Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book review: Omnivore's Dillema

I feel like I am the LAST person to read Michael Pollan's 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma.  It has been mentioned on so many blogs as an influence over the way people eat and how they understand food production, when I saw it at the library I thought it was time I read it too.  I'm so glad I did!  I think I would enjoy ANYTHING that Michael Pollan wrote.  He really has a wonderful way with words, sometimes I read a sentence twice just to try to absorb some of that ability for myself.  Even better, the topic is something that interests me immensely.  The omnivore's dilemma: What should we have for dinner?  As an omnivore, we CAN eat nearly anything, but what SHOULD we eat?

eight acres: Omnivore's Dilemma book review

Michael attempts to answer this question by tracing four means from their origins to the table.  The first meal is monoculture corn, through to feed-lot beef, in a burger containing corn derivatives such as high-fructose corn syrup, eaten in a car running on ethanol made from corn.  Many would not realise just how much corn is in the US food supply and why (due to farm subsidies, which are less of an issue in Australia, although the feedlot system is very similar).

Next we follow a meal made from industrial organic chicken and salad vegetables, as well as an "organic TV dinner".  This meal highlighted the fact that organic rules can be used to simply substitute an organic input for a chemical input, and technically the food is organic, but its not necessarily any better for us.  For example an organic chicken raised in a barn may not ever access the outdoors even though its "free-range".  If you do chose organic, its important to understand the certification systems that create the rules that producers must follow.  My understanding of the Australian Certified Organic system is that growers must have a management plan that aims for self-sufficiency, this means that industrial systems would not be certified, even if all the inputs were organic, however the more you can find out about the practices of an individual farm the better.

The third meal was from Joel Salatin's farm.  I was surprised to find that I learnt more about Joel and his farm through a section in this book than I have learnt in reading several of Joel's books, watching his dvd and attending a day-long seminar!  Maybe that is the power of carefully crafted prose.  If you're interested in Joel's work, then its worth reading this book for that purpose alone.  If you haven't heard of Joel, his farm is not organic, but it is symbiotic, he produces free-range broiler chickens, eggs, beef and pork from 100 acres and sells these products locally.  This meal very close to how Pete and I eat everyday, as much as possible produced on our property or bought locally.

eight acres: Omnivore's Dilemma book review
vegetables grown in our garden

Finally, Michael attempts to create a meal only from hunted or foraged foods, including wild boar and mushrooms.  This was a very interesting chapter for me as I'm keen to do more hunting and foraging, although I need to find out more about our local flora and fauna.  I'd love to catch some rabbits, as we can't keep them domestically, I need to try to catch wild ones.

I didn't expect this book to be as much about farming as about food, but I guess that makes sense, as Michael was addressing the question of what to eat my examining where these four meals ultimately came from.  I particularly enjoyed his assessment of modern farming:
"Wendell Berry has written eloquently about the intellectual work that goes into farming well, especially into solving the novel problems that inevitably crop up in a natural system as complex as a farm.  You don't see much of this sort of problem-solving in agriculture today, not when so many solution come ready-made in plastic bottles.  So much of the intelligence and local knowledge in agriculture has been removed from the farm to the laboratory, and then returned to the farm in the form of a chemical or machine"
 He also discusses animal cruelty and the ethics of eating meat in the final chapter.

To visit a modern Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is to enter a world that for its technological sophistication is sill designed on seventeenth-century Cartesian principles: Animals are treated as machines - "production units"- incapable of feeling pain.  Since no thinking person can possible believe this anymore, industrial animal agriculture depends on the suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert one's eyes on the part of everyone else."
If you want to know more about where your food comes from so that you can make better choices for your health, the environment and the animals involved, this book covers everything you need to know.

Next on my list to read is Michael Pollan's 2008 book "In Defence of Food" in which he takes the concept further to examine further the human health impact of our modern diets.  I also reviewed "Cooked" when it was released in 2013.

What do you think?  Have you read it already or tempted to read it now?

Here's a few affiliate links to the books I've mentioned, I get a small proportion of the sale if you buy through these links.


Monday, July 6, 2015

How we ended up with a farm

You might be wondering how two city kids ended up with 258 acres?  This is what I wrote for Grass Roots magazine a few years ago.


When I tell people that my husband Pete and I have bought a 258 acre property and we want to raise cattle and grow our own food, they often ask if I come from a farming background. When I tell them that I’m from the city, they assume that my husband must be from a farm. When I tell them that he’s also from the city, they usually look at me with a mixture of amazement and sympathy. They are clearly wondering how two city kids can possibly run a farm, and thinking that we are just wasting a lot of money on a crazy hobby.

The truth is that we started small and focused on a few things at a time as our interest in self-sufficiency grew. We took every opportunity we could find to learn from other people, and from books, how to do what we wanted to do. And we are still learning more everyday. I hope that by sharing our story, I might inspire other city people to try a self-sufficient country lifestyle.

