Posts Tagged ‘Animal Husbandry’

January collage

So many of us are working our way toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle. With that in mind we here at NDiN wanted to share some general guidelines of what to plan for on a monthly basis. Whether you’re a gardener, a beekeeper, a forager, or you keep animals, hopefully our monthly guides will help you plan ahead for the month. Depending on your exact climate you may find you need to adjust your schedule depending on your region.

Now that Winter is officially here most of us will be spending a lot more time indoors. For those in the more Southern regions, outdoor work is manageable on warmer days. It’s a good time to focus on the indoors, keeping warm, and getting a jump on this year’s activities.


  • Take down and store holiday ornaments and decorations.
  • Update your address book from holiday cards and gift envelopes if you’ve saved them.
  • Clean out your files in preparation for tax time. Rid yourself of out-of-date warranty cards (update if necessary) and manuals. Schedule service appointments for extended warranties.
  • Clean out dryer vents with a wire hanger and vacuum cleaner. Wash mesh filters with soap and a scrub brush to allow for better air flow.
  • When finding new homes for holiday gifts, clean out unused items and donate those in great shape to your favorite charity.
  • It’s also a great time to photograph your belongings, room by room, for insurance purposes.
  • Start planning your spring garden. Look at gardening catalogs, websites, and blogs (like us!) to get ideas for what to do this year and when. Purchase seeds by March to guarantee delivery and stock.
  • Research and prepare for any animal purchases for the year.
  • Keep a tray of water and spray bottle near indoor plants to adjust humidity levels, especially if you have central air. Running the heater can dry them out quickly and cover leaves with dust.


  • Keep fresh water available and free of ice for birds and wildlife.
  • If you’ve already begun to put out birdseed continue to do so. They’re now relying on you as a food source.
  • If you live in a climate with mild winters, this month may be a good time to dig new beds. You may also want to repair or build new composting bins to be prepared for this year’s cleanup.
  • Keep driveways and walks free of snow and ice. Have shovels, plows, and salt/brine accessible and stocked.

Animal Husbandry:

  • Early birthing will begin late next month for some of you. Make any preparations necessary to help mammas and babies along.
  • Keep barns and other animal shelters clean to help prevent illness and discourage wild critters from nesting. Change hay often, keep tools cleaned up, and be sure to keep water free of ice.
  • Put a light out for an extra two hours in the evening for your chickens. It will help keep their coop warm on colder evenings and promote more egg laying.

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This year we ordered 8 heritage breed hens for laying. We’ve had so much fun with the girls that we’re considering raising more poultry for meat this next year. While my Hubby raised lots of birds in his younger days, this is my first time around poultry. And there’s a lot I’ve learned about raising my first flock (all while listening to Hubby in the background saying, “I told you so!”).


I was adamant that we allowed our hens to free-range. When they were younger we had much more room for them inside their portable run, but now that they’re almost fully grown the run is barely big enough for two girls. So, they pretty much have the freedom to run all over our property.

portable run

During the hot afternoons I can usually find the gals underneath our porch, cooling off. Once the heat starts to wear off, though, I’m in for some trouble. About 6:30 pm every day they enjoy a nice stroll, pecking, pecking, pecking their way up to my edibles garden. A few will even head up toward the roadside to find goodies in the brush. I can almost set my clock to it.


When they’re not under the porch, the girls are busy shredding up my garden beds, ridding me of weeds, insects, and mulch. Judging by this display I’d consider their work leans toward the Post-Modern.


They also like to make work of my compost piles.


I’ve learned to put plantings up high and out of reach. Chickens are like 2-year olds – they have their limbs in EVERYTHING!


And even putting things out of reach doesn’t guarantee that they will be safe.


Of course the fresh eggs almost make up for the messes. But it’s a moment like this that reminds me to giggle.


What have I learned these first few months? Broilers and Roasters will definitely need a bigger portable run!!

Jennifer can be found at Unearthing this Life where she shares snippets of her rural life, recipes, and other blarg-worthy stuff.

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Compared to previous years, it has so far been a summer free of bears here in the valley. Friends visiting have been disappointed to see none on the hour long drive from the foot of the hill down the valley to our community, and I’ve heard of no home or chicken shed invasions since late spring. One theory is that this summer’s forest fires have spooked them all back up the side valleys; if that’s the case, maybe we should organize for a controlled burn every spring!

Not that there haven’t been close encounters. My own was in July, when my dog was more than usually vocal one night. Usually she’ll bark off an intruder once or twice a night, while I lie in bed judging the size of the attacker by the distance Tui moves away from the house towards the perimeter fences. If I hear her echoing against the forest in the distance, it’s a fox, while if she stays close to the front porch and whines, it’s a cougar.

