Happy Canada Day!

This is a shamelessly patriotic post – which is very un-Canadian, eh?

July 1st is Canada Day nowadays, but when I was a child, it was called Dominion Day, to commemorate the day in 1867 when Canada became a Confederation of 4 provinces.  Interestingly, not all the provinces existed at that time – BC didn’t join till 1871, Newfoundland not until 1949.  It was changed to Canada Day in 1982 probably to get people’s thinking away from the connotation of dominion and the fact that we are not “independent” in the sense that the US or France are.  I’m not Quebecois or First Nations, so it’s easy for me to say this, but I’m OK being part of a commonwealth of countries bound by allegiance to one figurehead.  I guess if that figurehead was a despot and tyranny was the order of the day, I’d feel differently.

There are many things I wish Canada would do differently.  There are things I wish had never happened here.  But there is so much that is good about this place and this group of peoples, that for today and becaues of who I am, I’ll raise my glass to Her Majesty and my country, and thank God that I am able to call this home.

Following is a video version of the poem “We are More” written and narrated by Shane Koyczan, a Canadian poet who shared this at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics:

Joel Salatin workshop part 4 – Cattle, poultry and more

Polyface Farm has many enterprises going on all year round.  In spring and summer, most animals are out on pasture, in the winter, most are brought in or processed.  This post looks primarily at stocking density for cattle, the various poultry enterprises on the farm – eggs, pasture sanitization, broilers and turkeys, and a few words about Daniel Salatin’s rabbit enterprise.

Cattle: stocking density – this is rough, depends on grass quality, animals, climate, season, etc…
-300 head: 1 1/2 acres/day
-100 head: 1/2 acre/day
-2 head: 200 sq ft/day

-brix levels are highest in the evening, one reason Joel moves his cattle around 4pm. Also why people cut their hay in the late afternoon.

– farmers always talk about Average Daily Gain (ADG) as the the indicator of success, but it’s not actually what they get paid for – what they get paid for is Gain per Acre (GPA). If ADG is high, GPA will be low, and vice versa, so the trick is to find the balance.

-stockpiled forage – looks terrible, late summer grass. 100 head on 1/4 acre, they eat it and tromp it in, still builds soil.

-water systems:  Polyface uses full flow valves, 18″ cutout contains the hookup (frost free).  Polyface has a lot of ponds, building more.  the water system for all the grazing areas is from the ponds.

-ponds:  build them.  Joel is a big fan of ponds – when he’s ready to build a new one, he hires a guy with a digger to come and dig it out for him.  He doesn’t use these to catch groundwater, but rather rainwater.  He also doesn’t tap into the small river on the farm, feels river water is for everyone, he can’t justify putting a pipe in it.  By harvesting rainwater, he is able to beat droughts, and the local ecology benefits.  Since the water is used for animals, it goes back in the land anyway and makes its way to the groundwater.

-If you’re making a pond and it won’t seal, put pigs in and let them wallow.  They could probably seal a pond built in gravel (Joel Joke).

-12 feet is plenty deep for a pond.  Have the system set up so it takes water from 16″ below the surface (best water) – have the pipe come through the wall of the pond through a pond collar, and then up in the middle of the pond – hold the pipe vertical with a float of some sort.  Use flex tubing for the vertical pipe.  You will need a filter even though pulling water from below the suface.

Eggmobiles:  his first prototype was built on bicycle tires, 6 x 8 house, nest boxes over the wheels.  It held 20 hens originally, then went up to 50.  He had a hinged fence with 6 panels and 4 popholes on the house, so he set the fence up from each pophole till the area had been done, and then moved the eggmobile.  He originally did the eggmobile as a way to house a laying flock cheaply, but when he accidentally had them near the cattle and saw how they tore into cow patties, he had a eureka moment and the eggmobile idea took off.  Today he is taking advantage of economy of scale – has 2 eggmobiles hooked together (like a train).  800 birds in each.  He gets 200 dozen eggs/day from these two eggmobiles.

-with the early, little eggmobile, he didn’t feed the birds, just relied on them ranging.  With the higher density system he does feed them.

-eggmobiles are land extensive – need at least 50 acres to free range the birds, or else they’ll go to the neighbours or back to the barnyard.  They are perfect for pasture sanitization – the main advantage, the eggs are a side benefit.

