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Giving the Livestock Something to Chew On

For people, being put out to pasture isn’t a good thing. For livestock, it’s a different story.

When Benson and Jamie Tiralla moved to their family farm in 2007, it wasn’t in the best shape.  “My grandfather was a part-time tobacco farmer,” said Benson. “He grew tobacco until the 1980s and then retired. Another farmer grew crops here for several years after that.”

Because the Tirallas were interested in raising livestock and not crops, they had a lot of work to do to get the pastures into the right condition. Over the years, they have slowly renovated fields planting various mixtures of annuals and perennials to create an ideal pasture for their cattle, sheep and goats.

Grasses provide carbohydrates, delivering the livestock with energy. Legumes and brassicas, which includes turnips, rape, collards, mustards and radishes, provide protein that is essential for animal growth and increases digestible nutrients.

The Tirallas follow a rotational grazing plan on their farm, which means that the livestock rotate through pastures every few days. “Our paddocks range in size from 1 to 3 acres and we move them one or two times per week depending on the size and quality of the pasture,” Benson said.

All of the different types of animals graze together at Monnett Farms. Benson said the mixed species grazing helps with pasture management.

“Each species of animal likes something different. The cattle prefer grasses whereas the sheep like forbs, which is a nice way of saying weeds, and the goats will manage the woody growth,” Benson explained. “Weeds, like clover and native wildflowers, are an essential part of a healthy pasture because they deliver vitamins and vital nutrients.”

This past spring, the Tirallas experimented with one of the back fields, planting an acre and a half of millet, a type of grass, and brassica.  “We’ve had success with this grass-fed method and our livestock is thriving,” Jamie said. “So far, it’s doing very well.”

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