Cattle, Chicks, Garden

Purchased Tanks for Water Collection: Warnings and Advice

I have been browsing craigslist regularly for anything from animals to equipment to discarded plastic drums for water tanks. After doing some extensive math that will be included in a future series of posts, I quickly realized that the rainwater collection system would be best served with a higher capacity than 55 gallon drums could accommodate reasonably.

Off to Craigslist in search of some of the 250+ gallon tanks that come in metal cages, pictured below.

Water Tank

First for the warning: Like 55 gallon plastic drums, be VERY particular to source a tank that stored food materials or safe chemicals. Watering animals, plants or yourself with water tainted by industrial-grade acid, chemicals, etc would be tragic and entirely avoidable.

Advice: Don’t write off tanks with chemical stickers like I almost did. Luckily the craigslist ad for 300 gallon tanks had a price that made me inquire despite almost dismissing the option due to visible chemical stickers on the tanks. Here is a picture from the ad:

TanksCL

Turned out the tanks contained medical grade Hydrogen Peroxide. The seller of the tanks explained that he does not clean them out as the solution keeps the inside of the tanks sterile. All that is needed to make them food-safe is to add 10 gallons of water, slosh it around and dump it out as the trace amounts of it have been diluted to ~1% and will break down into water + oxygen gas once exposed to light.

Self-sanitizing 300 gallon tanks at twice the local going rate for 55 gallon drums? I took as many as I could safely haul at once and may go back for more. They would make the perfect mobile watering tank for cattle, rain barrels or even a tank to combine smaller rain water containers together! Also I am sure they could be used to barter with other farmers/gardeners if I find myself with too many in the end.

To recap, when sourcing potential water tanks, be very careful to determine exactly what they held previously. If they were used for non-food uses, see if there is a way to make them food safe before writing them off. After all I much prefer my Hydrogen Peroxide container to the cleaning I’ve done in the past to an agave or honey container!

 

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Cattle, Forestry

Carbon Medium for Nutrient Absorbtion in Compost while Wintering Animals

Follow up to Wintering Animals = Backbone of Soil Building

Capturing all of the nutrient rich excrement from the wintering of animals is going to require a huge amount of carbon. Skills I have gained while studying forestry and the associated graduate projects I assisted will be called upon in order to accumulate the carbon biomass I will require. I’ll write a well-cited post on my sustainable forest management plans once I have finished collecting and amassing my research. The gists of my strategy will be to provide the canopy disturbance necessary to have a healthy, sustainable forest.

Good points were made in Joel Salatin’s book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal. Starting around page 182, Salatin asserts that soil is built and carbon sequestered more efficiently via grasslands opposed to forests. Trees grow very slowly, then die. As they decompose, much of that sequestered carbon is released right back to the atmosphere. Grasslands grow, die and decompose every year; multiple times a year if serviced by grazers and herbivores. However the sequestered carbon in the grasslands us more fully absorbed by the soil and stored in the animal tissue of grazers. Salatin’s assertions seem to be backed up by this study I found.

To minimize the negative impact of forest land on the atmosphere, I plan to eventually harvest the dead, diseased, crooked or otherwise undesirable trees from the forest to make room for subsequent generations of oak and hopefully someday soon, American Chestnut. Despite my minor in forestry, I have a lot more to learn about sustainable harvesting. Fortunately, there are many pioneer trees in the pasture that need removed, and the unmaintained forest has many dead trees that should sustain me for at least a year while I broaden my forestry knowledge.

I will likely invest in a wood chipper to process the farms own biomass to provide the winter bedding. I may also seek out locally discarded christmas trees, shredded paper/cardboard, peanut hulls (suggested by Mr. Salatin in our correspondence) or any other source of easily attainable carbon material.

Note: If you plan to store wood chips on your farm, please be sure to do so in a manner that accounts for the heat generated as they naturally decompose. Limit the height of piles to prevent a fire hazard in your structures and to ensure that the chips dry fully.

 

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Cattle, Garden

Wintering Animals = Backbone of Soil Building

Pulling directly from Joel Salatin’s model at Polyface Farm located in the same valley as my own farmstead, the key to building soil will be through compost.

Have you ever turned onto a country road to be immediately hit by the stench of a chicken house or cow operation? What about seeing a huge manure lagoon, no matter how pretty the tank is dressed up?

Farms that smell are polluting by leaching nutrient-rich animal waste into the atmosphere or ground water. My main issue with industrial farming is that carbon is being pulled from the soil and not replenished whether it is by crop production or animal grazing. The agricultural world is slowly realizing that healthy soil and all of its micro/macro organisms need more than periodic injections of Petroleum-based Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) fertilizers. Most of all, soil requires organic matter, not to mention multiple other elements beyond the three provided by surplus explosives after World War I. Did I mention the inventor’s role in producing chemical weapons caused his perfectionist-chemist wife to commit suicide?

Back to my farm operation. The backbone of building soil on my farm is going to be the composting of animal wastes captured during winter in a carbon medium. Joel Salatin accurately refers to it as “A Carbonaceous Diaper”. Each cow will produce up to 100 pounds of nutrient rich waste a day. Thats a lot to capture and I will have to lay down fresh, dry carbon bedding pretty frequently! I will discuss the sourcing of carbon in a future post.

Every time I lay down additional bedding, I will toss in some goodies. Local corn, spent grains from brewing beer, old hay, etc. The cows will tromp down the manure/bedding into a pretty solid manure pack. The anaerobic decomposition process will start building soil while also providing heat for the barn and animals. After the cows head back to the pasture in the late spring, it will be time for the pigs to shine! They will be brought in to root up the compost to find the treats I left them. This process will turn the compost as well as aerate it which turns the decomposition aerobic, completing the process of turning the waste into the highest quality soil possible!

Stay tuned for a post on sourcing the carbon for bedding!

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