Cattle, General Pasture

Utilizing my uncle’s manure pack until I have my own

Carbon bedding bonds to nutrients and ammonia in animal wastes preventing pollution of the air or ground. When animals overwinter on bedding, they pack their manure down tight removing air pockets leading to anaerobic decomposition which provides free heat contributing to the animals’ health and comfort. Letting the pack decompose for 6 months lets the microbes digest some of the material as well as begin to mineralize the nutrients making them bioavailable to plants.

The concept is old and the cornerstone of fertility and soil building on my farm. There is one small problem: I don’t have animals yet!

But my uncle has beef cattle and pigs and was willing to part with some manure so I could start applying it to my pasture.

I wanted to add a bit more carbon to the pack so I lined my truck bed with sawdust before heading to my uncles farm. Upon returning I added ancient hay to the top of the pile and it all mixed together as I unloaded it by hand.

Once I got back to my farm with a truck overloaded with manure, I tossed the first bit into the compost bin to bolster the nitrogen content to rev the compost pile up one last time before the fall temperatures cool it down. On top of the compost I added a bit more sawdust.

The rest went quicker than I had anticipated. I used it to fill in divots and cover rocks that have appeared on the vehicle track through the pasture. There are a few more places along that track I would like to build soil, most notably around exposed rocks. Any future loads will be spread on the pasture around rocks that are barely exposed. When it breaks down a bit more, I can pull back the hay mulch and plant some clover and buckwheats seeds before returning the mulch.

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Cattle, Garden

First harvest fed to my uncle’s cattle

A raccoon was getting into my garden and harvesting the corn. How do I know it was a racoon? In an effort to stay on topic, I will share my evidence tomorrow.

Nonetheless, it was time to harvest the corn and remove what has proven to be a pest attractant.

Remember, the corn, sunflower, pumpkins and soybeans were volunteers that came up from…“creative” soil amendments. So I worked out a trade with my uncle: I’ll feed my corn and sunflowers to his cattle in exchange for some manure. After all, any biomass sent off the farm takes the nutrients with it. With our deal, those nutrients will come right back to the soil.

Here is his herd chowing down:

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Cattle, General Pasture

How to train Cattle to eat weeds in 5 days

I know, I had a hard time believing it too when I came across this article. Folks in the Montana Farmers Union received grant money for the project and achieved success doing exactly what the title states. The test cattle even were trained to consume thistle which controlling my invasive bull thistle was the internet search that brought me to this article in the first place.

Basically, it works in the same manner as the strategy I will use to control the established tree of heaven stands: cull any growth before it reaches seed at maturity until the roots run out of energy. The training program teaches cows to chew different textures and to chew more thoroughly allowing them to widen their palettes.

Tools required:

Feed trough

Cattle

Feeds:

  • Pelleted Alfalfa
  • Rolled Corn, Rolled Barley, Rolled Oats mixed together (aka COB)
  • Molasses
  • Rolled Barley (alone)
  • Pelleted Sugarbeets
  • Flaked Soybean
  • Wheat Bran
  • Hay cubes
  • Chopped weeds which the training targets

Procedure:

Simply follow the feeding schedule provided by the linked article:

Feeding schedule

Day 1: morning – alfalfa pellets; afternoon – half alfalfa pellets, half cob.

Day 2: morning – cob mixed with molasses; afternoon – rolled barley.

Day 3: morning – sugarbeet pellets; afternoon – soybean flake.

Day 4: morning – wheat bran; afternoon – hay cubes.

Day 5: morning – hay mixed with target weeds and sprayed with molasses water; afternoon – target weeds.

 

After the 5 day training program, the cattle can harvest the high protein thistle (nutritionally equivalent to alfalfa) as well as help control the invasive nature of the plant. Untrained cattle have been observed to have learned from their trained herd-mates. The article I linked stated that the Montana Farmers Union would update its website on the progress of the program, but all I found was an announcement of the pilot program from 2011.

