Ben Habig of Habig Livestock discusses an innovative approach to obtaining land for grazing goats as well as management of his goats.
Cal: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Grazing Grass Podcast, episode six.
Ben: [00:0003]: That's our biggest problem in livestock agriculture, at least on the grazing side of people are most interested in the animal, you know, and they need to take a better look at their land resource that they do have access to and better matching their animal to that land resource.
Voice over: [00:00:20] You're listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers produce forages for livestock.
Cal: [00:00:28] On today's episode, we have Ben Habig, of Habig Livestock he comes in and talks about a livestock species that most of us are a little afraid of having Yes, I'm talking about goats those animals that dream of ways to get out. Ben talks about his unique approach to attaining land to graze goats, and then how he's managing them. I think you're going to enjoy it. And let's get to it. Well, Ben, we're excited to have you on the grazing grass podcast. Welcome to the show.
Ben: [00:01:04] Thank you for having me. I'm really excited about being here and visiting with you.
Cal: [00:01:11] Ben, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your operation?
Ben: [00:01:14] I'm 34years old, I live in Texas, I've been grazing for approximately three and a half years now think is where it's at. And my operation is a meat goat operation where I attempt to rotationally graze goats on a leased property in conjunction with a cow-calf operator who also leases the property. And so I cooperate with him. And you know, create those goats simultaneously. I primarily subdivide my pastures with two strains of poly wire, a temporary fence. And I'm able to control my goats that way and try to put them where I want them across the property target scenario is a little bit and do a spring kidding operation. We kid out at the end of March. And usually, we're done three to four weeks market those kids generally in the fall sometime October. They'll weigh roughly 60 pounds run kind of a Spanish boarder cross type of goat, you know, to a commercial goat not registered or we're not trying to hit some special bloodlines or anything like that. That's kind of the gist of the operation. Yes, sir.
Cal: [00:02:39] Oh, yes. Something that stuck out to me right then you're using leased land and you're cooperating with someone who's running beef cows there, too.
Ben: [00:02:48] Yes, sir.
Cal: [00:02:49] So tell me a little bit more about how that works.
Ben: [00:02:52] Well, you know the way it works is that operator yet he has that property leased to run his cattle, and basically, I have an agreement with him to run my goat simultaneously with him. And that we worked out between the two of us and it's basically a sublease is how it works. I guess it would start off saying that I went to him and you know, wanting to run these goats and he wanted that opportunity. He wanted to do something like that in his place but didn't have the knowledge experience, or the desire to really mess with those goats. So you know, there's an opportunity for me to do what I'm doing.
Cal: [00:03:34] Oh, yes, that's great. Does he rotationally graze his cows or he is more traditional?
Ben: [00:03:40] He's more traditional, unfortunately, you know that's kind of the way it's worked for him. Not what I would like but that's what we've been given I don't have a land base that I come from so I'm somebody that was looking for an opportunity wanted to graze cattle in this area and looked around for lease ground wood, which is very difficult here and everywhere else under the sun.
Cal: [00:04:06] Oh, yes, it is.
Ben: [00:04:08] So you know, I had to research and think outside of the box and kind of finally came up with this conclusion in this idea and went down that path and made it happen. So yeah.
Cal: [00:04:24] And when you talk to him, so he was open to the idea because he had some interest in goats. Does the least land have a lot of brush?
Ben: [00:04:33] That's primarily why he was interested in it. It wasn't so much that he had a burning desire to be a goat rancher. It was more the resource that's available on the land. You know, where we at is a kind of a cross timbers rolling prairie area of Texas, it's kind of at the very edge of maybe what some people might call the hill country. of Texas, where there is a lot of brush woody plants around brows kind of species that are favourable to running small room and it's on it. So we have a little bit of that on this property and, you know, he understands that and sees that potential there. And more than anything, it's kind of a thing for him of, okay he's running these cows on this place. But how many of these acres are really grateful for his mother cows, and how much of it is he's paying for that he's really not getting any grazing out of and so basically, I'm kind of supplementing, you know, that lease, and trying to better utilize those acres that aren't giving anything directly back to his cow herd. That's kind of the idea it's not quite yet black and white, but that's kind of what we're trying to do.
Cal: [00:05:54] Right, and I think that's a very unique and creative approach to get some leased land. Like you mentioned, finding leased land, I've been looking for a long time and I get a few leads, I don't make it too far but, yeah, that's a very creative approach to it. And you said so you have them on this place, and you're using poly wire?
Ben: [00:6:16] Yes, sir.
Cal: [00:06:17] To make your paddocks.