-Polyface also has commercial scale pastured eggs, called the Feathernet – shelter is an A frame with scissor braces, 16 ft wide, on 3″ pipe skids, roof is 32 ft long, 20 ft wide.  1000 hens, 1/4 acre enclosed with electric net, moved every three days.  They keep guard geese with the flock to minimize predation by hawks or vultures.  Also livestock guard dog.

-In the winter, hens all come inside – hoop houses – bedding is 18″ of wood chip to start, gets added to over the winter season.  Inside some of them are 4 x 8 slatted tables with nest boxes, chicken feeders and waters.  Small pigs are on the ground, chickens are free but need the ability to get up onto the tables if need be (once they get bigger, pigs eat chickens).  Some houses have rabbits in cages up on racks in the hoop house, with chickens scratching around underneath.  The bedding is composted by the pigs and taken out to the fields when the hens are put back out on pasture in the spring.  The hoop houses are then used for veggies.

Rabbits – Daniel Salatin, Joel’s son, began with a pair when when he was 8 and has been line breeding from that pair ever since – he is now 30.  The rabbit enterprise brings in about $8000, sold mostly to restaurants.

-line breeding was a controversial topic of discussion during the workshop, but Joel pointed out that it accentuates both weakness and strength, and that Daniel culls accordingly.  In nature, animals are not picky about next of kin.  Daniel had 50% mortality rates for the first 5 years of his breeding programme – which worked out ok for him because he had a friendly banker (Joel), and was also very young.  That mortality rate might have been harder to take as an adult.

Turkeys:  brood 1 turkey poult with 5 chicks, so if you have 25 poults, put them in with 125 chicks.  Poults do everything they can to die until they’re a few weeks old, but the chicks will show them food and water which significantly improves their chance of survival.  Joel, like most of us, thought turkeys and chickens couldn’t be mixed because of blackhead, but his daughter in law’s family had always done it that way, so he gave it a try and it works. (as an aside, my hatchery catalogue recommends the same practice). At 7 weeks, put the turkey poults out on pasture.  If they go out before that, they can get through the squares on the netting and just ignore the shock.

-the Gobbledy Go house for turkeys is a portable shelter 32 x 12 ft, and holds 500 turkeys.

About half the audience had some experience with cattle, most had chickens, and a few had raised a couple of pigs, so the type of questions led to some interesting discussions.  The slide show that went with the whole livestock presentation was wonderful.  To get some glimpses yourself go to Youtube and search for Joel Salatin or Polyface farm – many videos are by people who went to field days and you can see many of the enterprises mentioned above.  As usual, the challenge for me is to be creative enough to scale some of this down – 800 hens in an eggmobile is not going to work on 14 acres for example.  But I met a lady who has 50 birds in 3 small eggmobiles – she can push them by herself around her property. She went to this model because of predator issues, and I can totally see that working here.  So one of the big benefits of the workshop was hearing how other people do things.  Which is one reason I like reading farm blogs – there are some great ideas out there!

Joel Salatin workshop part 4 – Pigaerators

Pigaerator Pork is Joel’s term for the pigs he uses in a couple of ways on his farm. Joel is famous for his use of “stacking” various enterprises on his farm, and the pigs are a classic example of how he does this. If you break the word down – “pig” and “aerator”, you pretty much know what their primary function is on Joel’s farm – I should end the post here! But I’m not going to – I have plenty of notes to share:

– Polyface buys weaners (piglets to be raised for meat) and raises them to about 300 lbs
-their first function is to aerate the bedding pack after the cattle leave the hay shed in the spring and go back out on pasture. This is accomplished by adding corn to the bedding pack when they are adding more carbonaceous material. The pack can get as high as 4 ft.  The hay gate is on pulleys so it can be raised to accomodate the bedding pack.

-120 days before the corn in the bedding ferments into nothing.  If you put it in the pack in January, you have to get the pigs in there by the end of March.  70 lb corn per cubic yard of bedding (note:  this seems like a lot to me – any input anyone?).

-a dairy farmer in Ontario using pigaerators grow long stem barley, harvests it with the seed head left on, bales it up like that.  Uses it for bedding, and when the pigs go in, they’re after the grain.  The farmer gets 800 bales/acre of 8ft tall barley.

-10 pigs for 3 ft deep bedding.  Give them an area of about 200 sq ft for 30 days.  They don’t get other feed at this point.   If the area is larger, you can use more pigs, but you have to break them into groups with pipe gates or else only a few do the work and the rest lie around.  When they can’t find more grain, they start to lie around a lot, and you have to move them out.