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Cattle, General Pasture

Moral Hazard of Grassfed Beef

Grassfed beef is nutritionally superior to grain-fed beef, specifically in omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid profiles which are now linked to the vast inflammatory diseases that were wrongly attributed to cholesterol and fat intake for decades. Providing 100% of cattle nutrition from the pasture seems pretty straightforward until considerations are made for the winter months when pasture plants are inactive and supplemental feed is required. In majority of the agricultural world where grasses are dormant for the winter, a farm has to stockpile its grasses during growing season limiting the amount of cattle it can sustain with negative economic impacts. More likely this supplemental feed is acquired off the farm resulting in a moral hazard.

Sourcing hay from off the farm removes the entire season’s production of biomass from the source of the hay. If the manure from that hay is not mixed with carbon, composted and returned to that farm, the carbon in the biomass of the hay and its nutrients are forever lost from the source. Ethically impure points can be made that the farmer is selling hay thus the biomass and nutrients that come with it. While it would improve the soils locally on the farm on which the hay is fed, it is unsustainable on the larger regional scale.

Enter grains. The nutrient and calorie dense seeds of cereal grasses can be exported without removing such a significant amount of biomass from the source. Straw and other wastes from the crop can be reincorporated into the soils after the harvest limiting the exportation of biomass. Crop stubble also provides valuable habitat for soil microbes, animals and ground-nesting birds. However feeding grains to ruminants comes at the price of less nutritionally sound meat.

So which is more sustainable? This debate is the very moral hazard that is the subject of the post.

On my farm I plan to harvest a significant portion of the animals before winter to lessen the need for winter hay. Much of the grasses in my pasture persist in the winter. While not nutritionally dense as they are in active growth, a rotational grazing can still be carried out during the dormant winter months if the animals are given larger paddocks. I would expect my supplemental mineral feeds to greatly increase during this time. Beyond this, looks like I have an ethical dilemma in sustainable farming to contemplate.

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Cattle, Forestry, Side Projects

Silvopasture / Agroforestry

After taking a few classes for fun in the forestry department of my university, I ended up pursuing a minor in forestry with no plans to ever use it prifessionally. From forest ecology to the evolutionary growth hormone responses that control plants in ways I only thought possible by conscious decisionmaking, trees are fascinating. As a result, trees would have to be an integral part of my farmstead. Investing a few years into growing a tree to maturity to produce hundreds of pounds of human food or animal fodder seemed like the embodiment of my sustainable goal.

With a spattering of seemingly relevant keywords, the practice of silvopasture in the field of Agroforestry was finally uncovered.

Easily deduced from the contraction that forms Agroforestry, it is an application of forestry in agricultural systems. Silvopasture is growing trees over pasture so the fruit supplements turf fodder.

Simply, silvopasture aims to add more calories in fodder than the shading from the trees remove from pasture grasses. There are many other benefits as well like holding soil on rocky areas and preventing erosion. As my farm is classified as rocky outcrop, this management strategy aligns perfectly with my land, my management goals, and sustainability for after I am gone.

I’m reading a book on the subject that deserves its own series of posts regarding the benefits of silvio pasture, viable species, etc. Stay tuned!

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Cattle

Manually harvesting hay

Believe it or not, there are many places in the world where hay is still harvested by hand. Barring economic reasons, manual hay harvesting to provide winter fodder for animals is generally found in mountainous, rocky or uneven areas where machinery will break or simply cannot be run. As I will only be running 1-2 goats and 1-2 heads of cattle on the 10 acre pasture, there will be plenty of pasture that will grow into maturity and be wasted. Plus my hay requirements for 2-4 animals is very low. Remember from my early post on Grazing Sciences, that the most nutritious grasses are harvested before maturity and left with 3-4″ of photosynthetic material that creates the ebergy needed for grass to regenerate.

I learned the ropes from this article from a 1979 Mother Earth News article titled The Art of Cutting Hay By Hand written by a french author who at least at the time of publication, manually harvested all hay for her farm. Below is a simplified gist of the process

1. Swing the scythe that has been sharpened to a razor edge allowing the blade to do the work instead of force.

2. Re-sharpen scythe approximately every hour or every few rows of grass.

  • While my uncle is a master, I am absolutely terrible at sharpening blades with a whetstone. I found this tool very useful in the kitchen on low end knives and honestly will try it as a scythe-sharpening shortcut (Amazon kitchen knife sharpener). For my nicer kitchen knives and hunting knives, I use this kit which is fantastic, but more work (Amazon Spider Co sharpening kit).