Ben: [00:06:19] Yes, sir. I use two strands of poly wire I prefer the braided poly wire the braided power-flex poly braid but I use that with a stepping post, and I can subdivide these pastures that way. And, also, some of this property has a really good fence that can hold a goat very well. And some of it has fence It is not good at all. It's an old rotten net wire from seven years ago with holes. So in some of those place, I actually use my temporary fence to offset against that perimeter fence. And make that pasture go tight basically. That's the downfall to my operation is it's labour-intensive. I'm putting up a lot of fences and taking them down. But, you know, that's the card I'm playing right now. I have a mobile Energizer; I've got it mounted solar panel energized around a little trailer. And so I can move that around. So I don't even have the luxury of having this place, you know, all the way around with high tensile to hook on to run my power supply. So that in life, so that's where it's at right now I'm grazing, by the way, roughly, the unit that I'm on is just under 1000 acres. So it's not huge, but it's not small, depending on where of course you're out in the world. So does that answer that question?
Cal: [00:07:52] That's good? About how many goat are you running?
Ben: [00:07:55] Just under 300 head that's what we have been running.
Cal: [00:07:58] I know I've seen from YouTube and from Instagram, it looks like a lot of goats. I just sold my goats the other day and I only had a dozen. It's a little bit more than that.
Ben: [00:08:13] I was going say that's just matching your resource base, you know, like you saying you have 12 goats for the part of the world that you're in, you know, wouldn't make sense to be running that many goats you know, I think a lot of times, that's our biggest problem in livestock agriculture, at least on grazing side of people are most interested in the animal, you know, and they need to take a better look at their land resource that they do have access to and better matching their animal to that land resource. Rather than being caught up in, I need to run this type of animal they need to look at, okay, I have this sort of vegetation, this kind of growing season, this kind of dormant season, etc., and start from that baseline.
Cal: [00:08:57] Oh, I think you're making an excellent point there. And that's one reason my goat herd small. I don't have enough brush and browse for them. So I've sold them for now. And I have hair, sheep, and beef cattle. Maybe at some point that changes but right now, I have to agree that was an excellent point about matching your livestock species to what you have available. You started grazing three years ago, four years ago?
Ben: [00:09:25] We turned out may of 2017.
Cal: [00:09:28] Oh, yes, and when you started that were you using two-wire portable fences at that time?
Ben: [00:09:35] When I first started? No, I wasn't I started in a smaller pasture. You know, I've kind of stair step this I didn't start out with 300 goats. I started out right 45 and I was in one pasture and we turn those goats as but 130-acre pasture very brasserie is kind of an odd-shaped little pasture very long it's sandwiched between highways in a railroad but the point is we turn them out. And, I didn't start using a temporary electric fence until February of 2018. So I had those goats sprinting out in this one pasture. And so then some problems ensued. And, you know, it took me a while to kind of learn and figure that big learning curve, you know, for a guy that never owned a goat before. And then here, you're going to turn them out and see that long, you know, so it took me a while to get there. But, you know, I saw the problems of I knew about all the problems as far as the forage was concerned, and all the benefits with rotational grazing or management intensive grazing, if you want to go that next step from reading and all the resources I'd been looking at, to even get the idea turned goats out. But I didn't really understand from the predation side and the mothering instinct side of those goats, the benefits of keeping them bunched and keeping them in smaller areas, versus having them be able to spread out and go all the way to fence and bounce off it and go all the way to another fence and bounce off it. So I had some predation go on. And I knew I needed to get some more guard dogs, but I also knew I needed to, you know, do more, I couldn't buy enough guard dogs to fix my problem. I knew I needed a smaller area. So you know, that's when I decided I got to find a way to make this work for these goats of keeping them inside of electric and that's when I started down that path. Yeah.
Cal: [00:11:36] I assume you didn't put up two wires and they stayed in? Or were you able to?
Ben: [00:11:40] Yes, no, I put up three wires, but what I did do is I started that right before I started kidding out, I kind of thought to myself, okay, if I want to put this work and effort in, I'm going to do when a time when I know it's going to be the most beneficial to me. And I knew that when we kid out, you know a lot of times in pasture settings, those goats when a kid and then they want to walk off and leave those kids. So I thought okay, we're going to get them bunched up for kidding. And so I put up three strands and somehow I don't know if it was just because they weren't kidding out. And they were kind of just bonded to that little area at the time but put up three strands and they stayed in. I don't know how but it worked out. Oh, yes. So and then, you know, I work from that point and which two strands and got that to work. However, this past fall, I bought a bigger bunch of goats and built up my herd and I bought a bunch of nanny kids, seven-month-old nanny kids, okay, and bought a big group of them and brought them in. Well, anyhow, I didn't do a good enough job getting them trained to those wires. And I did have a lot of issues within with those goats getting out and it was an ordeal and I had to back up and do a better job of getting them broke. And did spend about a week of putting them up against a hot wire on the good permanent fence with that temporary fence offset from that permanent fence about eight to 10 inches. And I put feed out on the ground right next to that fence and they got hit and hit by and got them broke to it that way.
