At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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An alternative animal bedding

Keep the mud down in your animal pens.  Mud is dangerous to animals because the standing water can result in an unhygienic environment that can lead to disease in your animals.  If you cannot afford gravel, or sawdust or other celebrated beddings throughout your pen, there are numerous affordable alternatives that you can rely upon.

One easy remedy is newspaper.  Whether you shred it or use it whole, the paper soaks up the water very well and can become integrated with the pen ground so that the next time there is a lot of snow or rain, it is less likely to become muddy.  Newspaper is harmless if your animals eat it, and is good for compost when you are cleaning out your pens, making it a great affordable alternative bedding.

 
 

Are tree leaves nutritious for animals?

We are currently testing the nutrient levels in the blood of our animals as we feed them tree leaves, and while tree leaves may seem unusual, they are common foods for animals in most other places.  The TDN, RFV, and mineral content varies considerably from forage to forage, even two different fields of grass will be significantly different in most respects depending on species of grass, or variety of alfalfa.  The FAO and many foresters agree, trees are no different.  However, studies (FAO: 4.1 The Nutritive Value of Tree Legumes, Dr.B.W. Norton http://www.fao.org/ag/AGP/AGPC/doc/Publicat/Gutt-shel/x5556e0j.htm) indicate that there is little difference between tree leaves and most standard hays.
Many people supplement based on a belief of what they are feeding their animals.  Often, they are wrong in their assumptions, and attempts to perfectly balance diet are futile unless you are working with laboratory formulated feeds, such as those which are manufactured by Purina and other vendors.
Leaves are excellent food for not only ruminants (it is the food of choice throughout most of the world, though in the Americas, we are just discovering this), but also animals with simpler stomachs.  Even people eat quantities of tree leaves without harm.  Some tree leaves are poisonous in small quantities, others are poisonous in large quantities; others are wholesome and healthsome in even minute quantities.  Many trees have medicinal properties. 
The answer for those who supplement to overcome deficiencies in diet when using conventional grass and alfalfa feeds is the same for those who supplement to overcome deficiencies in tree leaf diets: hedge on the side of too much rather than too little.  Few nutrients cause disease when overfed in moderate amounts.  In Colorado, selenium deficiency is common because the soil is so poor in selenium. Most leaves have about 10% crude protein, with about 60% digestibility, and while oaks may have up to 15% mean taninnic acid equivalent, most trees typically have much less than half that and 15% is not bad, if the oaks are diluted with other feed ("Nutritive Value of Tree Leaves in the Kansas Flint Hills," JR Forwood and CE Owensby: Journal of Range Management 38(1), January 1985).  I, myself, enjoy the linden leaves best.  They make an excellent salad. 
 
 

Tire bales make great shelters!

We have built three new shelters in two days out of tire bales!
 
Each tire bale weighs 2,000 pounds, meaning that it not only provides excellent heat absorption during the daytime (keeping animals warm at night), but also that it recycles that much waste.  We are building multispecies shelters so that our animals may be better housed together, and besides 30 tire bales per shelter, scrapwood, recycled tarps and other recycled materials are put to use reducing our costs of production (making food, fiber and other anima products cheaper for people).  More than 70,000 pounds of waste are recycled in every pen.
 
The tire bales are engineered to withstand more than 60,000 pounds of force in any direction, making them the new, hottest material in civil engineering!  The tire bales require a bobcat to move, which is very hard on the soil of the animal pens.  Luckily, we rotate pens, reclaiming them between uses, so that our animals always have good turf to walk on.
 
Though recycling is big money, agriculture is always on the forefront of the industry, developing low-tech methods of recycling.  However, low-tech often inspires high-tech, and we understand that tire bales are going out of style as higher uses for the old tires are found: a new machine just invented will allow recyclers to earn nearly $10 per tire by converting the tire into diesel fuel (about 1.5 gallons per tire), scrap steel (more than a pound per tire) and also carbon black.  That's about 23 times more value per tire than baling them!
 
And baling the tires is about 4.5 times more value than loose tires (which we also use on our farm).  Technology improves, and suddenly, the recycled material which farmers could get for free is rendered into products envied by civil engineers and becomes beyond their ability to buy.  Luckily, there's more kinds of rubbish than tires, and the farmer will find new materials to use: there's always new forms of junk.
 