3. The scythe naturally rakes the hay into rows so the fodder needs to be fluffed and spread to dry

4. Rake into rows

5. Once dry, bail the hay using a homemade piece of canvas (or similar material…maybe a tarp?) and tie it up. This is entirely optional! Alternatively just load the unbailed hay into its transportation method.

6. Transport hay to covered storage place

7. Unbail if bailed or spread and fluff to ensure complete drying of hay and prevent spoilage. Salt can be applied to any grass clumps that are still wet to discourage fermentation. Obviously I would use a salt meant for animal nutritional supplementation!

Thats it! The stored hay can be fed in the winter as needed.

There is an antique scythe already in my barn and I absolutely love manual labor as long as the tasks are varied. Harvesting hay manually limits the economic pit of buying single purpose equipment that dooms most failed farm operations. To put it bluntly, in the first year of starting my farm operation, I will have way more time than cashflow so the task would fit well as something productive with no extra equipment-requirements. It is also an homage to a pre-industrial way of life, provides a fun outdoor task and prevents me from buying or renting expensive equipment that would likely end up broken due to the uneven and rocky pasture. Most importantly, I will get to learn what is entailed by cutting, raking, bailing and storing hay without burning a single bit of petroleum. Assuming cattle or goat operation are expanded in the future that requires acquiring haymaking equipment, I will definitely have a deep appreciation of said equipment!

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Cattle, Chicks, Side Projects

Experiment: Growing Bamboo for fodder

Turns out just about every livestock animal enjoys bamboo at different stages of its growth. Chickens will eat new shoots, cows/horses will graze the foliage and goats will browse any part of it that isn’t overly mature/woody.

 

About Bamboo:

I’ll always remember a poem from one of my rather-hippie forest ecology professors:

“Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have joints unless there are cops around.”

Therefore, bamboo is technically a grass!

Found on bamboofarmingusa,com, 2 laboratory analysis reports were shared that break down the nutrient content of bamboo.

From Dairy One Forage Testing Laboratory (PDF Link):

 

BambooDairyOneLab

From the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Customer Services:

Bamboo_Lab

The crude protein figures above are high enough to be considered a “Premium” grass hay by USDA guidelines (retrieved from Oregon State University). Bamboo requires significant amounts of nitrogen so some sort of legume ground cover (likely peas or clover) would be a natural companion for the bamboo stands.

Letting animals graze bamboo also has the subjective benefit of breaking the monotonous boredom of extended hay feeding. As bamboo is an evergreen perennial, the stands could be opened to grazing in winter. I am not sure how nutrient composition changes with winter dormancy though.

Containing the potentially invasive bamboo:

Growing up in a metropolitan area that has spent countless resources battling the encroachment of bamboo, I want to take steps to ensure it remains contained. Originally meant for containing hops plants from taking over the garden, physical root barriers were actually invented with bamboo in mind.

Here are my two favorites on Amazon:

18″ x 100 ft

24″ x 100 ft

 

Time will tell how this experiment goes!

A friend brought up an interesting point in a comment on yesterday’s blog post. There is a species of bamboo native to Virginia and the Southeast US called Giant Cane. He provided a descriptive PDF from the USDA that explains the historical value and use of the plant. My favorite passage states:

According to environmental
historian Mart Stewart (2007), “Modern studies
have established that cane foliage was the highest
yielding native pasture in the South. It has up to
eighteen percent crude protein and is rich in
minerals essential for livestock health.” Livestock
eagerly eat the young plants, leaves, and seeds and
stands decline with overgrazing and rooting by hogs
(Hitchcock and Chase 1951).

Which demonstrates the plant is on par with bamboo as a nutrition source for livestock. Not to mention the renewable building material provided by mature stems. I could build chicken coops, green/hoop houses, storage sheds, etc. Interesting stuff to say the least!

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