Cal: [00:13:18] How hot your fence running?
Ben: [00:13:19] Generally got about 7000 volts is what I'm shooting for. Obviously, a little bit more is okay, it's better. But right in that 7000 volts neighbourhood is what I've experienced to be hard enough to get those goats trained and broke through that wire.
Cal: [00:13:37] Oh, yes. And you have a portable solar Energizer?
Ben: [00:13:41] Yeah.
Cal: [00:13:41] What brand do you have? What's your setup like?
Ben: [00:13:45] I've got a stay to fix six jewel Energizer. And then I've got a 100-watt solar panel to complement it. It's got a little charge protector on it. That's between the panel and the Energizer. I couldn't tell you what brand that is. I don't know how important that is. But that's the setup I've got there and generally, I've been running two ground rods with that Energizer, I should be running three, but I really hate panning those things to the ground every time. So I cheap out a little bit, but the point is, it's been effective. And I haven't burned anything up yet on the equipment side. So that's my setup.
Cal: [00:14:25] Very nice. Yeah. My next question was about those ground rods because those things aren't much fun. But if two is working for you, if it's working for your equipment and animals, that's what you need. Now you talked about what you're grazing there, the brush and stuff. What are some of the species that you're seeing there?
Ben: [00:14:44] On the brush side, you know what we have and what my goats are eating. We've got sumac, we've got two different types of soup sumac smooth sumac. It's kind of like a small tree, but we also have something called skunk bush sumac which it's an actual bush. And I don't know if it would be as far north as where you guys are.
Cal: [00:15:06] We have some sumac, but I really haven't looked into it too much. But I don't know if I've seen the bush type.
Ben: [00:15:14] Right.
Cal: [00:15:14] But we could have it.
Ben: [00:15:15] Yeah, though in the wintertime, they'll eat cedar, they don't really eat cedar trees so much during the warm time of the year. But when it cools off, my understanding, there's kind of a chemical change that goes on inside those plants and makes them more palatable. And those goats will eat on those cedar trees, not the same thing. But even in the real dead winter, they'll eat some prickly pear, not a lot of nutrition there but you know, it's something that I would never think they would have eaten on, but they will.
Cal: [00:15:48] Right.
Ben: [00:15:49] Even you know, we've got a fair bit of mesquite down here, mesquite trees, and they'll work on those sometimes, you know, even late in the year, like right now, just yesterday, I was out in the pasture, you know, and was watching the mesquite trees. We've had a lot of different types of oak trees down here through the growing season. And they really liked those oak trees, you know, red Oaks, we've got something called a post oak and, and black oaks, and they'll eat those. We also have down here in my part of the world, we have something called live oak, it stays green almost the entire year. So through the wintertime, it'll be green, it's similar to the cedar tree, it goes under some sort of the chemical change in its leaves when the weather cools off, or the days get shorter. And that leaves becomes more palatable and those goats will really eat those Live Oak trees a lot. That's a lot of their diet through the wintertime from what I gather, of course, we got quite others that I see them eat on as far as the brush goes.
Cal: [00:16:52] Now you mentioned there about Live Oak staying green throughout the year. Well, how's your winter in that area?
Ben: [00:16:57] Our winters they are variable is the best way I can say maybe everybody gives that answer you know, is just to what degree. Well, we don't have the same winter every year again and again. I hear that from a lot of people that live in different parts of the country so I guess I'm going to say the same answer. But as far as like, let's say freezing, we do freeze here, but it's not going to last more than three days. You know, I've been down here for 10 years now and that's been my experience. We certainly, you know, get a fair bit of rain and moisture through the dormant season. And that probably doesn't help you so much on growing but recharges our soil and water tables and everything that time of year. But a lot of days that get down to the 40s at night and you know, days get up to the 60s during the day, for the high 50s maybe to wintertime. You know that's kind of typical.
Cal: [00:17:58] Winter first freeze typically and last freeze.
Ben: [00:18:01] The actual days I'm not sure I could tell you. I think we might average something in early November time for the first freeze. But I'm sorry to say I'm not farmer enough to know that off the top. But yeah, right there in the early part of November, I think is maybe an average freeze for us I think.
Cal: [00:18:21] I would suspect around that we're using the last October, 1st of November. So, that makes sense to me.
