin or suck the blood of livestock. These frustrating creatures are classified as insects. Working as irritants, flies, mosquitos, ticks, lice, and fleas are common but are not usually deadly parasites in a mature, healthy animal although a few types of external parasites can, ultimately, be fatal to younger or weaker animals. Like all living things, parasites have a life cycle; this varies depending on whether it is a worm or an insect. Without a host, most animal parasites die.
Common animals that are involved in modern small scale farming are cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, and guardian animals. If these animals are intermingled in appropriate quantities, they have an intriguing effect on each other. Cattle, sheep, and goats each have different internal parasites that affect them. Ingested by an animal that cannot be impacted by it, the parasite will die without completing its life cycle. When they are allowed to free range, poultry will eat parasites of all kinds out of the other animals’ manure. Amid the devastation to the parasites, the poultry’s egg production will notably increase. Hogs also, when following up after the previously mentioned animals, will root up and disturb the newly hatching irritants and impede their growth. Pigs eat and clear out brushy areas, which are the tick’s favorite hideouts. Working together, animals can decrease the possibilities of serious infestations of parasites.
Unless they have unlimited funds, most small farming operations work off of smaller amounts of land. Consequently, feeding hay for large parts of the year is quite common. The pastures that are available are frequently overgrazed because there is nowhere else to keep the livestock and, in turn, tend to become more weeds than grass. The reason for this is because the grass has been eaten too short, which allows the sun to “bake” the ground and kill the good worms and insects that improve it. A great portion of parasites live in the lower three inches of the grass, and when overgrazing happens, the animals will consume more parasites than if the pasture was grazed less. More recently, a new system known as intensive grazing became a matter of interest to small and large farming operations alike. Interestingly, it involves taking portions of land and splitting the area into small sections using temporary fencing. Livestock, just like people, can be picky eaters. Surveys show that when you give them limited pasture they will eat their “broccoli” (the forage they don’t particularly care about) as well as their “dessert.” Different species each consume various types of plants, utilizing more of your pasture’s available resources. Moving them often to ensure proper nutrition, the farmer is able to rotate them through the paddocks to prevent overgrazing. As the livestock move forward, the previously grazed places will start growing again, and the internal parasites, whose lifespan is only a few months, will die “waiting for the cows to come home.” If parasites continue to be an issue, there are numerous natural dewormers available when necessary as well.
If you’re wondering how all this information on multi-species grazing can help you fix your parasite problem, just remember this: Whatever you put into your food animals will ultimately end up inside you. Not having to buy very expensive dewormers, which negatively impact your animals and pastures, makes your farm much more cost efficient. While the animals graze together, they will kill each other’s parasites by ingesting them. In turn, your fields or your yard will be managed properly and look so beautiful that all your neighbors will stop by to ask how you got your grass looking so luminescent. To top it all off, your animals will be chemical free as you raze parasites while you are raising livestock.