We started off with five acres in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, and a few chickens for eggs. We slowly added a vegetable garden and then a little poddy steer to raise for beef. We soon learnt that one calf won’t stay in a paddock by himself, and prefers to go looking for other cattle, so we bought another steer from the local dairy farm (and practiced our fencing skills). That’s when we met the dairy farmers and started dropping in at milking time, and before we knew it we were helping with milking. We learnt about handling the cows, about mastitis and feeding minerals. Pete helped with odd-jobs in exchange for bales of hay and bags of grain. We spent many enjoyable afternoons helping with milking and other farm chores.  (More about our cows here)

At the same time we experimented with incubating our chicken eggs, and butchering the roosters. We decided to concentrate on breeding Rhode Island Red chickens for egg and meat production. We had our first steer killed at the local abattoir and enjoyed a freezer full of our own beef and chicken, and a garden full of vegetables. We installed a modern woodstove and cooked with it all through winter. Being on a rural property, all our drinking water was rainwater and all our wastewater went to the septic system. We felt like we were on the way to self-sufficiency on that property.

Then a job opportunity led us to move about 200 km NW to the South Burnett region of Queensland. We found ourselves a suitable property, this time with eight acres of land. We were soon settled in, with another garden started, even more chickens and a few steers. We started to improve the fencing and remove weeds (mostly lantana). We found that we missed the dairy so much that we wanted our own house cow, so, after months of preparation, we brought home our cow, Bella and her young heifer calf, Molly.

We had our first homekill steer and tanned his hide ourselves to make a nice floor rug for the house. This time we got to see how the butcher worked to transform our beast into cuts of meat. We were both sad to see the steer killed, but felt comforted that we knew he had a happy life and died eating in the paddock next to his friend, without a stressful journey to the abattoir. We also installed another woodstove and began cutting firewood from a large pile of felled tress on our property.

After a few years we realised that eight acres was not quite enough for us to live self-sufficiently, as we were still buying hay for the cattle through winter, and still buying firewood after the pile ran out. We were also worried that we could run out of water for our animals. Pete spent months looking at properties on the internet, and eventually he found one that we could afford, that was still reasonably close to our work. The property was relatively cheap because it still had a lot of remnant forest. Having read Peter Andrews’ books, we knew that this was good for fertility, so we were happy with the trees. There are plenty of cleared areas too, and 60 acres that had been set up for cultivation. It seemed like just want we needed, so we made an offer and bought the property.

We got ourselves a tractor and some implements and Pete taught himself to plough the paddock and plant forage for haymaking (although we later decided that we prefer perennial pasture). We bought some steers from the saleyard, and spent a stressful week repairing the fences that they broke until they got used to the place. Then we decided that some cows would be easier and found a herd of Braford cows and calves. We sold the steers and weaner calves from the cows and learnt about the cattle market. Pete was back on the internet looking at real estate and found us a cheap removal house to put on the property, so that we can live there eventually.

We have some ambitious plans for this property. In the house yard we will certainly have another garden, we will have our first attempt at an aquaponics system and start a “food forest” orchard full of fruit trees, nut trees, berries and herbs. We will have chickens, and maybe try some other poultry. We’d like to build huge chicken tractors and move them over the pasture. We’re not sure yet whether to try for organic certification, but we are using organic methods throughout the farm anyway, because they are cheaper than buying chemicals.

Occasionally, when we have a hard week and it seems completely overwhelming, we joke about moving back to the city, about Pete trying to weld and grind metal on an apartment balcony and where we would put Bella the cow. We both know that we could never go back to the city-life and relying on someone else to grow our food, so we just have to keep enjoying the benefits of living self-sufficiently on our little farm. If you are in the city and dream of a farm life, then maybe you can achieve it too by taking small steps.


As you know, I'm currently working in Brisbane, and unfortunately that's just the nature of the current job market.  One day soon we'll figure out how to make this farm life work so that we can both be at the farm full time all the time, but in the meantime, having a job in the city helps to pay for the farm set up!

Have you "ended up" on a farm?  Or would you like to?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Farm Update - July 2015

What was old is new again.... You might have noticed over the past few months I've been trying to fit in with other formats for sharing monthly updates, so that I could link them to other blogs.  It was just getting too difficult to say what I needed to say within those formats, so I'm starting again with what I used to do.  Just one farm update with everything that happened in the previous month.  This post is mainly for my family and friends (including long-term blog followers that I've never met), who just want to know on what we've been doing over the past month.  Its also a good record for me to remember which animals we had and what the weather was like.  I'm just going to use this an opportunity to share lots of photos and tell you what's going on.  And add a few links that I've enjoyed reading during the month.

