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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Uncategorized

On-farm milled lumber stash

During my 3 day stint on the farm, I also started building the first brooding hut for baby chicks. I had a design epiphany overnight and ended up tearing it apart and rebuilding it. I’m documenting the process to publish a post on the full design in the future!

For now I will leave you with my stash of oak, ash and cedar 8-12 foot boards that was milled here on the farm. Even though its about 60% depleted, I should have plenty for building brooders, pasture broiler pens, the henmobile for layers and beehives.

IMG_20150119_170731

I also have various other piles reclaimed from torn up decks and various other scrap producing projects!

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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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Garden

Experiment and Advice Needed: Fruit tree woes

I want to put a productive plant in every unused inch of my farm as I possibly can. Vegetables, berries, fruit trees, bamboo, feed crops and anything that can provide food for me, the animals or the bees would be considered. I desperately want a small apple (or other fruit) orchard, but since humans have significantly reduced the genetic diversity of most commercial fruit tree species, I am not confident I could grow them without chemicals or at the least in a low maintenance/effort manner. Cherries are out as they host tent caterpillars. Admittedly, I have a lot more to research to conduct. As such I encourage anyone and everyone to leave their suggestions or experiences!

In terms of research, here are my highlights:

Just about anything from Michael Pollan. I greatly enjoy his writing style and exploration of earth-friendly foods.

The Home Orchard: Fruit Trees Without Chemical Sprays? It Can Be Done. By Adrian Higgins at The Washington Post. This was an enjoyable piece that contained information specific to my location.

From my forestry classes, I am considering many native species: Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), as well as other trees in the Amelanchier genus (serviceberries, shadbushes, juneberries), Persimmon although I have a few stands in the pasture and forest already, elderberry, paw paw, and American Hazelnut. I want to particularly note the Virginia Tech Dendrology program in the Forestry Department as the most fun yet frustrating and time-consuming 1 credit class I ever took. Particularly this PDF from Virginia Tech: Native Fruit and Nut Trees and Shrubs of the Virginia Mountains and Piedmont

Here is where I stand:

Its already been established that blueberries, blackberries and raspberries will be an integral part of the farmstead.

Mulberry trees are the front-runner for newly planted woody species for my area. They bloom for bees and provide fruit for both me and chickens.

Maybe currants near the barn where they would get afternoon shade.

Paw Paw for tasty, interesting fruit.

And a random consideration as I adore avocados, a self pollinating, cold hardy variety.

 

Thats it for now! Again, Please don’t be shy with suggestions or comments!

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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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Garden

Choosing Heirloom Sweet Potato Varieties

As previously stated, I love sweet potatoes and they make up majority of my carbohydrate intake.

 

I found a passionate propagator of many varieties, even those that are rare, in Sand Hill Preservation. I isolated the orange-fleshed, heirloom sweet potatoes for further analysis.

Taken right from their site, the growth characteristics and maturity ratings are as follows:

 

Maturity Criteria

Early:  At 90 days here in Iowa these have reached full size.

Mid-season:  At 90 days here in Iowa these still have roots that need a few more weeks to bulk up.

Late:  At 90 days here in Iowa these only have about 25% of the roots mature.

Very Late:  Really nothing much at 90 days. These need around 140 days.

 

Plant Growth Type Criteria

This is our criteria that we use to classify the varieties’ growth habits. This is from data gathered at our farm, taking measurements from the location where the plant is growing to the distance the vines cover on one side of the plant.

Very Vigorous:  Vines go to 12 feet or more.

Vigorous:  Vines usually go from 8 to 12 feet.

Vining:  Vines go from 6 to 8 feet.

Semi-Bush:  Vines go from 4 to 6 feet.

Bush:  Vines are less than 4 feet.

 

 

Climatic conditions of my location limit me to varieties that mature early or mid-season, preferable the former. Bush and semi-bush align with the goals of my garden production by occupying limited space. As such, I applied scores to each variety based on its characteristics and employed factors to those scales based on importance. Growth Type and maturity are factored at twice the value of yield as they are more important to my goals. To be considered, the variety had to have meet a basic criteria made apparent by the following tables of scoring value.

Growth Type Score
Vining 1
Semi-Bush 2
Bush 3

 

Maturity Score
Mid-season 2
Early 3

 

Yield Score
Average 1
Above Average 2
Excellent 3

 

With the scoring factors applied, the growth types are as follows:

Sweet Potato-Factored

Sorted by total score:

Sweet Potato-Sorted

I now have the four varieties I want to try out! Note that the Qualls Variety is included despite a poor score because it is a Virginia Heirloom variety. Even though it does not support the economical goals of my operation, it aligns with noneconomical virtues of the farm. It could be a great producer or a dud but there is only one way to know for sure!

 

Also: I apologize for using grainy screenshots. When I get off of wordpress onto my own host I’ll switch to HTML tables.

Here is a link to a google doc that contains the above spreadsheet!

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