At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
TwoInTents Blog

Posts tagged [animal]

Ready for a bath?

The ducks and geese just don't know what to do with ice. They want a bath and try to dive into their frozen pond, but for whatever reason these days, the water is as hard as ice.  We dump out the ice and pour in water, and they enjoy it a lot.  But if they take a break from splashing, it freezes up again. 

Bathing and splashing keeps our birds healthy: it allows them to clean their bodies and their mouths and noses, and large quantities of water ensure that they stay healthy with adequate water in their diet.  Healthy birds are more productive birds, they are happier birds and produce with higher quality. 

We wash our other animals periodically too: our cows, horses and camelids get a bath every month.  Our goats get a brush down or a bath then too, but the goats are our cleanest animals.  They are also our most hardy.  Cleanliness makes animals stronger.  That's why we also clean out pens every week.  While some farms simply pile up manure in a corner, we take it out for composting, either in the ground in the gardens, or in compost bins for aging.  This is better for the gardens and better for the animals (and the reason why we put our gardens so close to the animal pens - we don't have to carry manure so far!). 

In the wild, ducks and chickens would be eating not only vegetable matter and seeds, but plenty of bugs.  We have very few bugs in the summer because we have so little manure hanging about.  What few bugs there are usually get eaten by the ducks and chickens who, though they are free to roam, like to hang out in the pens where they stand the best chance at getting the odd fly or mosquito.  Sometimes a duck will chase a fly dozens of feet (and usually will catch it).  In the wild, most animals don't have a need to bathe, but ducks and geese and other water birds do.  And cattle and horses do when they are kept in a pen.  It's important to keep in mind the needs of animals to make sure they are healthy, happy and productive.


Truck got stuck in the snow today

Truck the rooster got stuck in a snowdrift while out on an adventure today. He wanted to get to the other side, walked right in until he was stuck up to his belly. We went to rescue him, but before we could some persistent flapping got him free and he managed to fly to the other side. Just goes to show that sometimes we are truly stuck, other times we have to simply try harder.


Say hi to Truck

We let our birds wander freely on our farm, but most of them decide to stay at home in the pen. Truck likes the pen a lot, but also likes his daily walks.

When you visit our farm, you'll be greeted by Truck the rooster. If you're a dog, kitty, coyote or a fox, he won't be polite. Truck also doesn't like vandals, as he literally slashed the pants off of one who tried to burgle us last year. Good rooster. But if you're a nice person or one of the other animals around here, he's very courteous and will escort you everywhere. He doesn't sing much, and is a bit of a loner, but makes sure to visit everyone on the farm during the day. He especially likes laundry time, and will watch the clothes dry in the wind with attention. But he likes meal time better.


Dracula's blood thirsty days are done

Count Dracula the calf has decided halloween is over.  He and Pink Nose the Calf are now very good friends with Butterball the Alpaca, who has helped him work through his numerous "issues" apparently.  Butterball himself used to have a lot of aggression, but now is very polite and friendly.  We can remember so many examples!  Pairing animals with other species sometimes helps them kick odd habits, become more productive, reduces disease, and in so many ways improves their quality of life and economics. 
Dracula's blood thirsty days are done.  Alpacas are excellent buddies.

Butterball the alpaca no longer a turkey

Butterball is our newest alpaca friend here at the farm. He was a turkey, though, and had a lot of fight in him. We try to make fighters into lovers here at the farm, and the same way that you would help a human child with too much fight is the same way you help animals best. Interspecies love. A human child would react well to a puppy, or a kitten, or even a chicken or a goose. Or a cow. Or most other species. Some nature time, with the numerous birds and bugs. Most animals are the same way.

Louie the alpaca is now best friends with Wild Thing the goat, and Wild Thing (who was quite wild, and not afraid to gore a human from past mistreatment - though not so angry at other animals) and Louie tamed each other. Now they are even friendly to people. Butterball is becoming a horse lover, and he and our gelding are getting along swimmingly now, after just a couple of days! Butterball is totally changed, and will come up to people and even be caught.