I'm going to structure it based on the pages at the top of my blog.  If you read my posts in an email or a blog reader (for example you can find me on bloglovin here), you might not have visited for a while, if you need to catch up, here are the links to the pages:

Food - this is about what we produce on our land and buy locally to create nourishing food.
Land - managing our two properties (eight acres, and our 250 acres - Cheslyn Rise), including weed control, pasture, grazing, erosion, catching water in dams, using permaculture principles, natural sequence farming, mob-stocking and learning more all the time.
Chickens - our flock of Rhode Island Reds and various crosses, for eggs and meat, hatched from our incubator and butchered on our property.
Cows - our house cows Bella and Molly that we milk, and our beef cattle, which we raise at Cheslyn Rise.
Garden - my vege garden, full of herbs and self-seeded veges grown using organic methods.
House - the secondhand Queenslander house that we moved to our big property and all the work that's still left to do before we move there.
Support me - various opportunities to support my blog, either through affiliate links or buying my own products.
And I'm going to add another category - Permaculture - because I think I need to talk about this more regularly.
And I think I need one more - Create - so I can show you what I've been knitting!

Cooking on the woodstove

Pete with the bee nuc

Food and cooking
We have been using the woodstove lately instead of the slow cooker to make stews and soups in a big pot on top.  As well as roast potatoes in the oven.

Also, we got bees, and I'm not sure where to put this, as the bees will be producing honey (food), beeswax, pollination and an interesting hobby for us both.  Maybe I will need another page for the bees!  We just have a small Nuc at this stage, and it should be ok through winter here as there are plenty of flowers around.  We are looking forward to expanding to several hives when the weather warms up.  I'm sure I will be posting more about the bees in the future, here's what I've written so far.

Honeybee Collapse is the Result of Their Enslavement in Industrial Monocultures -

War on saturated fat is over: Ketogenic, Atkins and Paleo diets are vindicated -

Why Skim Milk Will Make You Fat and Give You Heart Disease -

Perennial pasture

Servicing the tractor

Land and farming
The perennial pasture that we planted on about 10 acres of our cultivation land at Cheslyn Rise is growing really well.  It is above the frost, so even though its tropical pasture, its still green and gradually spreading out.  Of course now we wish we planted more, but it was just a trial at the time, to see what would work.  We will be planting the remaining 60 acres when we get the right weather.

And we did the 300 hour service on the tractor (this is the royal "we", I just read out instructions, "check the free-play on the such and such", and passed spanners on request), so it is clean and greased and ready for another 300 hours of work.

I also had a question on the Eight Acres facebook page about weed control and this is my answer:
We avoid spraying and leave most weeds alone, preferring to slash the paddocks (see Peter Andrews' books). Except for weeds that are poisonous to cattle, such as lantana, which we dig out or spray if the bushes are huge. We have managed to keep Eight Acres weed-free without spray, just a mattock. At Cheslyn Rise we had to spray due to lack of time. Depending where you are, you may have other issues to consider (such as proximity to national parks, and possibly different weeds to us). I would recommend that you start by reading Peter Andrews so that you understand the potential value of weeds, and try physical control if you can, as this does less lasting damage to your property.
How to Kill Obnoxious Weeds Without Using Roundup - Brown Thumb Mama

Habits that change when you homestead -

10 Things your Non-farm Friends Just Don't Understand -

The chicks we hatched in February are nearly full-sized.  We separated the pullets and roosters a few weeks ago and only had seven roosters, which left 20-something pullets! (how to tell pullets from roosters at 8 - 10 weeks).  Usually we have pretty close to a 50:50 split, so this is far more new hens than we expected and maybe we can finally sell some pullets (which was the original justification for buying the incubator several years ago!).

This means that we need to make some space in the chicken tractors, so we will be culling the older hens and roosters soon.  This is not a job we enjoy, but we try to make as much use from the older poultry as we possibly can.

Bully with his new herd

Cows (and the rest of the cattle)
Bella had her calf early last Sunday morning.  It was lucky that I was home that day because the calf was born dead.  This is the second calf that has died (and she's had a healthy calf in between), and the last one I came home just after it was born and didn't know what had happened.  We don't really know what happened to this one either, but we do know he was dead from birth, as I was right there when he came out and we were unable to revive him.  Last time I was distraught, but this time, I am kind of numb.  Since then I have seen more dead calves now than I can count, and a few dead cows too, I'm getting more used to it, I think my heart has hardened a little, I hope this makes me a more resilient farmer, and not less of a human.  Anyway, after we realised that the calf was dead we moved quickly to get a foster calf, and ended up getting two little jersey heifers, possibly future house cows.  Meanwhile, Bella has now developed mastitis again and has terrible oedema (swelling) of her udder.  Poor girl, its hard to tell if she's mourning for her calf or just feeling sick, we've had to get antibiotics again and I think we have some hard decisions to make about her future on our farm.  This would not be so difficult for any other animal that wasn't producing well, but a house cow becomes part of the family, like another pet, afterall she gives us her milk as if we were her calf.  We need to figure out the most humane and tolerable outcome for her.  But we need to get her well first, and if we are lucky she will raise these heifers for us.  Molly should be due to calve in a few months, and all we can do is hope for less drama.

