Written by Doug Crouch
Within Permaculture, domesticated livestock and humans can combine to form an interdependent symbiosis in which there is thriving conditions for the animals and ecosystem regeneration occurring simultaneously. Contrarily, the more humans remove themselves from holistic animal management, the more pollution is created, resources squandered, and degradation occurs. Animal management entails we meet their basic needs by giving them shelter, water, food of varying forms, care, protection from extremes and predators, and limits. These limits come in the form of the fence lines that we erect permanently or temporarily with electric fencing. Also the shepherd has a range with his own flock, not bound as much by fence yet other varying constraints. Moreover, feed is found within these limits or it is brought to the animals for a variety of reasons. The main idea behind cut and carry is you cut forage for the animal beyond their boundaries and carry it to them when needed. In essence this is how hay and straw works, even grain inputs, but what we refer to as cut and carry is more leaf fodder than anything else. At the bottom of the article a few variations are explained further as well.
Why Cut and Carry
Constraints of all sorts exist when one is performing holistic animal husbandry. It takes work; hard work, punctual work, and pulsative work. It also takes keen observation and decision making that is timely, which is reflective of the principles using animals as a biological resource and energy cycling. Consequently, we perform this cut and carry task when forage inside a limit gets too low and you are unable to move the animals to a new area or want them to finish the last bits off while keeping them highly nourished. Pasture observation is key along with the animals behavior changes, which allows you to make critical decisions. Beyond forage becoming low, other factors might influence your decision making for cut and carry such as when pastures are too wet and you prefer the animal to stay in their house sites or a sacrifice area (an area that gets really beat up). Also sometimes to give the animals variety or a highly nutritious input we do cut and carry. Furthermore, some animals like rabbits rely mostly on this system for their caloric input beyond grains and kitchen wastes.
When raising goats at Treasure Lake, Kentucky, USA in 2018, I found myself cutting and carrying for all the reasons above. I also would select certain vegetation that I was wanting to cut down anyway for numerous reasons so being able to carry it to my goats was great. I didn’t want to simply chop and drop where the vegetation was growing and I could not set up a limit where that vegetation was growing.
Tree and Shrub Cut and Carry
If animals are pinned in an area and extra forage is needed, simply find palatable vegetation and harvest this fodder for the animals. From the above example of the goats, I was using the black locust, osage orange, box elder, staghorn sumac, and elm mainly from the native realm. The non native bush honeysuckle, which proliferates in our disturbed soils there in Northern Kentucky, was also another I spent a lot of time cutting and carrying. Some of the actual plants were not even out of the electric fenced in area but rather the vegetation was too high for the goats to reach. So I would pollard the tree (cut at chest to head height) and let that drop and the goats would quickly devour the foliage. However, some was from outside the boundaries and did represent quite hard work with the weight of the vegetation and the distance I sometimes would walk. However I didn’t have to move the electric fence as often and again was able to remove unwanted vegetation from certain areas, like the dam wall, which is destructive for the dam whilst having a purpose of feeding the goats. In the end it did make a mess of branches that overtime I intend to cut up for firewood, mulch, etc. So remember if you cut and carry cuttings from trees and shrubs there will be woody material leftover that you will need to process one day.
Similarily in New Zealand at a farm I worked on in 2007-08, we would chop and drop tagasaste tree branches to our sheep. Tagasaste, also called tree lucerne, was a great supplement for the sheep in this mediterranean climate. This tree fodder crop from the legume family allowed the sheep to have highly nutritious forage in the two low points of forage in that climate. One period is when the soils are cold and wet in the winter and the other when the soils have dried and grow no grass in the summer. This allowed for higher stocking rates, faster growing sheep, and healthier pastures and sheep. The tagasaste were planted in Savannah style along with other tree crops.
Cutting of branches of nitrogen fixers is a common way in which this strategy is manifested and contains an infinite amount of variations. For example, there is also a common practice in the Dominican Republic to cut the fence lines of the gliricidia (madre de cacao) and feed that to the animals. The fence lines were these trees driven in the ground as thick woody cuttings. They would then sprout and when more sunlight was desired for their “winter” tropical period, the leaf fodder was chopped and dropped for the animals to eat only.
Thus we can procure these resources woody resources from wild or edge zones, plant them in that way or Savannah style, or create coppice woodlots. All of those work and as always, many elements support the important function.
