Monday, January 21, 2013

Putting your Homestead on Autopilot

Whoo, hoo!  Back again!  Feeling soooo bad these last weeks (months, sigh) has shown me the importance of making your homestead able to function with a minimum of input day to day.  Of course, there are plenty of things to do and plenty of thing you can do any day on a homestead, but today we are going to talk about making it so there are very few things you have to do on any given day.  If you design for ease and functionality, you can save yourself a lot of grief and your animals a lot of discomfort. Now, if you are out for weeks, I can only give you a few hints to have the garden not fall apart.  But you can keep your animals comfortable with only a little help if you plan well (that also means you don't have to go out in the sleet if you simply don't want to).


                 Insulated hoses, a freeze-proof faucet, and automatic shut off valve and a floating de-icer makes this waterer as automatic as possible

  • Automatic water, automatic water, automatic water... absolutely take the time and money to run a water line and have an automatic valve in your tank to give your animals all the water they need.  If you run out, they will develop a lot of bad habits fighting over who gets the water first.  While you are at it, choose a non-freezing waterer or add a floating de-icer (you will have to have electricity for that) so you don't have to drag water to them on cold mornings.  If your area's ground freezes for long periods, you will have to invest in a special waterer that is insulated like this one. Here in the southeast of the U.S., we generally don't have freezing that is severe enough to make more than a thin coating of ice. For the few weeks that all day freezing is a problem, we keep our cattle near the house and where we have a line run to a thermostatically controlled warmer floating in the tank.  The only problem developed when one of our calves thought it was great fun to play with the floating disc and we kept finding it on the ground.  You can imagine our boys, "Really, Dad!  I didn't do it!" 

This season's waste becomes next season's soil!

  • Hey, We want some hay!  Your livestock will be up with the sun - they want to eat then - why make it so they have to wait on you? I have tried numerous things over the years, but my favorite winter strategy is to provide 2 or 3 large rolled bales of hay at a time. They don't fight over a limited amount as they do when I give them a square bale or 2 at a time, and the wasted hay is a nice insulator against the ground.  By the time they have eaten all they are going to get from those bales, you have nice, manure-filled hay debris area that breaks down into beautiful topsoil.  The areas that have housed those bales are noticeable for years - they grow more rye in the spring and more bermuda in the summer.  They are also the spot the herd picks to munch on first when we move into that paddock. 
  • Of course, most of the year, your livestock are eating grass and you want to rotate them to new areas regularly.  Here's the good news - afternoon is the best time to move them!  Moving to a new area stimulates your livestock to start munching on the best of the fresh green grass.  Think of living with a lot of siblings and taking your cookies RIGHT NOW because you know you won't get any if you wait until later.  We think of the herd as being this wonderful, supportive place, but really it's just each animal thinking first of themselves (but living in a group). Kind of a lot like us, huh?  Anyway, the other cool, scientifically beneficial thing about moving livestock in the afternoon is that is basically eliminates the chance of your animals developing bloat.  Bloat happens when cattle eat fresh, green, wet-from-dew grass on an empty stomach and develop gasses that seize up their intestines.  Yucky way to die, huh.  The not-so-scientifically-based cool thing about moving them in the afternoon is that my boots and pants don't get wet from dew.  I know.  Really. (It's just I would rather quietly dig around in the garden first thing in the morning and chat it up with some boisterous bovines in the afternoon.) 

  • Minerals are key - We all need salt.  If you don't have a proper balance of sodium and potassium in you body, you will crave salty things.  Your livestock are the same.  Enter kelp. You can order it from here  or from a number of other sites online.  It looks like green powder and smells like shrimp.  It comes from seaweed and has the same mixture of salts and minerals the ocean does.  I mix mine 50/50 with plain livestock salt and place it in a mineral feeder that protects it from the rain.  Some days they munch it up, and others they ignore it.  I figure they know what they need.  Just to mention, my beef became even more tender after I added this to the regime.  
  • Lastly, worming.  Doesn't it sound like fun to gather up all your suspicious herbivores on a monthly basis so you can give them something they don't want?  Yeah, not my idea of fun either.  Joel Salatin in Salad Bar Beef recommends using Shaklee's Basic H soap in your animals' water supply every other month.  They like it, it's easy for you, it's effective and nobody gets hurt.  Win, win, win, win.  Basic H is an organic liquid soap made from soybeans.  I've had good results thus far.  Here's a link for you fellow science nerds that want to see the background about intestinal worms.  
Okay, so let's review.  Things happen.  People get sick or family comes to visit.  It rains.  Some days you are lazy.  If you plan well, your animals can go stress free with all their needs met even if you aren't rushing to check on them first thing in the morning.  And when you get down to it, your kids or honey will remember a lovely breakfast a lot longer than they will.