-deep bedding needs  to be at least 7″ deep to start.  The active biological community layer that makes deep bedding so beneficial starts when the middle is about 3″, with the top and bottom layers, 2″ each.

– Carbon:Nitrogen ratios are important.  Wood chips in the summer have a C:N ration of about 200:1, in the winter, they’re about 350:1.

-about 18″, the biological commuity kicks in and starts to ease up the carbon issue (when you first start, you have to keep adding carbon frequently, as it seems to absorb so quickly).  Don’t open it up – the microbes will exude antibiotic qualities.  Open it up after the animals have gone out on pasture.

– if building a structure that will have deep bedding, design it to accomodate 4ft minimum (wood wall will rot quickly).  Concrete tilt up panels might work (idea from audience). Pipe gates are very handy – to make chutes, to make temporary pens.

– leverage the resources you have.  If you have a woodstove, put wood ash in the spreader with the bedding going out to be spread.  Do the same with minerals that you’re adding.

– be creative with structures – bylaws vary.  Polyface built a hunting camp to accomodate their interns, because a hunting camp was permissible, while a living accomodation building wasn’t.  Someone mentioned that building without permits can be risky in this age of Google maps and aerial views – a definite issue in BC and Washington state.  Joel agreed, suggested painting the roof in camo – someone yelled – “Stealth barns!”.  Big laugh.

-When training pigs to wire to prepare them for living in the woods, use 10,000 volts.  For the woodland paddocks, use 2 wires and physical non-wire gates – once trained to hot wire, the pigs won’t go near a wire gate.  Polyface uses polyprop rope to tie to trees and loop around the electric wire.

-pigs benefit the forest by clearing undergrowth, fertilizing, disburbing the soil.  Joel showed several pictures of areas where pigs had been that were now grassy meadows, thanks to the pigs disturbing the dormant native grass seeds that may have lain there for who knows how long.

-Polyface uses a 10 pigs/acre density in the woodland paddocks – they are in a paddock for about 3 weeks, 1 time a year.  They aim to put them out there when they’re 200 lb – they’re easily controlled with a single wire then.  Everytime they eat the 2T feeder, they get moved.  Grow them out to 300 lb – takes about 2 months

-in addition to the cow shed, pigs are used in the hoophouses after the hens are out.  In some cases they can be in with the hens, but the pigs have to be small for this, because as they mature, pigs are happy to eat chickens.

For more info, the role of pigs on Polyface Farm is mentioned in practically every book by Joel Salatin, also in the many video clips of Joel Salatin and Polyface in Youtube.  Head Farm Steward over at Chism Heritage Farm has written a few great posts about raising pastured pork on a smaller scale.

In summary – I’ve always thought I couldn’t really use this part of the Polyface model -we don’t have woodlands, we will never have the cattle shed set up that they have – but discussion during this section opened up some possibilities.  Joel mentioned that one of the neighbouring farms they have an arrangement with is a horse stables…and he’s always thought it would be great to have the horses on deep bedding, rotate them through stalls and then have a pair of pigs follow in the rotation to churn up the bedding, ready for composting.  Turns out an attendee from Bellingham area does just that – she joked that it’s because she’s too lazy/too busy to clean out the stalls properly, but Joel was thrilled, and so was I, because my barn is set up with stalls from when we boarded horses in my childhood, and I was stuck in my head with the scale of the Polyface model.  But of course it can be scaled down.  Lightbulb moment.

Little Chicks Growing up

I’m knee deep in chicks these days – broilers and layers a week apart. I find myself comparing how differently they grow. The broilers will be fully grown and in the freezer two months from now, averaging 5 lbs. In two months the layers will be looking like teenagers – gangly, wings that don’t work yet, etc. In another two months after that, probably in October, they will be adults, laying their first eggs. I’ve seen all this in chicks many times, and while I marvel at the rate of change, it no longer catches me by surprise.

