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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Chicks

Implementing the Farm in Phases, Cattle out, poultry in!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have probably determined that I want a wildly diverse farm. Since I am embarking on this solo, I need to constantly remind myself to SIMPLIFY!

Cattle prices are at an all-high. They require fencing, more equipment, incur more risk and have a larger learning curve. As such I am going to cut my grazer efforts down to a hobby level for the first year. A few goats or calves should allow me to learn the ropes and still use them to mow down the pasture ahead of the chickens. Grazing ahead of pastured poultry is required to open up the grasses to access bugs, cut down on cover for land based predation and helps put the grasses into active growth that will readily absorb the 300 pounds per acre of nitrogen that the pastured broilers will put out.

As such I am going to officially declare (to myself more than any other target) that I am going to focus all commercial livestock efforts on raising poultry. That means pastured egg production and pasture broiler production. This removes any immediate need for fencing and removes many of the complications that come with raising cattle. Pastured poultry requires next to no equipment and very little initial investment of capital and time.

A famed pastured poultry farmer warns me that the consumer meat market won’t support small (normal) chicken breeds. It requires the double breasted monsters that have been bred by the poultry industry.

I am at a crossroads. Do I raise birds that I can actually sell and focus on producing nutritious meat through pastured management? Or do I raise heritage breeds that mature much slower and probably won’t sell but hold true to my virtues.

I hope you don’t hold it against me to go with the former. Ideally I hope to re-breed some birds that are a compromise. Currently nothing exists between confinement bred, efficient high-yielding meat producers and forage friendly natural birds. I’d like to bridge that gap but must take these things one step at a time! My compromise is to raise one pen of heritage broilers (males from my laying hatches) and the rest will be market-friendly Cornish Crosses.

Expect this years practical posts to revolve around commercial gardening, beekeeping and chicken rearing from brooding to processing! Next year I may implement beef but the truth is that I was not confident about making a profit after crunching the numbers of local beef sales. Grazers play a pivotal role in my farm model, but every man and animal involved will benefit from me not diving into too much too soon!

Now if only turkeys were not the most skilled livestock animal at finding creative ways to die. They are an awesome pasture species as they can actually forage a large percentage of their caloric intake from grasses while the Cornish Cross broilers will get only 30%. I will raise a few generation of heritage chickens on pasture that can set an example for the turkeys first.

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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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Chicks

Objectively Choosing Heritage Chicken Breed for Pasturing

Continuing the style of scoring and factoring that I used in Sweet Potato Variety selection, a somewhat-objective scoring system for heritage chicken breeds was used. This time I used a chart published by The Livestock Conservancy. While many organizations have published similar chicken charts, I used this one because it lists forage ability and some predator-savviness information.

For a chicken breed to be considered, it had to be suited for both hot and cold climates as well as lack vision-impairing plumage on its head that would blind it from incoming aerial or land-based predators. For my purposes, forage ability and egg laying rate are the two most important considerations so those scores are factored at twice the weight as other characteristics.

I’ll spare the minute scoring details as you can ascertain them from the end product. The breed characteristics that were considered are:

Forage Ability

Climate Tolerance

Egg Size

Bred for Meat or Egg Production

Laying Rate

Comb Prone to Frostbite

In alphabetical order, the scoring and factoring is as follows:

ChickenScoringAlph

Sorted by highest score:

ChickenScoringScore

As you can see, my top 3 breeds are

Dominique:

Australorp:

Rhode Island Red:

There are also many more high-scoring breeds for consideration when seeing what is available at the hatcheries!

Here is a link to my spreadsheet on google docs if you want to view, download or adapt it to your needs.

And here is one that I will add to the sweet Potato Selection Post.

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Chicks, Garden

Wintering Chickens: Shelter, feed, minerals

Wintering chickens actually seems like the least intimidating part of starting the farmstead.

Shelter- Hoop greenhouse over garden. One example is $100-$150 for a 9’x8′ structure. I can easily predator-proof it, provide deep bedding and lock the chickens in at night while letting them wander the garden by day fertilizing everything.

Feed – I am a big advocate of letting animals express their genes thus allowing them to alter their own diets to make up for deficiencies. I will provide them with basics. Carbohydrates will come from spent brewing grains and garden produce. Squash, sunflowers and Corn will be grown specifically as winter chicken feed as they both store well when harvested and handled correctly. Soil in the garden is rich with earthworms to provide protein (28% by composition) and fats while the worms are active. Additionally, red wiggler worms will be an integral part of the composting system and can be fed to the chickens. Honey locust pods are easily collected from the many trees in the pasture. The pods could also be collected for the goats winter feed. Persimmon trees are numerous and heavy producing, but are not as easily harvested.

Supplements- Keeping as much feed on-farm as possible, yeast will also be an abundant byproduct of my brewing operations. Enough yeast for subsequent batches of fermentation can be harvested when the current batch is complete leaving about 95% of it to go to waste. That wasted yeast is a great source of vitamins and minerals including calcium, the most important consideration for laying hens. To ensure all nutrient needs are met, I will provide some off farm sources to see if the chickens utilize them. These will most likely be kelp, oyster shell or other conventional sources.

Future considerations: Aquaponics to recycle processed chicken innards and waste as fish food as well as worms that feed on chicken droppings.

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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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