In case you have lost track, we destocked Cheslyn Rise in April last year.  We sold the remaining 20 braford cows (apart from three that would not come into the yards, they are still running wild).  After a reasonable summer and autumn, we now have enough grass on the property to support cattle again, so we bought some Angus cattle, nine 2-year-old heifers and 18 weaner steers.  They are very tame and come running over when we go into the paddock.  This is much easier to work with that the previous cattle.    If food gets short, we might be able to lure the braford cows into our yards, otherwise we need to get someone in to muster them on horseback!  We now have a far better understanding of the amount of feed on our property and how to manage our cattle numbers, so we plan to sell these cattle again at the right time.

We then moved our little bull over to Cheslyn Rise to service the heifers before the neighbour's Santa Gertrudis bull finds them.  Bully (we haven't really named him yet after we lost Donald) seems very happy with the arrangement as he only had the two dairy cows back at Eight Acres, and bulls can be a bit of a pain on a small property.  We still have the three mini-moos (calves from Bella and Molly) at Eight Acres as well.  We haven't decided yet how many and which ones will be butchered this year, but its coming up to that time again too.

Hmmm, these other animals make cows seem sensible....

Goat Chaos -

My pig attacked me, I won't save his bacon now -

This is the best time of year in the garden as evaporation rates have reduced to the point were everything grows easily with just the grey water sprinkler.  And this year we also have tomatoes in the hydroponics, which is a real treat as I didn't manage to grow any in the garden this summer.  We have had a little bit of rain in June (15 mL) and some frost, so I pulled out the remaining choko vine, tomatoes, rosella and basil in the garden.  Now its just filled with asian greens, peas, broad beans, celery, so much parsley, lettuce, the occasional strawberry (yep its strawberry season in the sub-tropics!) and perennial leaks.  I pulled out chickweed by the armload and made a huge compost heaps, so I've put down some old hay as mulch to try to control it in the paths.  Read more about the sub-tropics and frost preparation here.

We have been a bit side-tracked from house renovation lately as we had to prepare the yards to receive the cattle.  Apart from pulling out the asbestos in the side room, we have been slowly working on pulling out the staples from the floor (apparently masonite under lino has to be filled with staples!  this is not something you want to spend hours work on as it really gets painful).  We have a builder lined up to replace the two extremely low windows in the kitchen with new windows at a reasonable height.  And he's also going to install a sliding door where our dodgy back door is currently.

13 Painting Secrets of Professional Painters -

Permaculture - Observe and Interact
You may remember a couple of years ago I reviewed each of the permaculture principles from David Holmgren's book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability, here are the links to my posts:
Observe and Interact
Catch and Store Energy
Obtain a Yield
Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
Use and Value Renewable Resources
Produce no Waste
Design from Patterns to Details
Integrate, Rather than Segregate
Use Small and Slow Solutions
Use and Value Diversity
Use edges and value the marginal
Creatively Use and Respond to Change

I want to now briefly review one principle a month to keep it fresh in my mind.  Staring again with Observe and Interact.  This is a principle that we now use constantly.  Especially now that we have bees.  I never ever expected to hear my husband say "oh look that tree over there is in flower"!  Every couple of weekends we go for a walk around Cheslyn Rise.  There are always new areas to explore.  We observe the slope, the soil and rocks, the type of vegetation growing, the quality of the cow manure, animal tracks, trees in flower (!) and anything else that catches our eye.  We discuss how we can use the different areas for different things (we are thinking that we could try free-range pigs in some of our forest areas, and we are always finding firewood and interesting logs for garden features).  I think we have both stopped thinking of walking around our property as a "waste of time" and we value the opportunity to observe different areas and different times of the year.

I finished knitting a set of winter woolies, including a head-band/ear-warmer, arm-warmers and a button-up cowl/ short scarf for those with short attention spans.  I think this is a good set for beginners as it really just involves knitting and purling, with the arm-warmers on double-pointed needles.  I like simple and quick knitting for beginners, its nice to produce something small but useful, after all that effort.

I was supposed to finish the alpaca yarn scarf I started, with the complicated lacey knit, but it takes so much concentration!  I picked up my crochet instead, and I'm making a blanket from some of the cheap yarn I've picked up at markets and op-shops, mainly to just practice my technique, nothing better than just working around and around for that, and it can be done while watching TV without losing my place and wrecking it.  I'll write about my pattern soon, but its based on this granny square.

house of simple: The Well Dressed Frugal Gentleman -

DIY Moisturizing Bug Block Bar | Scratch Mommy - Life, From Scratch

This one features often on Instagram!
Support me
I reluctantly jumped into the world of Instagram, come and find me @Eight_Acres_Liz.  I was worried about maintaining yet another social media platform.  I already have Eight Acres on pinterest and facebook and that mysterious GooglePlus (I have no idea if I'm using it correctly, does anyone follow me on that one? I have no idea how its supposed to work).  So far I've just been posting the occasional pretty photo from around the farm and its kind of fun.    

Also don't forget to register for Plastic Free July!

Only 16 more sleeps until Plastic Free July so let's get started!