Ben: [00:18:27] Yeah.
Cal: [00:18:28] Now, on your goats and moving them? Do you have ponds or water out of? Or do you have a creek? Or how do you manage the water for them?
Ben: [00:18:37] Where I'm at, I'm all surface water, I don't have access to any piped water whatsoever. I kind of whine a little bit about the fences. But we have fair many numbers of tanks or ponds or reservoirs or whatever part of the country you're in, you're going to call them. But we have quite a few of those and they're spread out. So that makes the rotational thing more plausible. With just having surface water, we do have quite a few seasonal creeks that run through the place. You know, that's one thing about a goat or even a sheep, they don't require nearly as much water as a mother cow. I mean pound for pound is what I'm talking about, you know, not per area. So they can get by on quite a bit less even accessing it. You talked about creeks, these seasonal creeks, you know, they're not going to flow but they'll have pools and things like that scattered out to him. And it might be some, you know, really steep banks to get down to it or a lot of brush or rocky ledges, those goats they'll travel down to the bottom of that thing and get them a drink. Whereas I'm not sure that you would want to do that with a group of mother cows, you know, or you wouldn't want to depend on that right, I think in my opinion. So it makes it easier for these goats to scatter them out across this ranch or moving out across this ranch and always have a little bit of water to access, and then I will say in certain situations and certain paddocks that I have been known to haul a bit of water to make it work or especially come July. August time when we do get pretty dry and some of those options start to dry up. But once again, with the water requirements on the goat hauling water to go isn't near the chore as hauling the water, you know, to a few to some cows, so it makes it more justifiable, I guess.
Cal: [00:20:32] How big a paddock are you putting your goats into? And how often are you moving them?
Ben: [00:20:37] Well, due to one water restrictions, like we just talked about and then also due to fencing, traffic through the ranch, you know, we have deer hunters, we have got a railroad that goes through us, we've got Highline power poles run through us, we got a pipeline that runs through us, we're up against a highway so you know, sometimes we'll have encounters with D.O. T. So we've got a lot of different people that you know, are going to access the place from time to time. So I'm very cognizant about not printing across ranch roads or what like thinking about the flow of traffic across the place. So all that what I'm saying is all those things dictate where I put these temporary fences and make my paddocks as well as the creeks and ease a fencing sort of thing. But to answer your question, and my paddocks vary in size quite a bit, I do have you know, and that makes it management harder, of course, but they do vary quite a bit. I think that that the biggest paddock I have will be about 70 acres, and the smallest one might be 12 acres sometimes. Yeah. So take that for what it's worth. But that's kind of what I'm operating on currently.
Cal: [00:21:51] Now, when you have your goats in a paddock and you move on, how soon are you coming back around to that area to graze it again?
Ben: [00:21:58] During the growing season? You know, I'll probably make two passes over in the growing season. You know, so that might be a 60 to 90-day return. There about and then, you know, probably graze one time in the dormant season, maybe something to that effect. It depends a little bit but I had a pasture that I hadn't been in for a year more time than I just came out of. So if that answers your question a little bit, but you know, we're talking about 90-day risk, maybe 120-day risk, things like that.
Cal: [00:22:33] I figured it'd be a pretty long rest considering brows because it makes it a little while to recover versus some of your forages. Let's talk about your goats for just a minute. You said you've got a boar Spanish cross nose.
Ben: [00:22:49] Yeah, basically, I sourced the majority of my herd came off one ranch in south of San Angelo, Texas and this is somebody that's range their goats for a long time, you know, a family-type range and they have a strong boar influence in their herd with some Spanish background there. So I would say you know if you're going to call it my goats on average, or five, eight to seven-eighths is what I would call them. So my kid goats, I hauled some weather kids into the sale, maybe three or four weeks ago, they were weighing about 60 pounds. And they would have been born, you know, first of April time. So they were like five and a half months old, something like that. So that kind of gives you an idea you know how they grow from birth to that timeframe.
Cal: [00:23:45] What kind of buck are you using?
Ben: [00:23:48] Coming off the same ranch, so same title. The same type of genetics he's allowed me to source abilities from and so it's very similar genetics.
Cal: [00:24:00] Very good and you have guardian dogs with them. What type of Guardian dogs have you gone with and, and are you pleased with them?
