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



  • 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


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.

General Pasture

Can anyone figure out why these are called spittle bugs?




About a month ago, they were on every blade of grass, tree sapling, weed, thistle, etc. Cool bugs, but I didn’t learn much about about them beyond ID-ing except that they can be mild agricultural pests in some areas. I couldn’t figure out which areas or what crops though.

Forestry, General Pasture

My plan for dealing with the Tree of Heaven Infestation (Ailanthus altissima)

I’ve covered why these plants truly deserve the invasive status. The plan is simple but labor intensive. It is the same as the plan I use to control johnson and crab grasses in the garden and bull thistle in the pasture:

Cut down any growth before it reaches maturity and seeds.

For any plants that spread via rhizomes, green growth like leaves are power plants to fuel root growth. Every time these generators are removed, the roots use emergency stores of energy to reinitiate growth expecting those emergency stores to be replenished by new leaves. If the green growth is continuously culled before it can fuel the roots, energy will eventually run out resulting in the death of these hard to kill plants.

It will take time and labor, but the biological approach to pest control is vital to the success of the farm.

Also I apologize for getting sidetracked over the holiday weekend. I went home to visit with friends and family and explored some of the national park nearby so my attention was elsewhere!

General Pasture

My greatest fear confirmed regarding ecology on the farm: Ailanthus altissima

I have to admit, I suspected this to be the occurrence. Denial is the only thing I have to blame for not investigating further. Whole (unpublished) posts have been written on the great ecological benefits of having sumac trees on the farm.

Alas, as the flowers have given way to seed there is no more doubt that my large grove of sumac trees are actually Tree of Heaven, or Ailanthus altissima.

In fact, you can see one miss-identification in this post regarding this picture:


In one month of total age (2 weeks from previous image), look at how much these seedlings have grown:



While I’m collecting my thoughts on our overuse of the term invasive, there is no way to include these trees in that argument. Ailanthus trees exude chemicals like ailanthone to inhibit the growth of other plants helping them establish dominant stands. It is much like juglone excreted by trees of the Juglans genus (eg: black walnut) but at a much more destructive level.


Without action, these trees will continue to take over and dominate the pasture. The strategy to address this issue will be covered tomorrow.

For now, I must lay to rest my dreams of making the lemonade flavored tea from the sumac fruit.

Bees, General Pasture

Another wild edible found on the farm: The ancestor to the modern carrot

Daucus carota, Queen Anne’s Lace has been the subject of songs, poems and breeding efforts yielding our modern carrot. When harvested young enough, the tender tuber is: well… an edible carrot! Be careful if you choose to forage for these as their defense mechanism is to emulate poison relatives. It can be safely identified by the carrot odor of the roots.

I photographed this plant expecting to find the bees in a hive close by to be all over the Lace working if for nectar. I never saw a single one!

After more research, I found that Queen Anne’s Lace is not a prefered nectar source of bees. In fact, honey made from the plant smells like human body odor. Since I am not harvesting any honey yet, the bees are free to work the plant if desired to feed their young and continue building the colony.

Maybe next year I will visit this patch early to forage some wild carrots!



General Pasture

How to set a long lasting fence post without concrete

At 15 and eager to find my first real job, I followed up mercilessly on an application I submitted to a farm/county park that was an easy bike ride away. Eventually they gave in and granted an interview.

Over the course of the next few years, my interviewer and subsequent first boss turned out to be an individual with a work ethic beyond anyone I have ever met and without a doubt will ever meet in my lifetime. The man was just a workhorse and at such an impressionable point in my life, it turned out to be a great influence and helped shape me into what I am today. Unfortunately he died far too young but I try my hardest to remember the many things that he instilled in me.

Setting fences posts was one such task that I got to observe and learn from him. In fact, those that he set at the farm always outlived the need for a fence in that location.

Assumptions you should be aware of:

This is valid for locations with clay subsoil and a climate unlike that of the Pacific Northwest with its combination of high water tables and wood devouring soil microbes.