This night it was an in-between barking distance so I knew it was a bear, whose size I didn’t know until dawn when I went out to free the turkeys, laying chickens and meat birds from their respective barns. The stucco wire fence and gate adjoining two of them had been broken down, probably with one swipe of a massive paw, dragging a rail along with a six inch nail away from a wall (see photo).

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

He or she (I suspect it was a she as each year I meet a mama grizzly in our yard with her cubs at some point) was probably excited by the smell or sound of our turkey flock, several of whom perch on the open window sill behind stucco wire, to take advantage of some cooler night breezes. If the bear had been insistent (as we had seen on other properties) our plywood walls would not still have been standing, but they were. I walked thirty meters along the fence line to the forest edge, the bear’s normal trail and entry point into our property, and sure enough, there was the flattened trail in the same place as previous years.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

I began taking my windfall apples and dumping them there as peace offering, but they haven’t been touched in three weeks. This hot summer has meant a good year for wild berries, and now the creeks are full of writhing salmon, so we may be spared any bear predations this fall.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish to give myself or you the impression that the bears aren’t around. My friend Clarence told me just the other day that his daughter, who lives across the highway from his place ‘on our side’ (as he put it ominously) stepped out from her back door last week midmorning to confront a grizzly only meters away. And when I went to pick blackberries in Clarence’s patch last week in the last of our heat, I was un-nerved to come across a maze of flattened vines and grasses. I suddenly felt I was in the middle of a vast alfresco restaurant, with various intimate nooks where bears had lain in the shadows and feasted on the berries hanging off the ‘walls’ in all directions. It was strange to think that a giant paw may have recently brushed over the very berries I was now tenderly plucking. Clarence confirmed the fact by complaining that there is a mama black bear and cub that have been frolicking in the blackberry patch “flattening it and making a mess”.

While picking I was always on the lookout for the mama ‘just in case’. My theoretical ‘bum-per’ sticker says ‘I brake for bears.’

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I’m sure in your area like ours, there are numerous news stories of livestock being rescued, and worse, abandoned because their owners can no longer afford to care for them.  In good times, it is easy to have non-productive animals around.  In hard times,  when money is scarce it can become difficult to take care of the animals we have bred, or purchased.  Not only is the economy tanking, drought and rainy weather have taken their toll on feed crops, making supplies short, and subsequently prices are higher, and quality can be lower.  All these factors combined make keeping livestock challenging in tough economic times.

We realized several years ago, that we were too top heavy in grain consuming animals.  I live on the West coast, shipping in grains from the Midwest quit making sense, and finding out that it may even be actually coming from South America, or China weighed heavily on our minds.  It was hardly a sustainable part of our operation.   We liquidated our pastured laying hen flock, despite having orders for more than the 400+ dozen eggs a week we were already producing.  Had we continued, we would have rapidly been between a rock and hard place.  The price of fuel, shipping and corn being utilized for ethanol production doubled the price we were paying for chicken feed and minerals.  And we were buying huge quantities. 

The next big consumer of grain on our farm were the feeder pigs we purchased to grow out and sell at butcher weight.  The price of weaner pigs went up along with the feed, and processing costs.   It takes a huge cash outlay to raise animals to butcher size before you ever see a $1.00 back.  In the meantime, those animals need feed every day, and since they are growing, they need quality feed.   Growing our own piglets would require a boar and sow and continual feeding of breeding size hogs, no savings there for us.  Pigs are great for dairies who are value adding and making cheese, but I only have one dairy cow, so sometimes I have extra milk, but not enough to count on raising a pig(s) for 5 months.  We raised less pigs this year, and the pigs we sold, paid for our pork.  But, it was still a huge cash outlay, until the pigs were in the freezer.

As we realized the grain situation was getting more and more difficult, the ruminants on our farm were starting to look better and better.  We have beef cattle, and they can harvest all their own feed during the grazing season.  We put up hay to take them through the winter.  But, we also were grazing more animals than we could support on our home farm.  We were doing custom hay, and buying standing grass for haymaking to supplement what we made on our place.  Not feeling comfortable with some of the land management practices, we made the hard decision to cut our herd and to keep the animals that could be sustained year-round on our own property.  It was a good decision, quality hay in our area is very expensive, and in low supply.  There is plenty of cheap, fodder type hay available, but we are selling meat, and to have  good meat quality, the animal should never experience a check in growth.  For beef, that is at least two years. 

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Are we there yet, I don’t know, winter feeding time is not over yet, the barn is still pretty full, it takes a lot of feed just to maintain an animals body condition during cold weather.  During bitter cold weather we feed twice as much hay.  The weather has moderated so the hay pile is not disappearing so fast, but like our other winter stores like food and firewood, we manage it very closely.

Here are some tips to save on the feed bill:

♣  Raise grain eating animals in the warmer months, they will grow faster with ample sunlight and can get supplemental feed from your pasture or garden.

