Keep Livestock From Razing Your Field With An Overgrazing Shield

You know, not every solution needs to be complicated to be absolutely awesome. Take the humble clothespin, for example, two pieces of cleverly carved wood (or plastic; we won’t judge) and a spring. And yet, the service it provides is useful for many applications.

The same simple elegance is also present in [Anteneh]’s overgrazing shield. When sheep and other animals are allowed to eat the vegetation down to the soil, it leads to soil erosion if not kept in check with regular grazing location rotation. As it turns out, if you want to keep an animal from eating grass and plants down to the soil, just slip a leather harness over its neck with a piece of wood in the right place so it literally can’t graze any lower than the wood allows.

According to [Anteneh]’s prototype tests, it only takes a few seconds to fit the shield to the animal’s head and neck, and then they’re off to grazing to the prescribed depth. We think this is a great solution and hope to see it in wide use along with regular rotation.

Need a way to track your livestock? [Sean Boyce]’s experiments with subcutaneous pig tracking makes for a good read, but the reality of that system will probably have you looking for a simpler solution.

49 thoughts on “Keep Livestock From Razing Your Field With An Overgrazing Shield

  1. It will take about 3 seconds for a sheep to find out how to tilt the head and move the annoying obstacle to the side, thus preventing it from working. Also, any contraption like this attached to an unsupervised animal can be fatal when it gets caught to some tree or fence. (Source: have sheep.)

        1. Absolutely. The most infuriating animal I have ever help raise. On an evolutionary scale, sheep are tomatoes with wool. If you’re a vegetarian, have some lamb. On the plus side, they follow goats. So get one goat and your herd of sheep will come home in the evening.

          1. We have sheep and goats and I would never do this. As previously stated there is not a doubt in my mind they would get it caught on something if not each other and something would die. Goats are amazingly smart but sheep are not as dumb as they seem. Also when you come up with a management solution for either of them, you have to remember that they have 24x7x365 to figure out how to get around it.

    1. I had the exact same thought. This isn’t going to last long.

      The proper solution imho is better education and better conditions for the animals (possibly combined with use of fertilizer and better soil conditioning. In the end keeping fewer, well fed animals on soil that can provide for them is probably better for long term profitability than keeping more but malnourished animals on depleted soil.

    2. I wonder if a round shield rather than rectangular stick might not work better, both in terms of being harder to circumvent and less likely to get caught?

    1. Could also be quite stylish. I like the kind with goldfish inside. Of course, the sheep would quickly figure out how to eat lying down. Getting up again may pose a problem. But, there is probably a better way using a 555 timer.

  2. “if not kept in check with regular grazing location rotation”
    If you don’t have the needed infrastructure to keep your animals, then don’t keep animals. I have the feeling this torture device is a solution to not having big enough land to feed the sheep. Well, still better than industrial environments where animals live in cages they can hardly turn around, but on just the same path.

  3. I think the sheep need more space. I think the point to raising most livestock is for them to get as large as possible in the shortest time possible.

  4. Ooh ooh something I really know about – I studied this stuff in graduate school, with cattle at least. The way to prevent overgrazing is less animal density and/or less time on the pasture. Subdivide the pasture, move a higher density of grazers into a smaller area for a shorter time, then move them on and the grazed area is allowed to recover. It mimics the grazing behavior of native ungulates that migrated in herds. The native grasses are adapted to this type of grazing. This isn’t a new idea, ranchers have been doing it for decades. But there is a limit to the animal load a pasture can sustain.

    The “solution” presented is needed because the rancher is attempting to cheat by putting more animals into a pasture than it can handle.

    If your pasture can’t support enough animals to make a profit, it’s time to find another use for the land.

    1. Grazing ungulates are beneficial to the land they graze on, if they’re moved around or have enough space to move around so they don’t eat everything. How else did the bison herds in North America grow to millions before being hunted nearly to extinction?

      When they eat plants that have gone to seed, the seeds get pooped out, packaged in fertilizer. Then when it rains, new plants grow.

      Dr. Allan Savory showed that livestock herds can be grazed on land with minimal vegetation and afterwards more plants will grow because they produce fertilizer and their hooves till the seeds and fertilizer into the soil. If large herds of grazing animals “destroy the plants” and “compact the soil”, large herds of grazing animals would never have existed naturally.

      Of course since proposing that livestock herds are a good thing, that TED talk has him on the outs with the militant vegan wing of environmentalists. Also, admitting that he was wrong when in the 1970’s he came up with the plan to kill elephants to save them because they were “overgrazing” their habitat is another strike against him. It’s not having elephants killed that has him in bad odor, it’s admitting he was wrong. It was a massive error by environmentalists, which the African elephant species is still recovering from. *But they’re never ever wrong* and woe betide any member of that group that ever admits to error.

