Feeding Hay

Any sheep, goat, or cattle operation needs to provide feed for their animals through the cold winter months when the grass is growing slowly or isn’t growing at all. That’s where having a big, dry barn comes in. Traditionally this problem is overcome by cutting grass in the spring and summer months, drying it, and putting the now “hay” in the barn to store it until winter. This is often referred to as “putting up hay”, most likely because the hay is kept on the second story of the barn.
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Modern hay farms use two essential resources to grow hay in our area; water and petroleum. Pastures are heavily irrigated to maximize numerous cuttings, similar to alfalfa in production. The grass is mowed using heavy equipment (typically tractors) and baled to bring in the harvest. A very efficient system.
Since hay can be expensive, we try to buy as little as possible. We figure the less reliance on off-farm inputs, the better. This may be a drop in the bucket, but the less demand we have for hay the less demand is placed upon the resources named above. But most importantly, ruminants by their very nature are grass-harvesting machines and will do the job without using any of those valuable and costly resources.
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By dividing our pasture into smaller paddocks and planning the amount of grass the sheep self-harvest, we have shifted our attention away from micro-management of our livestock to the holistic management of our pastures. This method contributes to healthier animals and grasslands because our sheep spend little time in any one place. Through better land management this season, we didn’t have to feed hay until the 1st of December.

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Value of Family

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Time spent with family can be one of the most enjoyable things we do. The dynamic relationships between siblings, parents, and grandparents are essential, bonding us together.
Over time I have come to realize that these relationships are equally as impactful on the lives of our livestock. Bonds between livestock aren’t always the most apparent and can easily be overlooked.
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Current agricultural practices compartmentalize livestock, sacrificing these bonds for the sake of production. Typically, males are kept in small paddocks alone or with other males with little to no contact with the rest of the herd until breeding time. Females are then left to live in groups to raise the young until the juveniles are artificially weened, as young as two weeks of age. The juveniles are kept in groups of like-age after being castrated, dehorned, and in the case of sheep having their tails docked. This method of separating livestock is used whether it’s sheep, goats, cows, chickens or pigs. These production systems are based on the assumption that we know best how to care for each individual group of animals at any given age. But this attitude doesn’t account for the desire and ability of the animals to care for themselves.
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On our farm, we have found that if provided the opportunity our sheep will fill their roles in the herd. Ewes happily manage all of the lambs’ needs, including naturally weening them, teaching the lambs what is good to eat and what is not, and what the lamb’s overall place is in the hierarchy of the herd. Learning herd manners is deepened though interactions with our ram because as the boss he keeps the male lambs in check (they can get really rowdy). The ram also provides protection from predators for the whole herd and teaches the next generation what to watch out for. These are bonds and dynamic relationships that we just can’t teach.
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By keeping all of our animals together all the time we hope to strengthen the herd through family values.

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The Evils of Plastics Part 2

The ideal cover for our chicken house needs to be water-proof, create shade, be light-weight, and not disintegrate in direct sunlight or pollute. Challenging in its own right but add to that a shoe-string budget. This makes it nearly impossible to meet all the criteria. However.
IMG_0642Four to five times per season, we order our feed in bulk and it comes in giant 2000 pound sacks that are made of woven plastic mesh. Needless to say 4 to 5 sacks a season really start to build up, taking up room in the barn.

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In the quest for an alternative, I hit on the idea of using these sacks for chicken housing. It could be a win-win.  They are roughly 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide and our houses need a 8 x 12 foot roof. The real ah-ha moment came when I realized that if I cut the sack in half on one side and remove the bottom, the sack laid out flat becomes 4 x 12 foot tarp. Two sacks and you’ve got a roof!

IMG_1491Now I realize that this is pretty close to what we were previously using. But they meet many of the criteria (including lasting a lot longer then the tarps we used previously) and most importantly we are taking potential garbage and giving it a second life (I would rather use it on a chicken house then send it to the landfill). But best of all it’s free.

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It’s not all roses however. It has one glaring fault. It’s not water-proof. Which seems silly if it’s intended use is to store grain, even if temporarily. To remedy this problem, we used 5 mil clear  plastic that does degrade in sunlight and placed it underneath the sack. This means that water doesn’t get into the chicken house, but the feed-sack tarps keep the plastic from degrading in the sunlight.

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Viola! New chicken house cover!