♣  If you have grazing animals, consider rotational grazing to keep your grass growing and in a palatable stage during the growing season. 

♣  If you are buying your hay from a farmer, contact him now, and make a deal early, you may be able to get a discount for speaking up early.  If you can pick up the hay in the field you can save even more money.  Like a CSA, the farmer will be glad to know his crop is “presold” or at least spoken for and that will be a big relief for him.

♣  A pantry for livestock if you will, should be on your stocking up list. Have your winters hay/feed in the barn before bad weather hits.  This goes for pet food too.  As I write this, the major Interstate Highway is closed between Portland and Seattle because of flooding.  Two weeks ago, the Interstate was closed because of snow and ice.  Fuel and human food was not getting through.  Let alone animal feeds.  Hungry animals get destructive, getting out, and wreaking havoc.  That is the last thing you need during inclement weather.  

♣  Consider growing root crops to replace grain for the winter months.  We raise parsnips and carrots for our family cow.  These store easily, and provide energy during the winter months.  Other good root crops are:  mangels, and turnip type crops.  One tip though – turnips and other brassica plants can produce off flavors in your milk.

♣ One other thing while not feed related, but worth mentioning, if you are just procuring your livestock, is that if times get tough, purebred animals will still only be worth what the current meat prices are.  If you are going to raise animals for meat purposes, purchasing grade animals may be a better choice.

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It seems kind of funny to me that by learning how to take better care of my livestock, I learned how to take better care of my family.  I always assumed that items I purchased at the feed store were what my livestock needed.  Just like the grocery store, the products offered for sale are good for you… .  Right?  It took learning alternative farming methods to wake me up.

We always bought the 50 lb trace mineral salt blocks for our cows.  They lasted a long time, and gee they sure lasted quite a while in the rain too.   I never questioned the practice of having refined salt mixed with minerals and pressed into a block.  Like the cow says in Babe, “The way things are, is the way things are.”  Just like taking the germ and bran from the wheat and then combining them again in a granola recipe.  Not good.  Sure all the ingredients are good for you, but in their natural state, not after they have been subjected to the Industrial Revolution method of extracting every last item that possibly can be sold for some “better” use. 

We used loose salt, for salting our hay when storing it in the barn, but give loose salt to the cattle?  Pshaw, who heard of such a thing.  Throw a block or two out there and call it good, and if the pattern they licked into it was interesting, just enter it in a contest.

Once we started giving the cows loose salt, we realized how little salt they had been able to get from those hard licks.  We still were using refined white “feed mixing salt” and they were going through it like mad.  “Geez, a couple of them ol’ blocks would last all summer – what gives, now the dang fools got brain fever or sumpin.”  ” We’re gonna go broke just buyin’ salt fer them critters!”  We stocked up on salt after that first summer of salt enlightenment.  Big mistake.  We discovered how to make our own salt blocks.  Let’s just say we live in a “moist” environment.  By spring, all our extra bags of salt, had become concrete pillows of salt. 

But something had happened over winter, we had read even more about salt, and found some like minded individuals.  We learned that salt was really more important as an industrial commodity.  The industrial concerns get first pick, and the lowly humans and even lower livestock get the rest.  Human salt gets subjected to the same caustic soda treatment as the industrial salt.  Extracted components so important for health are worth much more in the chemical market.  Dessicants and bleaches are added to the refined salt, making it even more unhealthy to consume.  No wonder they recommended low salt diets.  Salt missing it’s magnesium salt component is very bad for us.  After reading this, we bought Redmond mineral salt for our cows.  We offered it free choice, and they loved it.  It only cost about $2.50 more per bag, and even though the salt was naturally moist, it never became hard and unusable.  We never looked back.

Along these same lines, we had also attended several symposiums where Sally Fallon was a keynote speaker.  Her talks about forming the Weston A. Price Foundation were stimulating and especially sessions about good salt being so necessary for true health.  Her recommendation for table salt was Celtic Sea Salt, real sun dried sea salt, with its actual brine intact.  Not to be confused with refined sea salt found in most stores, (including health food stores) Celtic Sea Salt retains all the macro and trace minerals present in natural salts. 

There are many excellent natural salts available.  We have settled on Celtic Sea Salt, and Redmond Real salt for the humans that reside at our farm, and Redmond Natural mineral salt for our livestock.  In our area these are easy to obtain and aren’t really that much more expensive than the alternative. 

A great book on the subject of Celtic Sea Salt and salt in general is:  Seasalt’s Hidden Powers, The Biological Action of All Ocean Minerals on Body and Mind, by Jacques de Langre, Ph.D.

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RealSalt and Celtic Sea Salt. 


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RealSalt and Celtic Sea Salt.  I use the RealSalt in recipes and for the table, and the Celtic Sea Salt in moist recipes that give the salt crystals time to dissolve.

