At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Assembly line farms

Jethro Tull admired one of his neighbors who, not being able to afford horses or oxen or even a plow, took a shovel to the aisles of his cabbage field.  A small field well tilled produces more profit than a large field poorly tilled, and organizing your land - whether it is as small as a patio or as large as several hundred acres - so that you can do your work well is important.  This concept was inspirational to Henry Ford, the manufacturer, who made a new “mass production theory.”  This theory was quickly applied to farming, through the development of tractors and large feed lots. 

However, since Ford, a new “Assembly Line” theory has been developed by leaders such as Edward Demming.  One practical application of Assembly Line Theory may be made to the keeping of animals.  If animals are looked at as sources of manure for the fields (though they usually contribute more than that to the farm!), you would want to organize your fields to be as close to your pens as possible, organizing pens and fields against the same gate and against the same driveway.  Instead of having large pastures and large fields which are easily worked by an expensive tractor designed to easily convey the manure from the pastures to the fields, an alternative is to have numerous small pens (with a handful of animals) and numerous small fields, easily worked by hand.

A further advantage is in disease control.  If one pen gets an infection, it will not likely spread to another pen.  Because manure may so easily and quickly moved from the pen to the field and turned into the aisles, pens stay cleaner: the same farmer who would need to take a wheel barrow 500 feet will have, in the course of 10 pen cleanings, traveled over 3/4 mile further than a farmer who has to only carry the manure 50 feet, saving 3-5 hours of work, long enough to clean a small pen some 6-10 times.  While a farmer may need to make rounds to the animals over further distance, organizing the pens against a driveway in a line reduces this time: feed, water and other provisions are easily provided for along the line, and may even be stocked near to the area of manure production.

Tractors and other equipment are expensive, and while the costs don’t usually outweigh the benefits, the fields may be adapted to facilitate a tractor, with small pens located throughout a field and large connections between fields that can actually be cultivated as well, and if the farmer wishes to drive a truck to care for the animals, a dirt track can be maintained along the line of pens.  A disadvantage to the system is that it requires many more hundreds of feet in walls and fences, and numerous more shelters, but if the farmer is using recycled materials, this results in no actual increase in cost and the line may be built easily. 

A farm assembly line appears in many respects to resemble numerous microfarms, but coordinated to conserve waste.  In most cases, assembly lines are very efficient with labor, so much so that robotics and other mechanization popular with mass production are less efficient than human hands.  As Jethro Tull noticed, the cabbage farmer with the shovel was producing superior work and profit, but the shovel was not adapted to a large field.  We see today that a city garden is more fruitful than some of the best farmland in the exurbs and rural lands.  A farmer needs a large field, but organizing it to accommodate the shovel instead of the plow is smart work.

The system can be scaled back if labor is lacked, and when it is scaled up, a payrolled farm worker or a very used tractor, or an ox and plow may be acquired so that greater revenues are earned from their work than expended upon them.


Pasture rotation improves production

Pasture rotation is key to the success of your animals.  Animals will selectively graze, eating their favorite foods and leaving what they don’t like.  This is how good pastureland turns into good yucca plantations!  The cattle eat everything but the yucca, and the yucca remains.  Then, all that is left to do is till up the soil and start over. 

However, the rancher may rotate their animals through pastures faster than they destroy the grass.  By allowing the grass time to recover, they may keep their pastures in good condition. 

Another option, which works better on small and micro farms and ranches, is to preventively till up and reseed pasture every year.  By establishing three pastures, the rancher ensures that their animals have plenty of pasture to eat. 

The first pasture is for springtime, and the animals graze on it until midsummer.  Then, the animals are moved to winter pasture, while the spring pasture is tilled and reseeded.  The third pasture, rested for the entire year, becomes next year’s springtime pasture, while the winter pasture is brought to rest… the first year’s spring pasture is next year’s winter pasture. 

The pasture that rests actually can be hayed in the autumn if the rancher uses quick growing grasses, especially rye, or other animal feeds (like sunflowers).  But most ranchers prefer turf, and turf means grass.  Let the rye mature, and harvest both grain and grass for a high energy supplement.  Or, if you don’t like rye, plant crops that overwinter, like wheat.  Wheat needs less water than rye, too.