Items Required

Digging iron with a tamping end (example)

Spade shovel

Post hole digger, but I just use the spade and my hands and omit this tool (example)

Tarp or splayed feedbag- something sturdy enough to hold and manipulate the dirt you excavate

Fence Post


Extra dirt, the more clay content, the better

Discarded paint can lid or similar (See step 15 for its purpose)


  1. Find a concrete surface and lightly tamp your digging iron against it. Memorize this ringing sound!
  2. Remove the turf and topsoil from the site of the post. Discard- I use this to cover exposed limestone rocks in the unimproved roads on the farm.
  3. Dig the hole putting the displaced earth onto the tarp.
    1. For depth, shoot for 25-30% of the above-ground length of post so 2 feet buried for a 7 foot post (5 feet exposed).
    2. Add 4 additional inches to this depth. So for a 7 foot post to be buried 2 feet, dig a 28 inch deep hole
    3. Dig twice the diameter of the post.
  4. Pour 4 inches of gravel into the hole.
  5. Place the post in the hole. If working solo, a brace may be required to hold it upright.
  6. Add another 2 inches of gravel around the base of the post.
  7. Level the post at this point! From here on out, the post isn’t going to budge.
  8. Add a few inches of the clay soil by shovelling or pouring from the tarp.
  9. Now tamp tamp tamp until the sound resembles that which you memorized in step 1.
  10. tamp some more for good measure
  11. Repeat steps 8-10 until tamped clay around post is at level with the ground. This takes at least an hour depending on the moisture content of the clay and it is vitally important to take your time. No shortcuts!
  12. Tamp it real hard for good measure
  13. Repeat steps 8-10 forming a cone of clay 2 or more inches high around the base of the post.
  14. Tamp this cone until it rings like concrete.
  15. Attach a paint can lid or similar water barrier to the top of the post


First of all, I can barely do 1 post a day and my arms are numb from the tamping while my first boss could do 4 or 5. But from here on out, the post will last until the wood degrades above ground. Luckily that is a variable that we control and can stave off with sealants or paints.

Why do gardeners, ecologists and arborist warn against the effects of soil compaction on plants? Compact soil is biologically dead and impervious to water. Both attributes prohibit vegetation from becoming established. More importantly, a lack of microbes, oxygen and water prevent the wood from deteriorating underground! While soil compaction is a bane to the farm in most circumstances, it has its rightful applications. The role of the gravel is insurance providing drainage in the instance that water somehow finds its way in allowing to to seep deep into the ground. The cone at the base of the post rising up above ground level should shed all water anyway if compacted enough.

Pictures of the process

Note that I ran out of extra dirt. This will be rectified once I find a source of dirt that is not meant for top soil. It will likely come from other projects on the farm that require light excavation.

Also the damn limestone ledges everywhere on the farm made me have to keep moving my hole after starting to dig it out before I could reach the needed depth! No fence post hole will likely ever have to be this large in diameter.



Gravel added 4 inches below the post and 2 inches around its base




Getting it level with the gravel




Adding dirt little at a time and tamping like crazy! Arms are already like jello at this point


Now they are alarmingly numb, but must push through!




Finally finished. Well almost. Need to get more clay to finish the water shedding cone which I elected to build on the uphill side of the post with the dirt available.




A warning

This fence post is never going to move. Make sure you adequately plan the fencing for this permanence. If it has to be removed, short of major earth moving, it will likely have to be with a chainsaw leaving a stump like a tree. And that stump probably won’t decompose in our lifetime!

One last unrelated note:

I obtained these lightly used fence posts from a farm for $1.50. Items like fence posts can be had opportunistically for deep discounts. Stock up when presented with a cheap opportunity!

I know its strange to mention a fashion blog dedicated to quality clothing in the context of this blog. However created this extremely accurate depiction of sourcing quality goods:

You can get items of good quality EITHER quickly OR cheaply but not both.

By the time a fence is a high and pressing priority, posts are not likely to be cheap. And if they are, I doubt they are cedar, mulberry, locust or osage orange which are the absolute best woods to be sunk into the ground. But who knows, with this method, you might be able to get away with a rot-prone wood!

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.

General Pasture, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Tree Crop and Pasture System Goal Outline for Animals: Spring

Spring hog forage:

No native or naturalized trees can provide crops for the pigs. However despite being single stomached and non ruminants, pigs can surprisingly digest just about anything with no ill effects. That includes pasture grasses, weeds and cultivated crops. As a result, early plantings of brassicas like turnips, rape, kale, fodder beets, and mangels as well as legumes can be integrated into the system providing spring fodder. This site is a great resource.

A plant that has been on the radar of the farm for human and wildlife food could also be used for hogs (if the wildlife can be kept away from the plots). Austrian winter peas are a legume with many nutritional and growth characteristic merits. Intercropping legumes with mulberry orchards is a promising practice that would add three benefits to the system:

  1. Fix nitrogen into the soil from the atmosphere to help feed the trees
  2. Provide multi-seasonal use to the mulberry orchards: pigs can forage legumes in spring then forage the tree crop when it is ripe later in summer. The lifecycle of swine pathogens need to be determined to decide if this is a safe practice
  3. The cover crop of legumes can be tilled into the soil adding organic matter

Really, any of the benefits would singlehandedly merit their use.