Tips for making this plastic free July the most successful ever - Treading my Own Path

That's everything!  So how was your June?  What are you planning for July?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Popular chicken posts on Eight Acres

Over the years I've been writing this blog, chickens have been a regular topic and there are a few themes that have been particularly popular.  See the post on my chicken tractor ebook blog for a summary of popular posts about:

Chicken tractors

Gender of chicks

Guinea fowl

Feeding chickens

Butchering and cooking chickens

eight acres: popular posts about chickens

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How I use herbs - Brahmi

Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) is important in ayurvedic medicine and generally regarded as a nerve and brain tonic.

How to grow Brahmi
I purchased my brahmi plant as a small plant and it currently lives in a pot.  I have read that it prefers to live in damp conditions, so I keep it in a pot that I can move to suitable locations in the garden depending on the season.  When I have a pond, I think it would be a good one to plant around the edges.  Although it comes from a tropical climate, it seems to survive (but not thrive) in mildly frosty conditions.

eight acres: how to grow and use Brahmi

How I use Brahmi
Brahmi has been used for a huge range of conditions (coughs, arthritis, backache, hair loss, insomnia etc), its main application is for brain and nervous system function.  Research has identified two active compounds, bacoside A and B which have been shown to improve circulation and nourish nerve cells respectively. One theory is that these compounds enhance of the effects of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and, possibly, serotonin or GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid).  

Brahmi is extremely bitter, so its not something that you want to eat in large quantities.  It can be added to a herbal tea, but another common preparation is in a tincture alcohol or glycerine.  I made a tincture from fresh leaves in vodka and take the recommended 5 mL per day.

eight acres: how to grow and use Brahmi

There is some information on the internet about the interaction between estrogen in birth control and increased gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) causing temporary hearing loss.  This is explained in more detail here, and I think the first link misunderstands the issue.  My interpretation is that GABA and estrogen can interact to cause temporary hearing loss, but both are naturally present in our bodies, regardless of birth control, estrogen replacement therapy or brahmi consumption.  I would suggest that you start with a small doses of tincture and increase gradually to allow the natural balance in your hormonal system to adjust, and obviously if any hearing problems occur, stop using the tincture.  Brahmi is an ancient herb, so I can only assume that if it really did cause hearing problems, it wouldn't be used so frequently in ayurvedic medicine.  **But remember that I'm not a doctor or a herbalist** 

Do you grow and use brahmi?  Any thoughts about brahmi?

See my other posts about herbs:

How I use herbs - Mint, Peppermint and Spearmint

How I use herbs - Aloe Vera

How I use herbs - Basil

How I use herbs - Ginger, galangal and turmeric

How I use herbs - Marigold, calendula and winter taragon

How I use herbs - Soapwort

How I use herbs - Comfrey

How I use herbs - Nasturtium

How I use herbs - Parsley

How I use herbs - Borage

How I use herbs - Herb Robert

How I use herbs - Purslane

How I use herbs - Chickweed

How I use herbs - Neem oil

How I use herbs - Rue, tansy and wormwood

Monday, June 22, 2015

What do you feed your dogs?

As I've lately been thinking about what I eat and about real food for humans, naturally the next question was how to feed real food to Taz, and what is real food for dogs?

eight acres: real food for dogs
Taz pondering the question of real food for dogs

I have gradually been paying more attention to the ingredients in dog food over the last few years.  We used to buy the big cans of dog food when they were on special at the supermarket and that's all Cheryl ate until I read Pat Coleby's "Natural Pet Care", which recommended a plain kibble, with minimum additives.  I couldn't find the particular one that she mentioned, but I did switch Cheryl and Chime to a plain kibble.  I got the "old fat dog" version because they were both a little overweight.  Strangely they never lost any weight on this high carb, low fat diet (I can't believe I didn't work that one out earlier).

When we got puppy Taz, she ate puppy nuts (as Pete calls dog kibble) for her first 12 months and then when it was time for adult dog nuts, the penny finally dropped, and I got "working dog" for both Taz and Cheryl.  This mix is high fat, low carb, and this did seem to help with Cheryl's weight.

Then as I started reading more about paleo and the reasons why it might be more healthy for humans to eat closer to their ancestral diet, I started thinking about what we were feeding the dogs.  Even the working dog nuts were full of various grains.  For example a typical composition of a high-end dog kibble, note that its only 23% meat:
Dried Chicken And Turkey (23%, A Natural Source Of Taurine), Maize, Wheat, Sorghum, Barley, Animal Fat, Dried Beet Pulp (2.8%), Hydrolysed Animal Proteins, Dried Whole Egg, Potassium Chloride, Fish Oil, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Fructooligosaccharides (0.28%), Linseed, Glucosamine (432mg/Kg), Chondroitin Sulphate (43mg/Kg)

We know that a high carbohydrate diet in humans causes diabetes in the longer term, and yet we feed this to dogs and wonder why they get sick.  Cheryl almost certainly had diabetes and kidney problems as she got older, resulting finally in cataracts.  It makes sense to me that a diet high in grains is not natural or healthy for humans or dogs, in both cases they are just cheap fillers.

