Am I Doing This Right?

My farm didn’t come with a manual.  No formula.  Nothing set in stone.  No function you plug values into.    “You take X cows, you take Y acres and you allow Z time and voila, wealth, drought-resistance and ecological diversity.”  No 8-minute YouTube video that will teach you the simple secrets of livestock management on this farm.  Just soundbites here and there.  Things you glean from years of reading books, listening to presentations and, ultimately, doing it all wrong.  I just have to do the best I can and make mistakes along the way.  As an added bonus, I brag about my mistakes on the internet for all to read!

Allow me to describe the farm as I bought it then we’ll take a look at where I hope it’s going…eventually.

House

We moved to the farm house because we had to.  We had a beautiful home in suburbia with really nice neighbors.  We felt safe.  We were obviously weird owning one car, mowing the grass with a reel mower, home schooling our kids and cooking our own food but still, we were able to find meaningful relationships and fun.  I installed hardwood floors, updated the wiring, built bookshelves galore, cabinets and a window seat.  We made the house a home.  But somehow it wasn’t our home…just a place we were visiting.  We began looking for a few acres.  We thought we would go ahead and list our house and by the time it sold we’d find a new place to live.  Well, word of mouth travels fast and before we got the house listed we sold for our asking price.  We had a month to get out and no place to go.

“Well, Grandma’s house is empty.”

So we rented Grandma’s house, not intending to stay.  It was just a place to put our stuff until we could move closer to town again.  Just a couple of acres.  That’s all we needed.  We couldn’t find a couple of acres.  Our business began to grow.  We could no longer sustain our meat, egg and goat milk business on an acre (the yard).  We had to grow.  So we made arrangements with my grandma and my uncle to buy 60 acres of the farm…20 acres now, 40 later.  Hoo boy.  20 acres.  20 acres of thorns.  20 acres that had been grazed almost continuously my entire life and, apparently, had pigs on it constantly before I was born.  20 eroded, weedy, nasty, thorny acres of hills and eroded creek bed far from our primary customer base with the promise of another 40 of the same.  (Did I mention the buildings were (are) in worse condition than the pastures?  How about the fences?)

OldPasture1

OK.  What’s the plan?  On top of a decade spent reading, studying and getting some hands-on experience we spent the first few years on the farm allowing a tenant to graze the land while we cut brush.  Dad mowed the pasture so we could sled.  Then dad got his tractor tires repaired from thorn damage.  We added chickens and goats in rotation around the tenant’s cattle.  Where the goats and chickens had been the grass grew best.  The tenant’s cows spent most of their time on my 20 acres (not the other 40 acres they had access to) eating, tromping and manuring, though unmanaged.  It was obvious that the pasture was improving, the grass density was increasing and the thorny things were being pushed back (though never defeated) by the goat grazing and the goat and chicken manure.  There were fewer thorns in the sled trails every year.

OldPasture

That takes us to now.  The tenant’s cows are mostly fenced out of our 20 (hungry calves still break in from time to time because we have standing grass in the winter and they don’t).  Summer is coming to a close and we are 4 weeks from frost (though it’s over 100 degrees out today).  Our cows are grazing tall pasture in tight, managed, planned rotation.  The girls get fresh forage each day and tromp and manure the ground as they pass.  We overseed where the cows and pigs have already been hoping to increase the diversity of grasses and forbs available in coming rotations…hoping to stretch grazing further into the year with increased plant diversity.  6-12 weeks later we graze the ground again meaning that I have at least 6-12 weeks of standing forage at all times.  Over the winter we’ll graze in strips working to stretch our limited hay supply.  Greg Judy says every inch of grass you can grow is a day you don’t have to feed hay.  If the fall is mild grass could continue growing into December…even if slowly.  Next year we’ll manage all 60 acres.  The plan will stay the same.

