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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General Pasture

Calculating Fencing Costs

Full digitization of fence lines and posts in GIS software makes the basic calculations simple. GIS provides geometry of the digital features including fence length:

Total Length of Permanent Fencing

(In “Sum” field)

FenceLength

Also determined by GIS, I have 26 wooden corner posts and 162 steel line posts in the full phase fence plans. Breaking it down to Phase 1-only shows a need of 23 wood and 119 steel posts.

Those figures alone let me derive most of the other materials needed in simple excel formulas. For example, each wood post requires insulators for both the spark and ground wires, while the leaving the steel posts uninsulated to the ground wire acts to ground it! However I am still trying to research if it is desirable to only leave the steel posts uninsulated at specific intervals. I am also debating if I need to install a gate at every paddock. For now the last question is factored in as affirmative.

For Phase 1 Fencing:

Fence Calc P1

Now with 3 wires added for phase 2 plans, the calculations are as follows:

Fence Calc P2

Other than buying the animals themselves, this should be the biggest investment I have to make!

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General Pasture

Fencing Phases

Goats are awesome and I require a few on any farmstead operation I undertake. They are fun, have a lot of personality and provide awesome milk! I only want enough to provide milk and occasional meat to myself. However they are also quite adventurous and have a reputation for escape artistry. Consequently, fencing matters are complicated by goats.

Ideally I would like to run the goats and cows together to reap the benefits of multispecies farming. The goats will remove woody and broadleaf plants from the pasture while cattle turn the solar energy capture by grasses into protein! Since the pasture has been unmaintained, there will be plenty of work for the goats whose salary will be a feast of heavy populations of immature trees and brushy areas.

Fencing will be done in two phases. Phase 1 will serve the needs of permanent and temporary fencing for the cattle while providing the goats with their own movable electric net fencing. At lease the cattle will trample whatever plants they don’t like but I would like to let the goats harvest that biomass. The major difference with Phase 1 alone will be that the permanent electric fences contain only 2 wires. One or two wires will be use for the temporary paddock boundaries.

Phase 2 will accommodate the mixed goat-cow heard by upping the wire count to 5 (or more). The electric fence netting will be used as the temporary fencing for the mixed herd.

Eventually I would like to rebuild the permanent parameter fence for a big of escapee containment insurance.

My main concern is predation of the goats when separated from the cattle…and even when the herds are mixed. If coyotes prove to be an issue, we can have a vote when the time comes: llama, donkey, mule, guardian dog?

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General Pasture

Mapping the Fence Posts

Lucky for me, there is a built-in tool in GIS software that allows points to be added along lines. I’m going to go ahead and add the points then make modifications to the fence line and posts together.

Constructing Posts:

 ConstructingPosts

Based on recommendation from fence vendors and manufacturers, I want the distance between posts to be no greater than 45 feet. Since I have to chose units in the same coordinate system I am using (State Plane), my input is 16 meters (~40 ft). In the “Construct Point” tool, I choose to create points based on the desired interval, not a total number of posts. Clearly you need posts at the start and end of the fence so that option is selected as well:

ConstructingPosts2

The fence posts will now be outputted to the blank point shapefile in which it was directed. Keep in mind that these are only the permanent fence posts!

For electric fencing, I want well-anchored wooden post for corners and galvanized steel for the line posts. The galvanized posts have an additional benefit of acting as grounding rods for the electric fence system while the braced wooden posts keep everything secure. Symbolized wood/steel posts, cleaned up fence lines and cleaned up post points yield the next iteration of my fence map:

FencePosts

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General Pasture

Mapping the Fences

Now that the paddocks are roughly mapped out, I can start mapping the fencing. My plan is to have multiple rows of permanent fencing running north-south with an east-west gap of about 100 feet. Temporary fencing can be laid east-west and moved daily to create new paddocks. Therefore the paddock area can be adjusted if necessary by how far apart the temporary fences are spaced.

Using maps to optimize the fencing uses additional factors than just creating exact areas. Using the parcels as a basis, elevation is also factored in as the most optimal fence will follow the contours as efficiently as possible. To achieve this I downloaded LiDAR data. LiDAR is collected from an aerial source that broadcasts a laser then senses and analyzes the reflected light. It is one of the most accurate technologies to collect elevation data but it is very expensive. Luckily free LiDAR data is available for my farm, but please consider making a donation to show your appreciation if you use free LiDAR data!

Fencing can now be optimally mapped thanks to high resolution, LiDAR-based digital elevation model (DEM).

LiDAR_Pasture

Now I can do my best to plan the fences based on my paddock area needs as well as keeping the permanent segments as straight as possible and minimizing elevation change where possible.

Fences Mapped:

Fencing_Managmen2

There will still need to be some manual cleanup to close some ends, accommodate developments in planning and work with the trees in the pasture. Here is the starting point for you to follow along!

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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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