Grasses and Herb Cut and Carry
Also in my time in the Dominican Republic (2012), I worked with a group of campesinos, rural agriculturists, and observed and interacted with another one of their cut and carry systems for cows and sheep. We would harvest a very large perennial grass, somewhat similar to sugar cane in its growth and size, but much fleshier than the woody tendency of the sugar cane. We would cut it with machetes, bundle it up, and carry back to the sheds. We would then chip it up with a gas-powered chipper and feed that to the cows in a large trough. When chipped you could smell the sugar wafting off of it similar to the smell of pressed sugar cane or wheat grass juice shots. The campesinos swore by this method and the cows did indeed seem to enjoy it. The sheep were fed the plant whole rather than chipping. A back portion of the land was dedicated to this perennial grass fodder zone, which we nourished with compost extract made from manure based composts to help complete the cycle.
Again hay is a form of cut and carry used similarly and most often in colder climates than the aforementioned tropical zone. Hay is a mix of cut grasses and herbs and is allowed to dry in the sun to reduce the water weight and make it storable. It is bundled mechanically in the modern-day but in the past, and still by some, cleverly bundled by hand. Either way the hay is stored to remain dry as when it gets wet again it begins to mold and then rot. Hay differs from straw in that these grasses are still green when cut, still with plenty of nitrogen quantity. Even if hay browns a bit it is not anywhere close to the high carbon content of straw which is when an annual grass, like wheat, has lived its full life cycle.
I have also done cut and carry of herbaceous plants to various livestock but most often chickens. When they are getting low in forage in their chicken tractors, I go around cutting or weeding vegetation they like and carry it to them. Examples include comfrey, chickweed, lambs quarter, and varying fleshy grasses. Also when we take our food waste buckets to them or pigs, it’s also a variation of the cut and carry.
Scoop and Carry
Aquaculture plants can be involved in the feeding of animals as well. Ducks love duckweed so if they don’t have access to it directly you can scoop and carry that to them either in a water basin or put with their grain feed. I was given Peking ducks by my neighbor in 2018 at Treasure Lake and immediately saw the difference in the quality of their eggs based on duckweed being inserted in their diet. At the
neighbors they were mainly land based ducks with a kiddie pool for water access. Then they were given a 12 acre (5 HA) lake with plenty of duckweed growing and were wonderful forms of biological control of the duckweed. Additionally chickens will take to the duckweed, either fresh or dried, and incorporated into their grain feed. The duckweed is of course very high in protein so it makes a great supplemental feed for most mammals and fowl. For the egg laying fowl, the high lysine content of duckweed does brighten their eggs from a pale yellow to a golden color which indicates the eggs richness and does afford a premium price. Some people even use duckweed in aquaponics and aquaculture systems as well to feed fish. Pigs also can be fed, well just about anything, but they do like water hyacinth in particular.
Fall, Collect, and Carry
Ideally animals are given access to valuable tree crops fallings like fruits, bean pods, and/or nuts. However this isn’t always possible due to many varying constraints. Instead we set up tarps to catch falling crops like mulberries and then carry it to chickens or pigs. This goes also for bean pods like carob, honey locust, or tamarind to feed different herbivores. Additionally nuts like acorns, hickories, chestnuts, or walnuts can be harvested in numerous ways and then fed to pigs to fatten them up if they can’t get access to the trees. It represents more work for the farmer but if a 150 year old Burr Oak or 1000 year old Carob is just inaccessible by the animals, then the manager can elect to harvest this input for their animals. Otherwise the animal steward maybe relying on too much grain from the outside. I have seen Portuguese in the far north of the country go to Oaks that overhang the road and pick acorns up off the sparsely used road and take them back to their pigs. Quite clever since eventually the acorns get run over and these ones stay clean and are easy to pick up since they are coming off of a paved road.
All of these methods are viable and should be considered in the design phase. One difficult aspect of design is to imagine these flows of materials but should be thought of with access and circulation as well as nutrient cycles. More likely as you manage a site you will see how resources like these abound as the ecosystem bounces back. Then one figures out how to efficiently utilize them and cycle nutrients around the site appropriately to keep them going for years to come. Enjoy, it can be hard work but correct placement of say a coppice woodlot of cut and carry can be a huge boon to your sites.
Written by Doug Crouch
Header Art by Joana Amorim