Last night our younger daughter got ready for her grade 8 farewell dinner/dance. She normally appears in black jeans, a baggy hoody and scuffed running shoes, using her thick long hair to hide as much face as possible. So last night came as a shock – she looked casual yet elegant in a summer dress of black with a floral pattern, with flats to match. The hair was brushed smooth and thrown back out of her face. She looked faintly embarrassed to be not her usual self, but defiantly proud at the same time.  When I dropped her off at the school, I suddenly ached to hop out too, to go hang at the gym door and watch all these fledglings test their newly feathered wings.  I had not fully stopped the car, when the door was thrown open, and “omygoshthereshilarygottagoloveyou” came back on the breeze left swirling as she jumped out and raced to catch up to a tall vision of beauty (THAT was Hilary? Who I saw last week in flip flops and sweats?)  And they were gone.

I’m comforted, a little. Today she’s in her black jeans again. The dress is probably in a puddle on the floor upstairs (I haven’t looked, why spoil the day before it’s even started). The braces on her teeth remind me that she’s still my little girl for a while longer.

Random photographer writes her final French Immersion exam today. She has arranged an appointment with a counsellor regarding her options after she graduates next year. She’s doing this stuff without me.  Beauty radiates out of her generous soul.  She has developed grace since her grade 8 farewell days.  She is so self sufficient.  I trust her judgement in so many things, respect her wisdom.  Yet she’s still my little girl too.

We have been working all these years to help them grow up, so why am I not ready for this?

Joel Salatin workshop part 3 – Grass

Joel Salatin, centre – break time

On Thursday the 21st, Joel spoke for 6 hours on Pastured Livestock.  To keep things to a reasonable length, I’ve broken that very intense day into a couple of posts.  Here’s what I jotted down on the subject of Grass and Grazing:

-grass is 95% water, 5% soil.  Earth is supposed to gain weight (a reference to building soil).

-grass grows on a sigmoid curve.  Joel refers to the bottom of the curve as the “diaper stage” – the grass is too watery for good nutrition, too fragile to withstand grazing impact.  The steep, upward curve of growth on the graph is called the “teenage stage”, grass in this stage is good for grazing, it regrows quickly, has lots of nutrition, is resilient.  When the curve levels off at the top of the graph, before it curve down again – that is called the “retirement home stage” of growth.  The grass is mature, growth has slowed down or stopped.

-Grass tastes best, is at it’s most nutritious at the sweet spot – the transition point on the curve between teenager and retirement home growth stages.

-the goal of intensive grazing management is to maintain the teenager growth stage, without violating the Law of the Second Bite.

-all the deep soils of the world were built under prairies because the metabolic cycle of grasss is faster than that of trees, though the growth curve is similar.

-grasslands build soil, but  do require soil disturbance – historically in the form of burning (either wildfires or human induced), and mob grazing – often influenced by predation.

-the University of Nebraska has a 2 acre prairie that they manage with fire, the grass is 12 ft tall.  The reference in Little House on the Praire (was it actually Plum Creek?) to Ma’s worry that the girls would get lost in the tall grass is a reference to this type of grass, not what we think of as tall grass today.

-It is a human mandate to use herbivores to prune grass properly, to stimulate more biomass production than would be stimulated in a static state.

-animals always eat dessert first, so continuous grazing means unpalatable species will eventually become dominant, and the others will disappear.

-Grazing management uses bio-mimicry, copying the predator/prey relationship.  Electric wire is the predator.

-The three M’s of grazing:  Mobbing, Mooving, and Mowing.  (personal note:  please see Redemption Farm’s excellent summary of the three M’s).

Mobbing:  cows only “work” (eat) for 8 hours, they spend the rest of the time ruminating (lounging, while they regurgitate and chew their cud).  Mobbing encourages them to eat everything evenly.  What they don’t eat, they will trample, which will still create biomass.  We want them to eat eagerly and efficiently, but not stressed, and to maximise their ruminating time.  It takes 2 months for cattle to learn to graze aggressively, if they’re not born to it.

Moving:  (Joel joke – mooving) – wild beasts (bison, buffalo, etc) move daily – predator pressure, fresh grass, to get away from flies attracted to their manure.  If they stayed, they would violate the Law of the Second Bite, and prairies would not build soil.  Use electric wire to mimic this movement.

Mowing:  cattle are great big fermentation tanks with four wheel drive.  Feeding them food that has been fermented already (sileage, haylage) makes their stomach environment too acidic, and therefore a breeding ground for things like e coli.  Their stomach is designed to do it’s own fermenting, from fresh grass.