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//i34.tinypic.com/2ziy6va.jpg" target="_blank">View Raw Image</a>I heart manure.  I happen to believe that agriculture needs animals to survive.  Nature operates that way, so I think our farms and gardens should too.  One of the single most limiting factors in a vegetable garden or cropping system is having enough fertilizer.  I don’t mean the 16-16-16 at the co-op, there is plenty of that if you can afford it.  I mean the black gold that comes from gathering animal manures along with carbon materials and letting nature take its course.  Our compost piles on our farm are made up of gathered animal manure, and different bedding materials, such as straw or sawdust.  And I don’t think you need large livestock either.  Any animal will do, for doo.  Several laying hens, rabbits, goats, sheep, and worms are the first to come to mind for a small farm, or urban gardener.  The key ingredient is gathering carbon to tie down those nutrients that your animals are so lovingly giving you each day.  Another important thing to consider is gathering this material now and throughout the winter and early spring.  The soil is dormant now, applying manure or compost can be a potential waste.  Applying fertilizer when plants are actively growing is the optimum time, for the plants, and the soil. 

Where do you find carbon for tying down the nutrients in your manure?  Look around and ask.  A horse stable near us, hauls their stable cleanings, made up of horse manure and sawdust, to us for free.  They see it as a liability.  We see it as free carbon – delivered!  We use it for as bedding for the cows, in addition to straw.  We also buy straw, from a small farmer like us.  I have no problem importing fertility from another farm as long that farmer is willing to part with it, and if I know the farmer hasn’t sprayed a potentially harmful herbicide on his crop.  If I were to grow the grain crop to get that straw, I would have to work up more pasture land, which I don’t want to do.  Any crop that bares the soil, is depleting it.  Grass does not.  So to be ahead of the game, bring in, or grow your own carbon.  You will be at least tripling your output of manure.  Straight manure is too strong anyway for gardens. 

Another way to get more bang for your buck is to feed top quality natural minerals and salt to your stock.  High quality kelp meal and Redmond salt come to mind.  Anything you can run through an animal’s digestive system comes out better than what goes in.  Our house compost goes to our hens, coffee grounds, eggshells, peelings, and whatever.  I don’t have to maintain a compost pile that the dogs want to get into, and the hens get a treat.  Same with plant residues in the garden.  Our Thanksgiving turkey flock has eaten all the spent brassicas from the garden, and the sheep are in the greenhouse now eating tomato and pepper plants.  This helps with the disease factor too.  And it makes less cleanup for me.

One year as an experiment I hauled the cleanings from my milk cow stall to the garden and sheet composted  it.  In 3 1/2 months of barn cleaning, I covered about 1/3 of an acre with those daily wheelbarrow loads.  What did I learn?  I could cover that much ground in a few months with the output of one cow and small calf.  But, I gave the voles excellent cover, and the soil stayed cooler with all that cover.  The soil texture was great when it came time to work the soil, but I probably wasted quite a bit of fertility by putting it on the soil during the winter.  Even though we have a fair amount of manure, I don’t want to waste it.  Now I make large compost piles with the manure from the milk cow.  Our compost piles are outside, but they are about 5′ high and sloped.  They shed rain, and can really compost.  We patiently wait one year before applying.  They are on soil, and completely filled with worms until they are finished composting.

Our beef herd is a little different, when the grazing season is over we keep the cattle in the barns with a small sacrifice area.  Using a deep bedding pack ala Salatin, we can keep most of the manure from getting rained on.  Sometimes the bedding pack is 4′ deep by spring.  We apply clean bedding everyday, and it begins to compost a little, providing a comfortable warm bed for the cows.  How much bedding does it take?  A lot.  Joel Salatin’s rule of thumb is “If you smell manure, you are smelling mismanagement.”  (That little sentence applies to every type of animal.)   Especially ammonia, if you smell that, you should just picture money evaporating into thin air.  That is the nitrogen in the manure dissipating.  Add more bedding.  In a dry climate, you won’t need as much, in a damp climate, you will need more. 

We only have a few hens now, and to make the most of their chicken manure, I place their roost against a wall, and bed the spot under it daily with straw.  It is amazing how much material I can gather from just 11 hens, and a few bales of straw.  It really adds up. 

These are just a few of the ways to gather manure from your animals, if you have them.  I know it can be a pain to clean out stalls, but just think of how good your garden and pasture can grow.  Think of manure as an investment in your future.

 If you don’t have livestock, there are many farmers willing to foolishly let go of one of their better assets.  A quick tour of blogs turned up a couple photos of husbands out spreading manure on the neighbors place!  That is not sustainable for the farm producing the compost, but you can’t blame the neighbor for taking it.  So be frugal and keep your manure at home, and if your neighbor offers his, jump at the chance!

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