Side Projects

Revisiting Bamboo as Fodder: Non-Invasive Genus Fargesia

After reading my post expressing my desire to experiment with growing bamboo for fodder, a friend of mine suggested I look into the Fargesia genus of bamboo. He sent me this article titled Non-Invasive, Cold-Hardy Clumping Bamboos/ The genus : Fargesia.

As explained in the linked article the Fargesia genus of bamboo is cold hardy but more importantly the root characteristics are non-invasive. The difference lies in the fact that the roots are clumping instead of running much like the perennial bunching onions mentioned previously. Pachymorph describes this nature of the roots opposed to leptomorph which describes the running rhizomes of invasive bamboo species. The latter is an organism much like turf grasses which both homeowners and gardeners know can be a pain to contain!

Phenomenons occur with bamboo that are still not well understood by man. Bamboo will flower, create new hybrid seeds from the flower pollination then typically die. This makes preserving the parent specimen difficult unless it is clonally propagated before its death. However the result is many new varieties of bamboo from the hybrid seeds. This monocarpic reproduction resulted in the death of the entire population of cultivated Fargesia in the 1990’s but resulted in offspring that vary wildly in characteristics.

Species Selection:

Also pulled from the linked article is a breakdown of the different species and their characteristics that I have condensed. All included species should do well in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia’s USDA hardiness zone of 6-b.

Fargesia denudata:

Arching habit [Green house or garden hoop row construction candidate]

Tolerates not only the frozen winters but heat and humidity

It can reach a height of 15 feet, but normally 10 ft

USDA cold hardiness zone 5-9.

Fargesia robusta ‘Pingwu’ Green Screen™

Very upright

Holds up well in the heat and humidity of the Southeastern U. S., unlike other Fargesia types

Maximum height is 18 ft.

USDA cold hardiness zone 6-9

Fargesia rufa ‘Oprins Selection’ Green Panda™

Extremely cold hardy and heat tolerant

It grows into a large clump (6-8 ft wide)

Arching stems

Maximum height is 10 ft. maximum and culm diameter is 0.5 inches.

USDA hardiness zone 5-9

Grows well in shade as well as full sun

Fargesia scabrida ‘Oprins Selection’ Asian Wonder™

Very narrow leaves and a graceful appearance

Stems show great color, with orange culm sheaths and steely-blue new culms (stems). Culms mature to olive green.

Maximum height is approximately 16 ft

USDA zone 5-8

Prefers sun to partial shade

Again, all credit for the information in this post is retrieved from here and due to:

Susanne Lucas, Horticulturist

Pioneer Plants, LLC. http://www.BambooSelect.us

9 Bloody Pond Road, Plymouth, MA 02360 USA susannelucas@gmail.com

[Note, I think her address is badass!]

I don’t really have a preference for species. For fodder any of the plants will provide the goats and other animals with the fun of browsing vegetation 10 feet tall. For building materials it would seem that the tallest species at maturity are the best choice. I am going to find what is available locally or by mail order, then make my decision.

Advertisements
Standard
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!

Standard
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!

Standard
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!

 

Standard
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.

 

Standard
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!

Standard
Chicks

Modelling the HenMobile

Eggs will be a useful and economical byproduct of pasture sanitation. The chickens will follow the cow rotation on a 5 day delay to allow fly eggs to be laid and hatched in the cow manure. In order to get to their nutritious meal, the chickens will scratch and fling the manure. First this process distributes the manure so the cows can re-graze the entire paddock upon pasture regeneration. The nutrients in the manure are broadcast so they build soil more evenly opposed to inundating patches with the acute manure piles. Lastly, the scattering of manure helps to break and prevent pathogen growth cycles.

My mobile chicken house will provide water, shade during the day and predator protection at night when the chickens are enclosed within. Half inch, 19 gauge hardware cloth will let excrement fall through further fertilizing the pasture while keeping snakes and predators out. Water will be provided via an old 6.5 gallon bottling bucket retired from brewing beer. Via gravity, a short length of hose will feed water to nipples on a pvc pipe. The nesting boxes will be accessible from the outside for easy egg retrieval.

I have not decided on a trailer base for the henmobile, so I put it on a generic 4×8 utility trailer for reference. There are no structural considerations in my model yet. Without further ado, here is the hen mobile modelled in Sketchup!

Standard