NewPasture

Will this work?  The books say it should.  But am I doing it right?  I hope so.  Heavy animal impact for short periods of time with long recovery periods in between grazings.  The picture above was grazed this week.  Am I setting my grass back long-term?  Am I initializing a cycle of pasture improvement or continuing (or accelerating) pasture decline?  I think I’m improving the pasture.  There is definitely more grass out there than in years past and the cow paths are covered in grass.  I’m not using a tractor, a plow, a disk, a harrow, a drill…just hooves, seed and a little hay.  How many years will it be before I won’t need the hay anymore?  All the books say I’ll start stretching later and later into the year without hay and then I won’t need any.  Is that a function of land improvement or of increased management skill?  Dunno.

I enjoy writing this, in part, to give our customers a window into our business.  I also believe I’m making a contribution to a community that has inspired me…contributing to an open-source farming movement.  Am I doing this right?  I hope you can stick around for a few years to find out with me.  I’m writing the manual for my farm.  Hopefully my kids will be able to refer to it.  Your farm manual will be very different.  Are you writing a manual for your land or just playing it by ear?

Goldenrod Down

Yesterday we parked the cows under a hedge tree in a dense, tall stand of goldenrod.  The cows were allowed to the right of the fence (the white line).

JulyGrazing3

Panning a bit to the right, looking at the same place it looks like this now, 14 hours later.

TheDayAfterAs you get closer to the fence there is less trampling.  Makes sense.  The cows are well-trained because the fence is consistently hot.  But huge amounts of green material has been pushed into the soil.  My bees may miss the goldenrod (which makes a lousy honey by the way) in the fall but this is a great first step toward making my pastures better.  We’ll rinse and repeat over the coming years, ultimately getting ahead of the weeds.  The cows also showed me two honey locust trees I didn’t know about.  Hafta fix that.

The cows are up the hill now.  Still full from last night but every one of them has their head down, unless they are eating leaves from a tree.

EarlyMorningMove

Grazing in the Rain

The cows are busy bulldozing the ground the pigs recently worked.  This is a south-facing slope.  The fescue has recovered to 10 or 12 inches and the cows really seem to like it.  We are grazing the fescue pretty hard right now hoping to knock it back and make room for better grasses and an array of clovers.  The cows are taking quite a bit of the grass.  Normally we try to graze the top third of the plant but right now we are letting them take more.  Some of that is our ability to read the pasture, some of it is experience, some of it is intentional.  Early spring weather and fescue are both forgiving.  I am surprised how much fescue the cows are eating.  I am also surprised how much kelp they are eating.  I suppose they are using the kelp for a source of magnesium and the fescue toxicity is low in the cool weather.

Grass

The cows are hard at work but really prefer to graze in the later hours of the day.  We still feed hay in the morning and Julie is milking once/day every other day, letting the calves take the rest.  The ground is soft from pigs and rain and there is a hoof print at least every square foot and a manure pat every square yard.  I have high hopes for this slope as it recovers.  The cows get a series of 20×20 areas throughout the day, anything they grazed 4 days ago gets fenced out.  They have room to move around, find a place to lay down and always fresh grazing.  The 4-day old grazing needs to be protected as it is beginning to recover.

PastureThe cows are regaining condition quickly.  They had about 3 weeks on the eastern face of this hill ending with the top of the hill.  That was largely a stand of henbit, chickweed, fodder oats, fescue and a mix of clovers.  That hill will now rest for at least 45 days before the cows see it again.  Later in the summer it will be more like a 90 day rest period.  I look forward to grazing this again in June…before it gets too hot as there is little shade on the slope.

CowsGood night cows.  We have nearly 3″ of rain in the forecast for the next 30 hours.  I’ll do my best to keep your hooves on fresh ground and your bellies full.

After this hill we’ll take the cows back over West of the cemetery and work our way to the West.  Hopefully when we get there they will be joined by some new friends.  More on that another time.

Sorry the pictures are dark.  I had to take pictures after chores were finished…after I got off work.  Lots to do getting ready for the next round of monsoon.

Pastured Pork Reader Questions

I maintain and encourage offline correspondence with readers.  Many of you all around the world read my blog regularly but don’t comment.  Who are you in the UK, Australia, Hungary, Pakistan and the Netherlands?  What about you Singapore?  India?  Get to know me!