While permanent plantings or perennials are desired for their alignment with the goals of sustainable and permanent agriculture, spring may have to be the exception. Especially when the rooting nature of hogs is considered which also makes tubers a great choice for cultivated crops meant for self harvesting swine.

For supplemental feed that addresses protein needs, the most commonly used feedstock is soybean meal. However many alternatives exists that can partially or fully replace soybeans as long as the micronutrient changes are accounted for and addressed. Canola meal, sunflower meal, cottonseed meal, linseed meal, peanut meal, whole or roasted soybeans can all be used if local agriculture produces them.

Lastly, the purpose of pigs on the farm needs to be considered. As an integral biological tool in tilling garden beds, locations for cultivated plantings and compost aeration/turning will occupy the hogs much of spring. Once their biomechanical role is filled, the focus shifts to the purpose of raising them for the meat market. This latter role is where much of the planning of this self-harvesting system is required.

As for the remaining animals in the farm system, the grazers and browsers, cattle and goats respectively, will receive 100% of their nutrition from pasture growth. Poultry will self-harvest as much as they can from the pasture growth and bugs which is about 20%. The remaining feed ration is formulated to address their nutritional requirements and is ever evolving. Poultry rations will be discussed in their own posts.


General Pasture

Opuntia: Prickly Pear Cacti native in Virginia and its fascinating companion

What an unexpected find! While planting apple trees, these cacti were observed and subsequently identified on my favorite plant ID forum.


Somewhat related: I’ve always wanted to brew a prickly pear infused beer. All my attempts at trading harvests with hobby gardeners out west had fallen through so I put the project on the back burner. According to the helpful forum members that identified the cacti for me, the fruit of these wild varieties are intensely flavored but overly seedy. While limiting their uses as a food, it sounds like it would work fine in a beer! Forum members also provided instruction on how to cultivated it in a manner that encourages fruiting.

They also Id-ed the fuzzy cabbage-looking companion to the cactus and it turned out to be fascinating. Most people warned it was an agricultural pest, but it requires open ground where it quickly is out competed by native vegetation and is very shade intolerant. I fail to see how it is a pest!

Especially considering its medical uses in treating:

  • asthma
  • spasmodic coughs
  • diarrhea
  • expectoration
  • consumption
  • dry cough
  • bronchitis
  • sore throat
  • hemorrhoids
  • sores
  • rashes
  • skin infections
  • catarrhs
  • colics
  • earaches
  • frostbite
  • eczema
  • warts
  • boils
  • carbuncles
  • chilblains
  • Antibacterial and anti-tumor

Or its general uses:

  • Green and yellow dye, historically used in hair
  • Candle wicks
  • insulating shoes and clothing
  • Candles and torches when dipped in a fatty material
  • Fire bow or bow drill
  • Insecticide and pesticide and piscicide

Last and most important to the farm, it flowers in excessive quantities providing nectar for bees. Planting this “pest” near my orchards would act like runway navigation lights leading my air traffic to pollinate the fruit and nut trees.

I really need to keep my 2,000 page plant key book from college on hand. Plants will never cease to be amazing.

General Pasture, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Tree Crop Goal Outline for Animals: Preface

Open orchard consisting of very widely spaced trees is the goal of the farm. In fact, the goal is that a casual observer may not even notice any pattern to the trees at all despite their strategic placement. Thus the main livestock focus of the farm will be pigs to self-harvest the tree crops. To a lesser extent goats and cattle will harvest the pasture growth clearing the way for pastured poultry to harvest bugs and tender grasses from the pasture. All animals are integrated into the system in a manner that maximizes land use while using attributes of various pathogen cycles to eliminate them from the farm. No animals that share pathogens will be mixed and forage areas will be rested adequately to prevent any pathogens from obtaining the a livestock host effectively breaking the lifecycle of the pathogen.

Seasonality is the main consideration in design for the various orchards. Dropping their crop and the timing of this event can ensure that the self-harvest of pigs is maximized while minimizing the need for supplemental, off-farm feed. This concept has been broken into 4 posts, one for each season.

As the trees mature and crop bearing increases, the amount of hogs they can support will increase as well. As such, only as many hogs as can be supported by the tree crops will be run. This is a (very) long term project.

Note: Mineral supplement will be available to pigs at all time. Supplemental feed, namely to address protein deficiencies in tree crops, will be available to pigs at all time as well. To the later point, alternative and sustainable/self-sufficient protein sources like mealworms will be explored. Pigs are as intelligent as dogs, so each supplement of mineral or feed will be presented separately so the pigs can freely choose what is needed to round out their diets.