Then I started to look at grain-free options for dried dog kibble, and this was the best I could do, still lots of ingredients that I would rather avoid, including canola, peas (legumes are as bad as grains) and beets (high sugar):
Salmon, Anchovy & Sardine Meal, Potatoes, Peas, Dried Ground Potatoes, Canola Oil (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Menhaden Fish Meal, Tomato Pomace, Flaxseed, Pea Fibre, Pumpkin, Natural Fish Flavor, Cranberries, Apples, Minerals [Zinc Polysaccharide Complex, Iron Polysaccharide Complex, Copper Polysaccharide Complex, Manganese Polysaccharide Complex, Sodium Selenite, Cobalt Carbonate, Potassium Iodide], Vitamins [Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid], Choline Chloride, Papaya, Inulin, Salt, Blueberries, Pomegranate, Potassium Chloride, Mixed Tocopherols (added to preserve freshness), DL-Methionine, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Ground Cinnamon, Ground Fennel, Ground Peppermint, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus subtilis Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus licheniformis Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus oryzae Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus niger Fermentation Product, Lecithin, Rosemary Extract.  This is a naturally preserved product.

While this kibble did avoid grains, it seemed to maintain the same carbohydrate content and therefore present the same issues.  When I posted some of this on the Eight Acres facebook page, a few people recommended BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) and I also found K9 Natural, which is a freeze-dried raw product.  I stopped in at the local big-box pet food store and got a bag of the grain-free kibble, a box of BARF and a bag of K9.  These were not cheap and I was also hoping to find a homemade option, with these as back-up for when we didn't have time to make something.  I was also interested to see if the dogs would even eat them.  Here's a good post about feeding dogs dried food vs raw food.

BARF (Chicken for Dogs)
Chicken, finely ground chicken bone, beef liver, whole egg, cultured kefir, seasonal vegetables selected from broccoli, celery, spinach, carrot, ground flax seed, bok choy, dried alfalfa leaf powder, beef kidney, beef heart, unbleached beef tripe, seasonal fruit selected from apple, pear, grapefruit, orange, dried kelp powder, garlic, capsicum.
eight acres: real food for dogs

K9 Natural (Beef Feast) 
Beef meat, beef blood, beef bone, beef green tripe, beef liver, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, spinach (chard), cabbage, apple, pear, beef hearts, beef kidneys, eggs, green lipped mussel and garlic
eight acres: real food for dogs

I got these before Cheryl died, and I can report that Cheryl taste-tested all the options and 100% approved (but then she would almost eat anything, except for green beans).  It turned out that Taz does not like raw meat.  While Cheryl was happy to help Taz finish her BARF patties, it did make it difficult to make sure Taz was getting some food.  In particular Taz does not like raw offal and will pick that out of minced up food.  She will eat the kibble and K9 Natural though.  The problem was that BARF is about the easiest of the options for me to make at home!

eight acres: real food for dogs
Taz with the grain-free kibble (and gravy), she likes those, doggy junk food

In fact we had found that our local supermarket makes a product called "fiedo's friend", and when I asked the butcher, he said it contains only trimmings and offal (trimmings are the fatty bits of meat, some go into sausages, but this must be the excess), which is perfect mixed with some eggs, yoghurt, kelp, and at $2.99/kg, its more reasonable than anything from the pet food store.  Only problem was that Taz picked out the offal.  Eventually I gave up on Taz ever eating this raw and cooked it for her.  Delicious!  She has no problem eating the offal if it is cooked (like people food? sometimes I think that Taz thinks she's a people too).  I like this product because it is trimmings from meat that was intended for humans.  We have had the misfortune of sending a bull with eye cancer to the meatworks for dog meat (to the "doggers"), and I don't like to buy "dog mince" knowing that its probably minced up sick animals, if its not for human consumption, it shouldn't be for dogs either.

eight acres: real food for dogs

The past couple of weeks I have used about 1 kg of "fiedo's friend" minced trimmings and offal, with 2 eggs, a grated carrot and grated choko, and a sprinkle of kelp powder, cooked this in our largest frying pan (I tried to do meat balls, but the offal makes it too messy, so now just one large chunk works better).  I then make gravy from what's left in the pan.  Taz has a scoop of cooked mince and a splash of gravy and that seems to suit her.

It doesn't take long to cook this for her, but it is an extra chore, so when we don't have time, she can have the grain-free kibble.  I'm afraid I will have to cook the remaining BARF patties!  What a waste!  I think the raw diet is surely more natural and Taz still has a raw bone daily, but if she doesn't want to eat the raw offal, its probably better she has this cooked mixture than any of the dried food options.  I would love to feed her the K9 Natural, but being made in NZ, its very expensive and has excessive food miles.