Anyway, this was in with Jesse’s comments about chicken processing:

Jesse:

I also wanted to ask how many sections of electro-netting you are using for your pigs.  My three pigs are in one 100ft section of the premier fencing.  I am moving it once a week, which is taking me about 4 hours total since I have to clear/mow where the fencing is going, then cover seed the old paddock.  I’m thinking of getting more fence and giving them two sections of that fence.  I was curious how much you are using for your number of pigs.

I own 4 sections of pig quikfence.  I use two at a time so I have an empty paddock set up at all times.  I do tear down and set up in my free time, long before I move the pigs.  I’m behind on seeding where the pigs have been but I’ll get it before the next rain.  I need to haul wood chips to fill in the wallow and I need to rake the rough spots smooth.  I also need to cut some brush before I seed.  I’m sold on that deer food plot mix I found with rape, turnip, daikon radish, etc.  Pretty cool.

Jesse later:

4 sections of pig fence, that’s exactly what i’m thinking of doing.  i only have two right now, so when i set the second one up adjacent, i still have to make this awkward temporary chute out of cattle panels because the gates don’t line up.  plus with only 1 100′ section and the three pigs, i’ve been moving the whole thing weekly, and i’d like to be able to let each paddock go at least 2 weeks.  what is your typical rotation time?  do you use a non-electric gate as a door between the paddocks?  or just the break in the pig fence?

where did you find that deer plot mix?  it sounds good, only with my rotation and small number of pigs, i don’t think i’ll be re-using paddocks this year, so i’ve just been seeding with rye grass.  one of the guys at the farm bureau did recommend rape.  man i hate that plant name.  i really just don’t like ordering 10lbs of rape.
There are a couple of ways to set up your fence.  We tend toward setting up an hourglass [two squares].  All four fences join in the middle.  [Jesse later said this wasn't clear so I drew this
[]
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to make it more clear]  We just peel back two posts and feed the pigs on the other side.  When they find their way through we close it up.  While they are eating I move the fence charger.  As time allows I roll up the fence, usually immediately.
Rapeseed looks like kale but is sold as canola.  Pick your term.  I bought the mix at my local farm supply store.  It’s this stuff right here.

Though I like it, I don’t think I’ll buy the mix again.  No promises though.  It’s not difficult to come up with winter rye, cowpeas, clover, chickory, etc and make my own mix…hopefully for less money.  Even planting turnips behind the pigs would be great…especially if I let the turnips grow then put my chickens over the turnip patch after frost.  I’m also spreading raw aragonite behind the pigs.  No, they won’t return to the same ground again but, like the turnip and chicken example, I’m creating forage opportunities for other animals (including wildlife) and establishing groundcover.

I realized later I didn’t answer his question about rotation time.  I’ll try to answer it now.  Ready?  It varies.  I know that is a terrible answer.  Sometimes I just want them to eat and manure a bit.  Sometimes I want them to tear everything up, kill everything and work in wood chips and straw like last winter in the garden.  Sometimes I count on them to clean up weeds and tree nuts but not destroy the pasture.  Sometimes I want them to wipe the pasture out so I can re-seed with a variety of forages.  Sometimes it’s so stinking hot and dry we can’t drive a fence post in the ground with a hammer so we just sacrifice an area.  Yesterday I moved the pigs because they were nearing the end of forage in their pasture and a rainstorm was moving in.  I didn’t want them to create a mud volleyball pit so…off they went.  Here’s Joel Salatin aswering the same question.
Key points:
  • It depends
  • For his pastures, it’s time to move the pigs when they eat 2 tons of feed.  Pigs can create a lot of disturbance on their way to 2 tons of feed so go back to point 1…it depends.

And from Stockman Grass Farmer:

He currently has three pig finishing pastures and another one under development. Each pasture is about two acres in size and is divided into eight smaller paddocks. These pastures are each stocked with 30 to 50 pigs.

He said it is very important to leave some trees in each paddock as pigs are very susceptible to sunburn.