 

Transforming metal into animals

We love chemistry, its one of our favorite sciences. From the delicate workings of soil bacteria to the magnificence of the biosphere, there are always new questions and insights to gain. However, sometimes we learn something so astounding that the boasts of alchemests of old seem likley: today we learned how to transform metal into animals.

Cattle are excellent investments, and at an entry price of between $50 and $150 for holstein calves (plus milk and medicine), it is a market everyone who has some land can enter. Even if your metal earns but a nickel per pound, a half-ton of metal (which can often be collected easily) can be transformed into a cow. Or two to three pigs. Or some 25 chickens. Or even 50lbs of grain or legumes, which when planted will produce hundreds of pounds of food. The possibilities are endless, and presents a unique way by which we can feed the poor by helping the ecology in the collection and recycling of "rubbish."
 
 

Chemical communication - lessons from lobsters

In their examination of communication within lobster populations (Chemical Communication in Crustaceans 2011, Part 3, 239-256), Doctors Juan Aggio and Charles D. Derby found that chemical communication through both urine and blood emissions plays a large role in lobster social behavior.  “Lobsters are fascinating animals that use chemicals as messages regarding their sexual status, their standing in a social hierarchy, and whether they affiliate with or avoid conspecifics. This, plus their economic importance, makes them important models for the study of intraspecific chemical communication. Our chapter is an overview of these processes, including the types of interactions between lobsters influenced by chemicals, how those interactions are affected by chemicals, and how these chemicals are detected. Since “lobster” refers to a common body plan rather than a taxonomic group and thus includes animals of differing phylogenetic relatedness and lifestyles – most notably clawed lobsters, spiny lobsters, and slipper lobsters, their use of chemicals in intraspecific interactions is diverse. Whenever possible, we compare the different groups of lobsters, though the amount of data available for relevant behaviors varies with the lifestyle of lobsters. Clawed lobsters use urinary chemicals processed by the olfactory pathway to identify previous opponents and maintain a stable social order, which is important because only the most dominant males will mate. After a hierarchy has been established by fighting, subsequent rematches are shorter and less violent, with urinary chemicals playing a key role in this process. Mate choice and mating behavior are also mediated by urinary olfactory cues. These behaviors are disrupted when one of the animals either has a compromised olfactory sense or is not allowed to release urine. Although there is less available data, the picture seems similar in spiny lobsters, with females using urinary chemicals from males as one of the cues in mate selection. Both spiny and slipper lobsters form dominance hierarchies, but little is known about how they are influenced by chemical signals. Conversely, spiny lobsters have been extensively studied regarding the mechanisms of aggregation and avoidance. Aggregation is mediated by urine-borne chemicals and avoidance is mediated by blood-borne chemicals, both processed by the olfactory system. Molecular identification of these compounds will be critical in allowing researchers to study the neural processing of intraspecific chemicals.”

Among the numerous ways that animals communicate, chemical communication is the most species – specific.  Unlike touch, sight and sound, taste and smell can send a signal that is directed specifically at members of the same species.  Because these signals are very easily intercepted by predators and other enemies, the chemicals are usually disguised and the actual communicator chemical present among all the chemical camouflage can be very difficult to detect.  Insights into lobster communication will lead to better understandings of our own reactions to smell and taste, both physiologically and emotionally. 

 
 

Providing for the needs of wildlife begins at home

When planning landscaping or your garden, remember the wild creatures – especially those that migrate.   By planting native species, you are likely providing necessary food and or shelter to these animals.  You can also then better enjoy the show this year as butterflies, bumblebees, birds and other interesting creatures come to your garden for food and shelter.

A sure bet for good wildlife watching is thistle, but you also can’t go wrong with milkweed.  Both of these produce good things for you as well: the thistles are good in your cooking pot, in your cheeses, and even in vases with your ornamental flowers, and the milkweeds are edible, very sweet smelling and soothing to the eye.  Don’t forget to save some of the blossoms and seeds for the critters out back!

 
 
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