Those with even more fight than Butterball need some hands on training with people. Mental challenge helps the animals, too, and learing how to come, stay, go back, turn left or right not only keeps them better behaved, but makes them very easy to care for. And, should our animals ever get out, they are quick to go back home. Roundups are no challenge here at the ranch, and they shouldn't be: say "go home!" and all the animals do.

A little love leads to more love, and more love leads to universal love. A little training and intelligence leads to greater understanding and peace. In both people and animals.


Pumpkins are thoughtful and whistful foods

We are still going through halloween pumpkins, and the birds and goats share them well.  The birds like the seeds and goop best, and the goats like the rinds best.  Nobody likes the stems.  When we were working our ox, Macaucau, he was sorely tempted by the pumpkin storage area when he caught a glimpse of what was inside.  But he kept working, good ox.  Tom and Izzy just stare at the pumpkin storage area almost all day, making thoughtful and whistful noises.  We have in the past given them more, but they are actually very full.  Just thoughtful and whistful.

Wanda the chicken feeling better, cages and cruelty

After a week of recovery, Wanda is fully recovered.  Her leg, broken mysteriously, has healed straight and she is putting her full weight on it again.  The most difficult part of her adventure?  Being restrained for a week in cage (she is used to being free on the range). 

At least a human can be told why they are being cooped up, and can even help with their own recovery by taking medicine, doing what doctors order, or even laying still.  Confinement for an animal - even for medical reasons - is difficult because they do not understand.
It's a time to thoughtfully reflect on how many chickens spend their lives in smaller cages than what she was kept in, and die from lack of veterinary care.  But it is also a time to reflect how, when free, most of our birds prefer the pens we make for them so they're safe. 
The fine line between cruel restraint and providing safe places is made by the intention of the fence or wall or cage: is it for the animal's benefit, or for the human's?  Sometimes we all need restrained so our bodies can heal, sometimes even a person needs to be protected from themselves when they are sick or hazardous to themselves or others.

Bamboo as a hay crop

Bamboo is a grass and where the farmer has enough water to irrigate other hay crops (such as rye or alfalfa), they ought to consider this hay instead. 

D. G. Sturkie, Professor Emeritus of Agronomy and Soils, V.L. Brown, Superintendent, Lower Coastal Plain Substation, and  W. J. Watson, Assistant Superintendent, Lower Coastal Plain Substation, all of Auburn University, in their excellent “BAMBOO GROWING IN ALABAMA” suggest that bamboo was first introduced to America in Savanna, Georgia in 1933.  Yields of timber-quality bamboo often exceed 83 tons per acre, but theoretical yields can be much higher than that.  Not that 83 tons per acre is to be looked down upon: 3 tons per acre is very respectable for many hay crops!

Bamboo groves are card for like orchards, vineyards or berry patches and may produce for many dozens of years without significant maintenance.  Plant the bamboo in rows running east/west so that the north wind is blocked in the winter and the south sun is tempered in the summer.  Beds should be of equal width to the aisles, as with any plant.  Beds of 4 to 8 feet are ideal for most varieties, but undertake your own experiments!

Deep tillage in the aisles is the best Tullian or Columellan husbandry, and should be done at least 3 times in the summer, once in the winter and once in the autumn for this and other hay crops.  In fact, it should be done for any crop.  Heavy mulching of the surface reduces water needs, and keeping two feet of bamboo above the ground in winter increases water deposition by snow. 

The young shoots are delicious treats for people and may be harvested by thinning a patch.  Don’t harvest all of the shoots or you won’t have bamboo later!  Bamboo for animal feed is very palatable and may be harvested in two ways.

First, it may be thinned when green – either by trimming the tops (as we do with rye and other grasses) about two feet from the ground.  Second, it may be thinned entirely as we do with raspberries in the autumn as we remove old canes, or with bamboo shoots.

Bamboo is also sometimes harvested when brown in the autumn or winter, and allowed to cure on the plant.  It is also sometimes grazed directly, but this is poor management for any hay crop because the animals will destroy the soil and damage the plants.