I should also point out that pigs wallow.  Big pigs make big wallows.  As stated above, I fill their wallows in with wood chips, compost, sawdust or old bedding…basically, whatever is laying around.  You might think this is a nuisance but I think it’s a valuable part of pasture renovation and of allowing the pigs to be pigs.
I’m not a pig farmer.  I’m a farmer with pigs.  I’m learning with you and am happy to help discover the answers with you.  If you need real expert help, write a letter to Salatin.  He always writes back.  Also, check out Sugar Mountain Farm.  Walter does things a little differently than we do but he really knows his beans…er…pigs.  Better than that, find someone who pastures pigs locally (yeah, good luck with that!).

Feeding the Pigs

I was asked recently how I feed the pigs…or what I feed the pigs in since round pig feeders are not exactly cheap.  It isn’t a question I had given much thought to as we just solved the problem and moved on.  Our primary motivation is keeping the soil healthy.  After that we work to keep the animals healthy.  Within those constraints we work to find the best combination of durable, local, inexpensive/free and suitable.

If you give your pigs free access to eat throughout the day they will, unsurprisingly, gain weight faster and put on more fat.  If you feed them twice per day they tend to be leaner.  Many, if not most, farmers provide enough feed to last several days and go do other things.  We keep our pigs near our chickens and feed them when we open and close the hen house each day.  We give them roughly 3% of their bodyweight each day of the Fertrell grower ration as well as a little garden waste, some apple drops, acorns or whatever else is handy.  Really, we want them all to be satisfied and have a little feed left in the trough for a snack later.  This would be unrealistic if we were raising more than a few pigs as 4,000 pounds of pork need to eat 120 pounds of feed each day and I doubt my dainty wife is going to lug feed out to the pasture in that volume.

I took some slab oak lumber from my sawmill to the tablesaw and built a durable feed trough.  It works well for 8 small pigs or 4 larger pigs but, again, forces us to put eyes on our pigs twice daily.

We water them with a nipple on a garden hose.  It’s not exactly ideal having  three lengths of garden hose stretched across the pasture but it certainly has a light footprint and is easy to install.  It was also fairly cheap.  There is some concern about the pigs having access to cool water so, on hot days, we disconnect the hose and spray the hogs or their wallow to cool off the water again.  Honestly, I haven’t noticed that the pigs care.

The nipple is on a 3/4″ galvanized pipe.  Actually, it’s 2 pipes and2 elbows.  I use hose clamps to keep the pipe on an old, broken t-post with an elbow pointing over the perimeter fence.  The hose clamps allow us to raise the nipple as the pigs grow.  It’s pretty easy to move when we move the pigs.

Check your hog water several times daily in case the nipple clogs, the hose gets pinched, someone disconnects the water, etc.

Also, be sure to move the hose before you take the mower out to clip the thistle.  I really thought it was 10 feet over!  What a day Saturday was.

Getting to Know Your Dairyman

In nearly every posting I harp on the importance of verifying your farmer with your own eyes and nose.  Go visit your farmer.  If your farmer hasn’t invited you to his/her farm by the third conversation, find a new farmer.

We buy raw milk from Steve Mansfield of Roodhouse, IL.  I have inspected, and continue to inspect, his facilities, pastures and herd.  I trust that he is more concerned with my welfare than with his own wallet.  In fact, I am reasonably certain that he prioritizes his wallet somewhere behind God, family, community and the ecology…though that list may not be in sequence.  He is thoughtful, generous, educated, inquisitive and experienced…things you should look for when interviewing your prospective dairy farmer.  I believe raw milk is good but not all raw milk is equal.  You, the consumer, need to make sure your farmer has clean, slick, fat, healthy animals.  Make sure his dairy is nearly spotless because there is no inspection service here.  You are electing to be the inspector.  You need to be an educated inspector.  This PDF will give you a fair start.

Back to my farmer.  Steve has lived here his whole life.  He owns 140 acres across the road from his mother’s farm.  Steve keeps a full-time job in town and, as a consequence, farms at a much smaller scale than he would like to.  Steve keeps a beautiful herd of Jersey cows (mine are from his herd), raises a flock of layers (he bought from me), keeps a few pigs (he bought from Mike Butcher) and puts in a large garden in addition to his small orchard and keeps a collection of orchids in his solarium.  Yeah.  So where most “farmers” deal in commodities and buy food at the grocery store, Steve and his wife Cindy deal in finished product and shop down the hill from their house.  These are real farmers.

