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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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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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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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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Cattle

Determining Paddock Needs

While technology is often is a distraction and detraction to satisfaction, it provides invaluable tools. My planning will be done through Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to maximize performance and efficiency of the farm operation.

Calculated Square Footage: Top Row is with Trees Removed

Acrage2

 

Instead of basing my calculations off of stocking rates and head of cattle, I am going to use the amount of land available.

Through much trial and error, I was determined to find a paddock area that would yield 40 individual paddocks. Complicated by removing trees from my pasture data, I could not simply divide my total area by 40 (although parcel editor seems to be able to accomplish this even though I could not get it to work). So the production process consisted of cutting, merging and various other GIS processes as well as running a python command. Here it is for any other GIS users out there:

arcpy.CalculateField_management(“Pasture_Boundary”,”Acreage”,”!shape.area@squarefeet!”,”PYTHON”)

The python command re-calculates the area of the paddocks in square feet.

In the end, I found that 5,000 square foot paddocks produced 45 ugly-shaped but usable paddocks. Remember that grass growth factors rely on climatic variables. The truth is that grass may not regenerate quickly in a drought situation. So I want to give each paddock at least 30 days of rest with an option for 10-15 to accommodate potential drought situations. I designed 40 paddocks for cyclical use while leaving 5 open for the existing wildlife corridor to be used only if necessary.

Proposed Paddocks

5000sqFT_Parcels

Now it will be easy to determine fencing needs!

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