Shade and Water for Rotational Grazing

One of our blogger friends/fellow aspiring farmer left some great questions in a comment on our Of Guineas and Guard Dogs post. You can see the questions in the comment section, but here's the gist of it:

I was kind of astounded by the idea of using a poultry tractor for shade for larger grazing animals. One issue we've had with the fence is that since it's SO hot and humid here and since the majority of our pasture is just that- pasture- with no trees, the sheep get very overheated if we leave them in all day. We've taken to letting them sleep in there if it's not going to storm and graze until about noon. Then we bring them in the barnyard for a siesta. Later on we put them back out.

How tall is your tractor (note: tractor is short for chicken tractor, or guinea mobile in this instance)?Do you think one needs to be a minimal height to provide shade?

Also, do you have any creative ideas for transporting water to the far parts of the pasture? Right now we're still experimenting with how much they'll eat in how little time, so we've kept them close to the house. But in the future they won't be within reasonable walking distance to carry gallons and gallons of water by hand.

Shade for the Goats on Pasture

Firstly, I think that bringing the animals in and out of the barn if you don't have an option for shade is a great idea. The animals need shade. There's A LOT of farmers around here that disagree and do not always provide shade for the animals. I don't fall in that camp. 

Guineas enjoying the new veranda

Our mobile guinea coop is probably about 7 feet tall at the highest point of the roof. It slopes down to about 5.5ft at the lowest point. We tried to keep it high enough that the goats couldn't get their hooves on it. So far it's worked and we haven't had any goat dancing on the coop. The truck hasn't been so lucky.

The key for shade, however, doesn't have to do with the height of the actual coop, it's the elevation of the floor. Since our coop is built from an old wagon/trailer it has a jack on one end. When it's jacked to full height it stands a couple feet off the ground. This makes enough room for the goats (and dogs) to get under and relax beneath the coop. When the sun is directly overhead there isn't a shadow cast by the coop. It's surprising how cool it stays under there. We've had no issues with heat-stress, including during the ~10 days of 100+ degree weather earlier this summer. The goats and dogs will dig a little bit to get to the cool soil underneath. 

One important factor is to make sure you have enough space for everyone. When we bought two new goats a couple weeks ago I extended the roof in order to create more shade. We've spent a lot of time with the goats in the pasture, making sure they have enough shade, making sure they can stay dry during rainstorms, etc, etc. We don't bring the goats into the barn when it storms or when it's hot. 

The only way to know for sure if they're all getting shade and staying warm is to be out there in those conditions with them. Does that mean you stayed out there under the coop with them in a storm? Yes. Yes, we have. On multiple occasions. And if we can stay dry and they can stay dry then it's fine. We also spent afternoons with them under the shade of the coop, so we know they get shade. I can see them with the binoculars too.

When the herd grows we will need a new solution. So far the options are: 1.) an old cotton trailer that they can get under, and/or 2.) an old school bus that we can drive around the pastures and they can get in and under. I really like the idea of the old school bus. Prodigal Farm is where we got that idea. They're a fantastic dairy and creamery in North Carolina that seeks to raise its goats on pasture, similar to us.

Transporting Water to Paddocks

Old kalamata olive container used for transporting water to far away paddocks

Getting water to animals in paddocks far away from home is a big dilemma. The ideal set-up is underground water lines with spigots every few hundred feet so that you always have a place to fill-up water troughs. Unfortunately, you either need a lot of money or a lot of time to put that type of system in place and we don't have either right now. It's a long-term project. 

When we first started with the rotational grazing we used two troughs. We'd fill one up and lift it out of the truck and put the empty one back in and repeat that process each day. It was an inefficient and awful process. Once we got pigs, cows, bucks, etc, it wasn't going to be a sustainable method. 

So on a whim I took an old kalamata olive container that they sell at our local co-op for grain storage and fixed it up for water storage. I put a hole near the bottom and attached a compact ball valve. Then I fastened on some old garden hose and we were good to go. The whole system cost about $20 and it works pretty well. I used silicone and tub sealant to get the valve to stay put, but it still comes loose and drips water at a slow rate. It annoys me, but it's not a big deal.

Randomly, I was walking into a Whole Foods a couple weeks ago and saw the SAME system set-up for garden water conservation ($100 per container). Of course, theirs won't leak (I'm guessing) and it had a nice brass valve, so you could always swing by there and pick one up.

The container holds 55 gal of water. We keep it in the back of the truck and fill it up with a hose. Once per day (usually at night) I go out and refill everyone's water. On hot days I might have to make two trips. In the future, when we have more goats, I'll probably use two water containers and we'll have larger troughs.

One of our extension agents said to use "a lot" of hose. We know some other farmers that use thousands of feet of hose and it seems to work ok, but I like this way better, particularly with five different troughs located all over different parts of the farm. With just one trough a long hose might make more sense.

Hope that helps McKenzie, good luck with the new sheep!