Steve has been dairying for 20 years, initially selling to the creamery in a nearby town, later scaling back and selling directly to consumers.  He currently milks 7 cows in a Grade-A milking parlor.

I asked him a few questions.  Well, I asked him a lot of questions while we were hauling pigs, hauling cows and holding his grandson Saturday morning.  I’m able to quote him most of the time but sometimes it’s just my memory of our conversation.

The Farm

Are you doing anything unusual…even among grazers?
Steve laughed when I asked this then offered a list.  I am under the impression that these are the main points, not an exhaustive list.  He “keeps the calves on the cows, milks once/day, gives no grain to his cows, the cows are on pasture for 20-22 hours each day and he doesn’t milk his cows out so there is plenty remaining for the calves.”  If you have been raised around dairy at all you know this is all just crazy talk.

If you haven’t been raised around modern dairy, watch the video below.  I could dedicate an entire series of posts to the video.  Instead, as you watch the video try to calculate how much fuel is used to feed the cows and handle their manure.  Just try.  Ask yourself if it is more sustainable to bring the feed to the cows or to take the cows to the feed.  Try not to think that their cows don’t get to lounge in the grass, how short their productive lives are or of the environmental impact of that slurry pond overflowing during a heavy rain.  In fact, you might feel better if you just skip the video.

How do you maintain your pastures?  
Steve says he renovates his pastures every 5-8 years to beat back the fescue.  Our fescue is infected with an endophyte and rather than bore you with details I’ll just say it lowers feed intake and milk production.  To fight this Steve tears up pasture and seeds a mix of either clover and perennial rye or alfalfa, timothy grass and orchard grass.

Give me a rundown of the typical day in the life of your cow.
“The cows walk to the barn from as far as 1/4 mile away.

“They then stand outside of the barn hollering for their calves until I get them into the barn to milk at 7:30.

“Then the cows rejoin their calves who enjoy breakfast and lick the udders clean.  This is a boost for udder health and prevents me from spending my morning doing calf chores.

“The calves are then separated into a pasture of their own where they spend the day grazing.

The cows head back to the pasture and get down to business mowing the grass.”

What do most dairies do with calves?
“Most dairy heifer calves in the US are taken from the cow, fed milk-replacer and are kept in calf huts individually.  Once weaned they will follow a grow-out program then will be added to the dry-cow herd, most likely in a free-stall barn so they have room to roam, lay down and eat at the trough.  The bull calves are treated similarly but are shipped as early as possible to be fattened for beef.”

Here’s an overview of the very efficient, possibly immoral process courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension…Wisconsin tax dollars at work.

Raw Milk

The May 2012 issue of Graze published several articles emphasizing the need for producers to educate consumers about the risks involved with raw milk and the need for consumers to evaluate the farm that supplies your milk.  The risks vary from a number of possible diseases to our own weakened immune system and a need for our bodies to adjust before we can digest real, living milk.

Do you feel your average customer understands what raw milk is?
“Most of our customers find us through the Weston A. Price Foundation or through Real Milk.  As a result they are well informed before they find us.”

How are the risks of drinking raw milk different than the risks of consuming any other type of raw food?
“Well, there has been e coli found in Spinach so really it just comes down to evaluating the source of the food.”

…and later, “Johne’s Disease affects 70% of the dairy herd in the US.  Confinement dairies don’t notice it because they burn out their cows in 2-3 years and it affects older cows.  Pasturization doesn’t necessarily kill the organism that causes Johne’s disease and there have been links between Johne’s and Crohn’s in humans.”  Steve runs his cows for up to 14 years, a good indication that his cows are disease free.  He has tested in the past and it has always come back negative.  Don’t be afraid to ask your dairy farmer.  It’s pronounced “Yoh-knees”.

How do you help educate your customers?
“We just talk about food with them.  Most customers are well aware that this is a different liquid than the stuff at the store.  It’s just not a big deal.”

