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, 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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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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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!

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Cattle

Calculating Cattle Needs

In my previous post, I decided to start with a paddock size of 5,000 square feet. Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm has recommended in the past to use 200 square feet per cow-calf pair per day.

I adapted that figure to 300 square feet per pair per day as the pasture I will be using has been unmaintained for about a decade. So until I see how much the cattles graze, I am going to be very conservative. The beauty of Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG) is that I can easily change on the fly if required.

So theoretically, each daily-use paddock: (5,000 ft^2) / (300 ft^2/pair/day) means I can support 16 and 2/3 cow-calf pairs a day.

I made an interactive spreadsheet to automate these calculations for different scenarios, but I will save that until I dig more into the economics of cattle.

CattleNeedsBasic

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