Coyotes play hockey and eat pizza

At dusk the coyotes were singing so loud I could hear them inside.  I went out and listened to their songs.  I guessed they were having dinner, but I am still not sure what kind of pizza they were sharing.

Coyotes are very picky eaters.  Contrary to popular belief, they are little threat to agriculture, and in fact are a beneficial predator for your farm and ranch.  Even if you have chickens.  Or baby calves.  Or dogs and cats.  Coyotes will not break into coops or barns, or into your home.  If you want to keep animals safe, give them shelter.

But even still, coyotes do not prefer to eat our domestic animal friends.  They prefer to eat rodents, insects, rabbits, small birds, eggs and other things that are smaller than they are.  They only rarely hunt in packs like wolves, and therefore do not hunt things larger than themselves.  When they do hunt in packs, they try to wear out their prey by exhaustion, dehydration or other siege tactics.  Voles, prairie dogs, eastern cottontails, ground squirrels and mice are their favorites, but coyotes will also eat snakes and other lizards, too.

Like most animals, they do like human garbage.  Especially pizza.

Like most members of the dog family, they are omnivorous, and do not rely on meat.  They also eat quantities of fruit (when in season, or in the garbage), some vegetables (seasonally), and have learned to like human-processed grains.  They are scavengers, and will eat dead or decaying matter, too.

Occasionally, it is true, they have attacked people.  But domestic dogs have attacked – and even killed – more people than coyotes.  For that matter, domestic cats have attacked people too.  When an animal attacks a human, it is usually out of desperation, and some level of antagonism (however unintentional). 

We humans are very big creatures, comparatively speaking: we are some of the largest animals that walk the earth in terms of weight and size.  While not as big as the biggest animals, we are bigger than some equines and bovines, and quite a measure bigger than the antelope and deer.  Coyotes also fear us because they easily learn that we have extraordinary powers, we can hurt them if we want to.  Most animals will even fear a human child.

Coyotes fear lions, bears, and other large predators that eat them, but most coyotes die more natural deaths.  Though coyotes share their food with older members of their community who are less able to hunt, it is not often that there is enough food to share and many coyotes will die of starvation when they grow too old to hunt.  Or of exposure to the elements.  They usually live 10 years in the wild, and can live twice that in captivity.

Coyotes like to live in old badger dens, but can dig their own.  They are naturally active during the day, but have learned to avoid humans and are now active at night. 

Female coyotes are monoestrous, and remain in heat for 2–5 days between late January and late March, during which mating occurs. Once the female chooses a partner, the mated pair may remain temporarily monogamous for a number of years. Depending on geographic location, spermatogenesis in males takes around 54 days, and occurs between January and February. The gestation period lasts from 60 to 63 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 19 pups; the average is 6.  50-70% of the coyote pups will not live to adulthood. 

More than 90,000 coyotes are killed each year by the United States government. This is done supposedly to protect cattle and other livestock.  More coyotes are killed by recreational and professional hunters, hired by farmers and ranchers to rid them of this terrifying beast.  Yet the number of coyote kills of cattle and other domestic stock hardly warrants this slaughter.  Especially when they are such a benefit to farmers, keeping down the vermin that would waste a crop: coyotes only destroyed about 2.2% of the total number of destroyed sheep in 2004.  Ranchers would do better by focusing on the greater threats to their flocks.

Coydogs, a hybrid of dogs and coyotes, are more a threat to livestock than coyotes.  And the numbers of coyotes killed is sometimes confused with the population of coydogs exterminated.  Coydogs have become a problem in warmer regions of the United States.

Coywolves are less common – wolves and coyotes generally hate each other – but do occur.  These are responsible for the only two recorded deaths from coyotes (true coyotes were not at fault).

Coyotes in Phoenix have learned how to play hockey.  Or at least a team is named after them.  It is disputable whether the Phoenix Coyotes play hockey well.

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