We are very happy with our dairy farmer.  I hope you can find a similar farmer to build a relationship with.  Steve isn’t just some guy I buy milk from.  I count on him to enhance my family’s health and pay him a premium price for that care.  Food isn’t just something you stuff in your face at intervals.  We need to learn to look at it as medicine.  Find a source of medicine you trust with your life.

Before you charge off to find a source of raw milk, take some time to educate yourself on the potential risks.  The organizations I listed above are a great place to jump in.  I also recommend this link.  There are numerous CDC and USDA reports that indicate that raw milk is anywhere from slightly to significanly more dangerous to your health than pasteurized milk.  I believe the real danger is not the lack of pasteurization, it’s the lack of farmer accountability.  Weather you are buying meat, milk or spinach, get to know your farmer.


What Pigeonhole do you fit in?

Is your farm organic?  Is your farm free-range?  Are you just conventional farmers?

We hear these questions frequently from prospective customers.  Let me answer the question.  No.

I don’t look down on my friends who produce organic products.  I also don’t look down my nose at my conventional farming neighbors, though I do hope they don’t go broke.  I really try not to look down at anyone.  I just do my very best to bring a quality product to market that will enhance the health of my land and the local ecosystem and nourish your family.

Our animals are healthy, happy and normal.  Our pigs and chickens are allowed to be omnivores and given regular doses of fresh grass and forbs.  They are expected to contribute positively to our pasture management to earn their keep.  We don’t have chickens for the sake of having chickens, they are a tool that we use carefully.  Similarly, our goats and cows are expected to be herbivores.  They have to eat a wide variety of plants.  Each of our herbivores perform a different function, either mowing and crushing or trimming.  Both add manure.  The milk we receive is a wonderful but secondary goal.  The primary goal is enhanced microbial activity in our soil leading to increase fertility, dense swards, healthy trees and non-eroding waterways.  Again, we accomplish this by keeping the right animals in the right places for just the right amounts of time and allowing them the opportunity to fully express their unique talents.

So, what do you call that?  How about orchestrated, choreographed, local, respectful, ethical agriculture?

How do you, the customer, verify that we actually do what we say we do?  You come see for yourself.

There is no man behind the curtain.  There is no curtain.

We don’t desire third-party verification at this time mainly because we want relationships with our customers.  We want customers who will come and see how things work here, customers who will ask questions and make suggestions and challenge us to continue improving.  We want customers who will partner with us.

What about GMO-free or organic grains?

We’re just not there yet.  I have been in contact with a vendor who can provide me a complete non-GMO feed solution for my stock.  He’s in Ohio.  At this point, we think it’s better for us to buy corn straight from the field that may be GMO and certainly is not organic but is grown within 100 yards away from our house than to buy grain from hundreds of miles away and uses unknown quantities of petroleum to get here.  We buy local.  I am working to influence the local farmers I buy from to take the next step in environmental and ecological stewardship.  They aren’t there yet.  But, together we’ll get there.

I’m buying local, working with what is available here, now.  I’m doing the very best I can to bring a locally produced, quality product to market that was not only humanely raised but humanely processed.  Not only humanely processed but locally processed.  I don’t ship my birds 200 miles for processing just to bring them back again.  We do the work here.  We use local sawdust, local straw, buy local corn, and buy locally produced animals whenever possible.  Sure, there are things I buy that are not local but I try to buy them from local vendors.  For example, I buy coco coir from a vendor close to where I work, though it probably comes from Sri Lanka.

I’m working to be as local as I can.  I’m also working to make it better.

To be honest we aren’t where we want to be on many of these issues.  Please partner with us, join us on our farm, encourage us to continue working and participate in the local economy.

What about antibiotics?

When a cow or horse gets sick we’ll take steps to heal it using whatever technology is appropriate.  We don’t use subtheraputic levels of antibiotics or medicated feed to help the chickens survive until slaughter date.  Our management style makes that unnecessary and we feel that is an inappropriate use of medication.  Though we have never used antibiotics on our animals, even our willingness to use an antibiotic to heal a sick animal would prevent us from achieving organic certification.  I want to care for my stock.  I’m willing to use whatever means are appropriate.  While I’m unwilling to allow my animals to suffer to strive for an ideal, I take precautions to maximize our animal’s immune system function by providing a varied diet, allowing the animals to select the most palatable and nourishing food and providing minerals free-choice.  We minimize their need for immune response with multi-species grazing and long periods of pasture rest and recovery.