Most animals love bamboo – fowl, goats, cattle, pigs and even people will eat more of this hay crop if it is seasoned with a little salt, wine, vinegar or beer.  But mixing in your usual grain feeds is always a good idea, as with any hay crop.

For people, try some fresh soy beans mixed in; for animals, this is too expensive and mixing barley in is easy enough!


Sunflowers as animal feed

Sunflowers make excellent animal feed, requiring no irrigation and providing both grain and forage. 

According to Dairy Specialist Alvaro Garcia of the South Dakota State University Extension ( , “Sunflower silage contains slightly more crude protein (12.5%) and considerably more fat (7.1 to 10.7% depending on the variety) and calcium than corn silage on a dry matter basis.  On the negative side, sunflower silage contains 1.5 to 2 times more fiber and up to 3 times as much lignin (indigestible) compared to corn silage. Due to this lower energy content it is important to feed sunflower silage to lower producing dairy cows, dry cows, or growing heifers.  Milk production decreased by 8% in dairy cows fed sunflower silage in substitution for corn silage, according to research conducted at SDSU, but milk fat was 12% higher.  At the University of Wisconsin, for cows producing 60 pounds milk, the substitution of corn silage with up to 66% sunflower silage did not affect milk and protein yields.”

When seeds are also fed to the animals, there is a superior food than corn. 

But, if the seeds are to be retained for human consumption, sunflowers still make excellent food for meat producing animals, or for those animals which need to be sustained through the winter and will be encouraged towards better dairy production in the spring with higher quality hay. 

Oregon State University ( ), though, believes that corn and sunflower silage is equivalent, but warns that “crude protein content of plants also decreases as plants mature. If sunflowers are ensiled at early maturity the resulting silage has been found to have a crude protein content of about 10 percent, which is about equal to that of good corn silage.”

Grazing on sunflower fields is definitely an option for ranchers.  If they have a farmer friend willing to let the animals tromp and stomp on their field.  Or planted their own.  The sunflower head contains the most feed value, followed by the top, middle, and bottom thirds of the stalk. If residue cannot be collected behind the combine, grazing will afford some use, although the time before snow cover is usually limited. Sunflower seeds are high in energy (due to the high oil content) and a good source of protein. Consequently, downed heads in the field are a highly nutritious residue.

When water is a constraining issue, and in Colorado it always has been – even after Colorado’s Governor Eaton invented modern irrigation – sunflowers present a nutritious crop for both human and animal alike, able to produce easily 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of seeds per acre, and about 2 to 5 tons of hay per acre – more than alfalfa!  And, with nutritional values just under that of alfalfa, sunflower is not a significantly inferior feed.

While some farmers reach for millet when planning a low-water year, remember that sunflower is less drought sensitive than millet because of its long taproot.  And, sunflowers improve your soil better because of that same taproot! 

Sunflowers may be companion planted with grass for a double harvest of grass hay and sunflower hay, with the bonus of harvesting sunflower heads for animal feed as well.  Beans, pumpkins and other crops may be hilled with the sunflowers and still allow grass harvests.

Tillage is always good, and would increase the yield more than the loss of grass is worth.  However, some farmers either lack the ability to till large areas, or require a grass crop for their animals and resort to hilling.  Grass crops are required for grazing animals, who might be injured by dirt patches and the resulting sanitation risks.

With 3-4 pounds of sunflowers required per acre, it is unlikely that this year a farmer will spend more than $160 per acre on seed using boutique seeds from breeders.  A similar cost is faced for pumpkins and beans. 

Instead of tilling in aisles, the aisles are not tilled.  The beds are raked or dethatched, and mounds constructed.  Into the mound is planted a sunflower, a pumpkin and a bean – not the three sisters of fame, but at least two sisters and a very good friend.  Between mounds, sunflowers are planted regularly at 1 or 2 feet, and only in intervals of 6-8 feet, a mound of pumpkins and beans and sunflowers is planted. 


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