-need to design a landscape that attains the the 3M’s.  On most farms, there will be unalterable features – access lane, house/buildings, ponds, etc. Use electric fence on both sides of the access road, allowing at least 16 ft for the lane, because of the cattles fear of the wire.  This will be a route to move the cattle up and down the land without going through pasture.  Use landscape features by surrounding them with permanent fence.  Between these features and the access road, you can create homogeneous paddocks with temporary electric wire.  Put gates in corners, even though for equipment you would prefer to put them about 10 feet away from the corner.  If you do that, calves will bunch up in the corners and panic and not go through the gate -so put gates in corners.

-there is starting to be a trend toward taking advantage of older forage (stockpiled grass) toward the end of the grazing season – this is grass approaching or in early retirement home stage.  It looks terrible – tall, yellowing, gone to seed, but can extend the grazing season without the cattle losing weight.  Every day you don’t have to feed hay is good.

That’s it for grass/grazing notes – I have more that I’ll post in a day or two related to stocking density, watering systems, etc.

For detailed info on what I recorded above, read one of Joel’s earliest books “Salad Bar Beef“.  Stockman Grass Farmer is a journal all about grazing practices.  Youtube has some great footage of Jim Gerrish (electric fence/paddock set up) and Greg Judy, another huge grazing guru in the farm world.  The original that the others all derive from is Andre Voisin’s “Grass Productivity” – it’s pretty scientific, ie don’t choose it for bedtime reading, but it’s information dense.  “Greener Pasture on Your Side of the Fence” by Bill Murphy is a much easier read, and might be easier to find through your local library.   This was the kind of stuff I went to learn, so you’re welcome to seek clarification on what I wrote, but I probably can’t answer questions requiring expertise or experience! If you have a favourite print or web source of grazing info, please share in the comments!

Tomorrow is pigaerators…aren’t you excited?

Joel Salatin Workshop – part 2

Yes, in THIS post I begin sharing what I actually learned at the workshop this past week!

The first night was a 1 hour presentation on “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”.  After a lot of dithering at home about what book to get signed, I chose to bring the book of that title (it was a Christmas present), and since I was sitting near the front, was able to chat with Joel for a couple of minutes while we waited for people to come in, so I got a good opportunity to get the book signed – if you’ve had this book signed by him yourself, you’ll know what he wrote – “Thanks for being normal” – he told me that he has a line he uses for every title.

The workshop space was actually a workshop – as in tool bench at one end, broken engine thing at the other, numerous bits of irrigation connections and hose hanging on the walls, tool chests, extension cords etc.  I’ve never seen such a clean workshop in my life.  Joel jumped right into his talk and swept us along.  Here’s some highlights from my notes:

– a century ago, one third of all farming was dedicated to supporting motive power – horses/mules.  At one point there were 20 million head of power in North America.

-the food system was historically integrated – growing, harvesting, eating, and waste were close together and related.  Today each component is separate, often by huge geographical distances.

-history shows us a track record that we should pay attention to when moving toward the future.  What has held civilization together for centuries?  Not fossil fuel.  Technology is not bad, nor is oil necessarily, but we should consider that for several hundred years, the majority of people were fed without it.  Use technology appropriately.  Stuff with a high water content (fresh produce) was not transported, instead things like tea and spices were.

-herbivores, perennials and seafood were primary food sources historically because annuals were so labour intensive.

-the answer is to integrate the food system again, and then connect it to herbivores/perennials

-all draft power animals are herbivores.

-perennials build soil because they store energy in their roots.

-There is no such thing as “animal-less” ecology.

-The predator/prey relationship takes fertilization back up to the top of the hill (gravity, water etc move it down, herbivores walk up to the top and deposit it). We can use electric fence to mimic this.

-There is a “crisis of participation” right now – to get things back to “normal”, people, you, me, us – have to do it, eat it.  We can’t point a finger at “them” and complain.

-It’s the first time in history we don’t ponder in June about what we need to be doing to have something to eat in January.

-Shopping at farmers markets has become “guilt assuagement” – shoppers just nibble – they  hold Fifi in one arm and buy a loaf of bread, or bunch of parsley.  Who is shopping for their families meals for the whole week there?  Who is thinking ahead to the winter, and ordering bushels of tomatoes or beans for preserving?  None of them, but that’s what it should be.

credit: Foxglove Farm staff

That’s it for my notes from the first night.  Let me know if you need me to explain or expand, and I’ll do my best.  Much of this is in Joel Salatin’s book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”.  He spent all of the next day on Pastured Livestock, it was intense but we learned a ton.  Stay tuned.