Again the best thing you, the consumer, can do is to come see what’s going on here.  I hesitate to quote Regan but I’m asking you to trust, but verify your farmer.

Where are the goats?

The goats finished cleaning up their pasture and since I have a vacation day today I thought we should go ahead and move them a day early.  They moved to an extra-large area loaded with field pennycress, thistle and Osage orange and honey locust saplings.

This opened a new place for the layers to run and play.  The pasture below looked like the picture above three days ago.

Finally, here’s a shot of the pasture the chickens left behind.  Fewer bugs, even fewer weeds, lots of additional nitrogen and plenty of disturbance.  Now it’s time for rest.

Disturbance and rest.  Disturbance and rest.  The greater the intensity, the longer the recovery period.  Disturbance and rest.  This applies to your own body, not just to grass and dirt.  Did you experience intense physical disturbance today or just rest?

The Hare Pen

My oldest son has been wanting to build one of these for a while.  I took a little vacation time to wrap up some things around the farm and this project was on the list.  It’s a hare pen.  It measures 6′x3′ and is 24″ tall on one side, 18″ tall on the other.   3/4″x1″ slats are screwed to the bottom on 3″ centers.  That’s as much of a plan as you’re going to get anywhere.  This is enough room for 8-12 rabbits.

The roof is covered with three scraps of metal we found out back.  The two on the ends are nailed on, the middle one is nailed to a couple of boards to give it weight but floats freely and is easily removable so we can load and unload it easily.

At least 70% of the floor space is open to the ground.  The rabbits are free to graze to their heart’s content, though they also have access to pellets.  We move them a couple of times each day, leaving their manure behind to add to our fertility.

Here are a few links I used to put together my own hare pen.  I have fewer ribs than the original Salatin pen but it seems to work fine.  My kids can manage it on their own.

Grady’s post on Hare Pens.

Video of the Hare Pen in action (from 1:08 till about 3:00)

Survival Podcast Start at around 31 minutes for this detail.

Mowing the grass part 2

The cows, as you know, get fresh grass daily.  Recently I made their pen smaller and I’m just giving them 144 sq. ft. at a time, moving them 5 or 6 times daily.  This results in excellent trampling and manuring as the grass is sheared off evenly and the weeds are either eaten or trampled.  The picture below shows a line I missed when I moved the pen a bit too far, then shows the progress beyond.  At the end of the day I’m putting something on the order of 90,000 pounds per acre across my lawn.  I could go heavier if I had more forage but since the grass is still short I have to move them frequently.

The stem in the center of this picture was a weed I watched Mable take a bite of then spit out.  I guess once they finished eating their ice cream they went back for their veggies.

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not starving my cows into eating the weeds.  They just like to eat.  Check the rumen on this beauty.  The indentation between the last rib and the pelvis sucks in when the rumen is empty.  Flo is looking full.

So what are they eating?  Well, they’re on the old driveway and it’s a weedy mess.

Here is another shot showing the line between what they finished grazing and what they are just starting.

Now, there really is a bit more to it than just moving a panel and waiting for them to eat.  You have to read their manure to see if they are getting enough protein.  This looks pretty good.  A little dry but not bad.

It would be more soupy if the fast-growing green was all they were getting or if I had more clover mixed in my pasture (yard).  I don’t have much clover yet, there is a fair amount of old growth still standing here and they get half a bale of hay every night just to keep things regulated.

Beyond manure I smell them.  Yeah.  Smell their breath.  That tells me a lot about the condition of their rumen.  It should smell sweet.

There are more things I could check if I was more paranoid but if they are laying down, chewing their cud, their manure is pumpkin pie-ish, their breath is sweet, and their coats are shiny they are OK.  The real point is…look at that lawn!  They mowed it, set the weeds back and fertilized it all on solar power.

I think that’s pretty cool.