What do you think?  What do you feed your dogs and why?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I'm still not using shampoo

I stopped using shampoo in January 2012, I wrote about not washing my hair a few months later.  I hadn't done any research at the time, it was kind of my version of "do nothing farming" but for hair care.  I really did wonder what would happen if I did nothing.  For over a year, I washed my hair in water only.  It was quite a simple transition because at the time I was only using a very mild organic shampoo once a week anyway.  I didn't notice much difference between how my hair was without washing, and how it used to be by the end of the week (just before I washed it again).  It looked permanently like it kind of might need a wash soon, but it also just seemed to reach a certain level of oil and just stay like that, it doesn't get worse and worse, it seemed to me that it was a natural equilibrium and I was happy to leave it alone. I then started occasionally using our homemade soap, especially if we did any farm work that involved me getting actual dirt or poop in my hair.

eight acres: no using shampoo
This is me fresh from the hairdresser,
I had to take a photo because it won't look like that again!

I saw Lucy AitkenRead's book Happy Hair - The definitive guide to giving up shampoo: Save money, ditch the toxins and release your hair's natural beauty with No Poo when the media picked up on it late last year (the commentary went something like "oh wow this lady doesn't use shampoo, that's amazing!!!!").  It wasn't until a rather disastrous visit to the hairdresser a couple of weeks ago that I finally decided to purchase the book for myself.  I haven't had a proper haircut for over a year because I'm very particular about my hairdresser and I haven't had a chance to see the one person I trust to cut my hair how I like it without washing it for me.  I had, however, persuaded Pete to give my hair a trim back in December last year and I thought he did a pretty good job.  He cut it like you'd expect from a tradesman, straight across at the back, square and level, and fortunately still long enough to tie up!

He refused to cut it again, so I just had to pick a hairdresser in Brisbane and risk it.  I wasn't in the mood for explaining the whole not using shampoo thing, so I let her wash my hair (I also told her that Pete had cut it last, and I think she found that strange enough without horrifying her with the lack of shampoo).  She proceeded to wash it very thoroughly, I winced every time she squirted out more shampoo, she rinsed and repeated FOUR times and commented that I had dandruff.  Thanks, I'm sure all those chemicals will help.  Then she just kept putting more stinky gunk in my hair and spent longer blow-drying it than cutting it.  It looked ridiculous, but at least shorter.  When I got home I took a photo to send to Pete (for next time he cuts it, haha!) and then I washed out all the chemicals with soap.

Now as I was back to square "squeaky-clean" one , I decided to get the book and find out more about these baking soda and apple cider vinegar no-poo methods I keep reading about.  And I can report that it is an excellent book.  If you are curious about trying no-poo, this book tells you how to transition from a "normal" shampoo routine to the ultimate goal of washing with water only and occasionally baking soda and apple cider vinegar.  It suggests a number of natural and chemical-free alternatives to keep your hair clean and healthy.

eight acres: not using shampoo
Same haircut, a few weeks later, washed only with "no-poo" methods

The book helped to clarify two things for me.  Firstly, the "do nothing" hair care is probably not a good reason to stop using shampoo and I think I'm done with that experiment, as interesting as it was!  I need to be clear that my reason for not using shampoo is to avoid chemicals, and if my hair has dandruff or doesn't look nice, I should use some of the natural cleaning agents suggested in the book, while being mindful that healthy hair has a natural sebum balance.  And I will still be saving money compared to buying supermarket shampoo and conditioner.  (I'm going to try a rosemary infusion for the dandruff).

 Secondly the reason that baking soda is able to clean hair, and the reason people report varying results is that is actually reacts with the oil in your hair.  That is, as an alkali, the baking soda reacts with the oil in your hair to make a mild soap (I had previously assumed it was just an exfoliant, but when you use it, you notice a soapy feeling).  This means that you have to be careful not to use too much, as you will strip oil out of your hair and cause as much damage as the chemicals you were trying to avoid.  If you launch into no-poo without doing your research, you may find that you're not happy with the results and just go back to shampoo, and you can even damage your hair.  This book is the quickest way to find out what to do and why.

One last comment, if you currently dye your hair and use lots of hair products, you may have to wean yourself off all that stuff before trying no-poo.  For a start, there's really no point trying to avoid chemicals in shampoo if you're putting other chemicals in your hair anyway (check out the Environmental Working Group database ratings of hair dyes).  Maybe cold-turkey will work, but you can also try what I did and just start to go without products, change to a mild organic shampoo and then move to no-poo when you're only washing your hair once a week or so anyway.

So tell me what you think..... do you wash your hair with shampoo?  Would you consider trying no-poo?  Do you already go without shampoo? 

Note: if you purchase through these links I get a small percentage of the sale as commission, it doesn't cost you any extra.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Managing house cow body condition

Dairy cows are naturally skinnier than beef cows. They are bred to produce milk, not meat! But it can be tricky to know whether your cow is too skinny, or too fat, as both can cause serious problems.

If you are new to cows, you might not know if your cow is too skinny or too fat, or what her coat should look like if she's healthy.  Read more on my house cow ebook blog.

Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on ScribdLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at to arrange delivery.

Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"

Gavin from Little Green Cheese (and The Greening of Gavin)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What you need to know about soil

The more you spend time gardening or farming, the more you start to think about soil, and improving your soil and growing more plants. Here’s a few things that I think you should know about your soil to get you started.

eight acres: what you need to know about soil - texture, structure and microbes

What is soil?
Soil is the mixture of ground-up rock and decaying plants and insects that support a myriad of life from earthworms and plants that you can see down to the teeny tiny microbes that you can’t see, but are just as important.

Soil texture
The texture of your soil is really just the size of the ground-up rock. The largest size is sand (0.2-0.02 mm), followed by silt (0.02-0.002 mm) and finally the smallest is clay (less than 0.002 mm). I often hear people say that they have “clay soil” when its hard to dig, but that really comes down to the next topic, soil structure. The best way to test your soil texture is what I call the sausage test (officially the “ball and ribbon test”). Try to roll some moist soil into a little ball between your hands and then into a sausage. If you can’t even get it to roll into a ball, you have sand. If you can get a nice smooth, long sausage, then you have clay. Anything in between, is a mixture of sand, silt and clay. If you rub the soil between your fingers and you can fell the grains, there is sand in your soil. We have a range of soils over our property, but most are clay loams (a loam is a mixture of all three textures), we always come back from walks around the paddocks with dirty hands from our sausage tests.  I wrote more about soil testing for our new property back here.

Soil structure
Even if you don’t have clay, you can have tight soils that you cannot dig. This is caused by poor soil structure. Soil structure is the size of the “aggregate” or the clumps of the particles of sand, silt and clay (and organic matter). Ideally you want durable aggregates around the size of peas. If you have soil that is either dust or “massive” (i.e. undiggable), then you have some work to do. I have seen some soil tests where you start by digging out a clump of soil a spade width square and observe the soil. This is simply not possible in the soil in our property at the moment due to poor structure. You are lucky to get a spade in 1 inch if you jump on it!  However, in my garden I have some nice aggregates.

Soil chemistry
Soil structure depends on soil chemistry, soil biology (see next topic) and moisture content. Soil chemistry is a huge topic , which I have covered briefly before, and I think its worth revisiting the key points here. To understand your soil chemistry, you really need to send a sample to be tested, this is not a huge expense, and you might be able to get it done even cheaper through your agronomist, local council or extension service. The test results will tell you three important things about your soil and you can probably ignore the rest (unless you have animals, and then you want to check that they are getting enough trace minerals like copper and selenium).

1. Soil pH, ideally this should be 7, if its too high or too low, you probably have other issues, keep reading...

2. Cation exchange capacity (CEC), this is the capacity of the soil to hold onto nutrients, if you have high clay soil or high organic matter, you will have high CEC and therefore, “fertile” soil. Your report should give you the ratio between the most common cations, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and hydrogen.  This is also related to pH (low pH occurs when hydrogen ion concentration is high).  Ideally you want around about 65% Calcium, 15% Magnesium, 4% Potassium, and 1% to 5% Sodium. Too much magnesium results in a tighter clay (because they are smaller atoms). Too much sodium results in a loose “sodic” soil that is prone to erosion because the sodium doesn't hold the clay together. You can correct the CEC by adding lime for calcium (and pH increase) or dolomite for calcium/magnesium, or gypsum for calcium without a pH change.  This will displace the hydrogen and sodium, which are only held weakly.

3. Organic matter, most problems with your soil can be corrected with sufficient organic matter. Organic matter increases the amount of nutrients that the soil can hold, corrects pH, improves the water holding capacity, and most importantly, feeds the soil life in the next topic. Increase organic matter using compost, mulch, and most importantly, cover crops because plants increase organic matter through their roots. If you have no plants growing you are losing organic matter through oxidation (reaction with oxygen) and degrading your soil (notwithstanding if your soil is covered in snow, then it is all dormant and its ok to have nothing growing).

Soil life
Your soil is full of life, one teaspoon of soil contains more microbes than there are people on earth.

That’s one teaspoon of healthy soil, soil that hasn’t been poisoned by chemicals like herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilisers. Microbes are responsible for improving soil structure by producing sticky chemicals, they also dissolves minerals and make nutrients available to plants (for example, potassium solubilisation) and they increase the organic matter in your soil by changing liable humus to fixed or permanent humus.  You need to adopt gardening (and farming) practices that encourage soil life because it will ultimately reduce the work that you need to do.  Everything that builds organic matter, also feeds microbes, just try to avoid chemicals and encourage a healthy ecosystem through companion planting and beneficial insects.  I've written about soil microbes here, and also reviewed "Teaming with Microbes" here.  "The Biological Farmer" is another excellent resource for understanding soil on a farm-scale.

There is obviously more to soil than I can cover in this post, but I hope that this gets you started and helps you understand how its all connected.  No matter what texture or chemistry you start with, the key is increasing organic matter and soil life.

Did I miss anything?  What else do we need to know about soil?  Any soil questions?

How did I know that?  Here are affiliate links to books that have helped me to understand soil.  See more in my Amazon book store.



DIY linky


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