      1. Grazing ungulates *can* be beneficial, if they’re not allowed to overstay their welcome. They eat what’s available and move on. That’s how the Bison herds evolved with the prairie grasses, that’s how the vast savannas of Africa evolved with enormous herds of wildebeest and other grazers.

        Ranchers get in trouble when they allow the animals to overstay their welcome, and eat more vegetation than the plants can afford to lose. Ranchers can mimic herd behavior by moving the animals, frequently, between small paddocks that allow recovery after grazing. But there’s still a limit to how many animals a parcel of land can sustain even with better management.

  5. Sometimes you hit on a super simple solution and wonder why nobody else is using it since it is so obvious.

    The usual answer to “Why doesn’t everyone do this obvious thing?” is usually “‘Cause it don’t work.”

    People have been keeping sheep for a long time, but nobody is using this obvious method to prevent over grazing. The most likely reason they don’t do it is because it wouldn’t work, not because nobody ever thought of it in all the thousands of years that humans have kept sheep.

    I’m sorry. This idea is impractical, and dangerous to the sheep.

    Best case, the sheep scrape the contraptions off of their heads or otherwise circumvent them.

    Worst case, a sheep gets the contraption stuck in a fence or bush and kills itself.

  6. Wow, so many negative comments. Sometimes HAD is worse than YouTube!

    I am dead certain that [Anteneh] is aware of everything not so helpfully pointed out by all the negative comments here. Not everyone can simply “Buy more land” or “own fewer sheep”. Sometimes farming=survival and requires clever adaptations to overcome the limitations of the situation.
    Is this a clever solution? I think so, but I have never farmed sheep so I will refrain from telling [Anteneh] how it should be done (because how the heck would I know?).

      1. Sustainable is good, really should be the goal, but your in a very privileged position if you can make that a primary or at least high level goal – If the society around you doesn’t make it possible to be sustainable you still have to survive, doing whatever you can do with the resources you have, even it it can only work that way short term…

          1. Agreed, but if you survive long enough hopefully you find a way to become sustainable despite the surrounding society, or the surrounding society realises how completely, and entirely it is and changes to something more rational.

            You can’t become sustainable if you are dead, though population reduction might lead to sustainability in the local area…

    1. Have you seen over grazed pastures?

      Have a look:

      Too many animals, not enough food.

      It isn’t caused by greedy sheep over eating. It’s caused by putting too many animals in one place.

      Depending on conditions (weather, soil nutrients, etc.) a pasture can only grow enough food for a certain number of animals. The pasture also needs time to recover after it has been grazed.

      You can get into over grazing a couple of ways:
      1. Keeping more animals than your pasture can support.
      2. Drastic, unexepected change in the number of animals your pasture can support.

      Number 1 is straight up human failure.
      Number 2 comes from things like a drought that dries out your land.

      Muzzling the animals can’t change either of those situations. They’re already hungry to the point of eating things they wouldn’t normally touch, then you come along and strap a stick on their heads to make it harder to get at the little bit of food they can still find.

    2. If your pasture won’t sustain the number of animals needed to profit, grazing is unsustainable. Overgrazing can irreversibly change forage land into sahel. Overgrazing here in Texas takes years of careful management (and adequate rainfall) to reverse. I know one of this year’s winners of this award, and it comes after about a decade of costly work to reverse chronic overgrazing by previous profit-taking ranchers.

      Harsh realities abound. If a business can’t pay its workers a living wage and make a profit, it’s not a good business model. If a pasture can’t sustain a herd of sheep, it’s time to look into other ways of using that land before it’s unusable.

    3. While it does seem like a lot of negative comments; how sad would it be if those comments weren’t made and someone new to raising sheep did not have access to the pros and cons of this method.
      They might lose sheep. They might end up underfeeding, losing out on profits. They might end up with expensive vet bills from sheep that became entangled or hurt from the board on another sheep hitting them.
      Respectful comments with opposing views are healthy in any conversation.

  7. This is a simple version of a grazing muzzle which is not new. Google “grazing muzzle sheep.” I am also amazed at the quantity of advice provided in the comments by those who have no experience with sheep or livestock.

    1. I do have experience with livestock. Muzzles a way lazy ranchers postpone overgrazing, rather than actually taking stewardship of their land. And they aren’t recommended to be left on 24/7.

  8. Completely pointless. To prevent overgrazing you keep the animal from coming back to the area until the plants have fully recovered. How much it eats to start with is irrelevant, so long as it is moved to a different area before the plant starts to regrow (about 3 days).

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