Ben: [00:24:07] I do I have five guard dogs at this moment and they are basically an Anatolian peer Great Pyrenees cross. The dogs range in age from I guess our youngest dogs are a little over 18 months old. I got two dogs that are 18 months old and the others would be three-year-old dogs. That's what they'd be three years old. And so like, say, Great Pyrenees Anatolian cross I raised two dogs and the others I purchased, you know, off from a rancher, a goat rancher you know, some an actual producer as opposed to just a straight dog breeder, you know, I think yes, that's a very important thing that anybody considering this, that they would purchase their dogs from somewhere from a working operation, somebody that's running the same type of stock that you're going to put those dogs on is very important. So I've been fairly happy with my dogs. The younger dogs give me a little bit of issue traveling about but by and large that they stay with the goat. I'm still amazed sometimes that it works the way it does, you know, those are amazing animals, and to just have them turned out there in the pasture and you know, all the things that are out there that that would make a kid go to snack really fast. And they, you know, they keep them off of them. So I'm very pleased with it and that's maybe one of the most unexpected, neatest things that I've come across with this raising goats endeavour, better understanding these guard dogs in their past and, and how they were developed over 1000s of years and in all that, that's going in going into, it's a pretty amazing story once you start digging down into it.
Cal: [00:25:44] Oh, yes, very good. In this part of our podcast, we do our famous four questions; we ask all of our guests. So our first one, what's your favourite grazing grass or farming-related book or resource?
Ben: [00:26:00] Well, I'm a pretty big fan of most of anything of Jim Gerrish there's a lot of guys out there very knowledgeable and do a good job. I've kind of felt like his documents or his books, rather, they're just maybe a little easier for me to read and apply, I think just writes things in such a manner that it seems very practical, and you can apply it to your operation a little easier. So he's one and then I'm going to have to just because I wouldn't have to but there's a guy named Walt Davis that wrote a book on how to not go broke ranching. On he's an Oklahoma Texas guy, he's ranged in those parts of the world. So that's what really, I guess I really like about him because it applies a lot to where I'm at. And it was actually the book that I read that kind of really made the light bulb turn on for me to consider grazing goats with mother cows or with cattle at all. I hadn't really read a whole lot about doing that and he addresses that in his book, some of that multi-species grazing and so I really liked it for that and gives a lot of practical insight for starting into that.
Cal: [00:27:15] I've pulled up his website here. I have not seen his books. I'm going to have to add that to my reading list.
Ben: [00:27:22] I mean, I'm serious you should read that book its good. It's not an easy read. Or it's easy to read the book. It's not super technical, or, you know, it's not that hard to read it.
Cal: [00:27:34] I look forward to looking in that and getting it and reading it myself. Our next question what tool could you not live without on your farm?
Ben: [00:27:43] Energizer?
Cal: [00:27:45] Yeah, those goats if that's not running hot, you got goats everywhere.
Ben: [ 00:27:50] Right, just the Energizer itself, you know, just to have that and to have the solar capability to not have to plug into something, you know that that's huge for, for this specific thing that I'm doing, I wouldn't be able to do without it.
Cal: [00:28:06] Yes. What is something you would tell someone just getting started in farming grazing grass forages?
Ben: [00:28:15] I would say to grow from where you were at, and start today.
Cal: [00:28:19] Good advice on that starting today. So often, today becomes tomorrow becomes five years, becomes ten years. I suffer a little bit from that. And where can our listeners find out more about you and what you're doing?
Ben: [00:28:33] Well, I have a YouTube channel that I've been posting videos on for a little while now. It's just my name Ben Habig. But you can go there and see some of the videos I've made about our dog feeders and moving our goats and just different things that about my operation, but how I get those things done.
Cal: [00:28:56] Very good. We've enjoyed this Ben, appreciate you coming on and being on our podcast.
Ben: [00:29:02] I've had a great time. I feel so lucky to be on the podcast. This is my first one. So it's pretty neat to get to do this with somebody and know that maybe somebody out there is going to listen to it and get some benefit out of it and make their operation a little bit better. I think that's really neat.
Cal: [00: 29:21] And I'm sure they will because you've opened my eyes up to some ideas that I'm going to look into a little bit more.
Ben: [00:29:29] Yeah. The one thing I figured out is you don't have to do it just like the person you're listening to. But if you just take one of the ideas and apply it, twist it a little bit to your operation and it can really pull some things together for you.
Cal: [00:29:45] So true. Thank you, Ben.
Ben: [00:29:48] All right. Thank you, Cal I really enjoyed it.
Cal: [00:29:51] Thank you for listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers produce forages for livestock. If you'd like to find out more about our show be a guest on our show or see more detailed show notes visit us at grazing grass.com. Until next time
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- Kick the Hay Habit by Jim Gerrish (Amazon*)
- Management-intensive Grazing by Jim Gerrish (Amazon*)
- How to Not go Broke Ranching by Walt Davis (Amazon*)