Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Knitting - some people make it look so easy!

My grannie used to knit all the time.  She used to make us grandchildren embarrassing home-knitted jerseys, which I did not appreciate at the time, but when I was a little older I actually asked her to knit one for me because the house I was living in while attending uni in Palmerston North was absolutely freezing!  My mum also used to knit occasionally, I do remember that she spent hours knitting mittens for me and a smaller pair for my little brother in preparation for a trip to the snow.  On the first day up the mountain both pairs got saturated and were hung to dry in the drying room at the lodge.  The next day my pair fitted my brother and his pair would have fitted a baby, oops!  At some stage my grannie taught me to knit too.  I can't remember actually finishing a knitting project at the time.

Recently I have been inspired by all the lovely knitting on a few different blogs (here and here and here).  The clothes (and other products!) they are producing don't look "home-made", all chunky and ill-fitting, they are beautiful and stylish.  So I thought maybe I should try to learn to knit and make myself some nice clothes.  I bought some wool from a stall at the farmers market (I think it was stock from a haberdashery that closed down or something, not fresh from the sheep anyway).  I had to search and search among the balls of impostor polyester and nylon to find 4 balls of blue wool, from sheep (some of the impostor "wool" had little cartoon pictures of sheep, which made the process even slower).  And I bought some knitting needles, it came to $10.25, is that too much to pay?  (I have just found new needles online for $10-30! so I think I did ok to get the wool AND needles for that price, tip for beginners- try farmers markets and op shops for your knitting supplies!).  My husband didn't believe that I knew how to knit and thought I was crazy taking so long to find wool.  At that stage, having committed so much money (and reputation), I was really hoping that I did remember.

Well here is my effort.  A headband because my ears always get cold in winter and beanies are never quite long enough (and make my hair messy).  The basic knitting came back to me pretty quickly, my husband was very surprised that I could do it.  Its just knits, I didn't want to confuse the issue with purls (shame, I thought they were pearls until I started reading a knitting website just now).  I want to make beautiful vests and cardigans, but I'm going to have to learn to follow a pattern, and work out what the codes mean.

Does anyone have an easy pattern for me to start with?  What's the next level up from a straight scarf or headband?  I don't want to start something that's too hard for my skill level and get put off completely!  But I need something challenging to keep me interested, and something useful that I'll wear.  I also need some more wool.....any ideas for getting some more nice wool?  Apart from old stock at farmers markets!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Liebster award for blogs I love to read....

I've only been blogging since last Nov, I thought it would be fun to record things that we do, but in the process I've discovered some really interesting and inspirational blogs as well, and that's really turned out to be the best part.  So I'm especially honoured that someone else has discovered MY blog and given me the Liebster blog award.  This award seems to have been circulating the blogging world for a while, I supposed its a bit of a chain letter, but I think its a fun opportunity to tell you about some of the blogs that I enjoy.

This award is given to bloggers with under 200 followers. Here are the rules:

1. Thank the giver and link back to them.

Thank you Bruise Mouse!  I love your blog too, I especially love your passion for reducing waste through recyclingcomposting, reducing consumption etc, because that's one of my interests too.  Bruise Mouse is also half-responsible for the Sow Grow Give initiative, which is such a great idea for spreading seeds and seedling and encouraging backyard gardens!  I encourage you to join, where-ever you are!  

See Living a Little Greener for Bruise Mouse's list of favourite blogs, I don't want to repeat any of them, even though I follow most of them too, so I've chosen some different ones, its been tricky!  

2. Reveal your 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.

Calidore - I love to see the gardening successes on this blog, especially when my garden isn't going so well!  And some gorgeous knitting craft, makes me want to learn more, as well as some great perspectives on sustainability and self-sufficiency.

Backward Leonard- Apart from the author having a very cool name (Liz), the fun part about this blog is watching someone do similar things (gardening, chickens, firewood chopping) on the other side of the world with opposite seasons.

Craving Fresh - I love this because Emma is trying to feed her family healthy fresh food, she's trying to grow some of it herself in a rental house, and also have some great ideas for reducing consumption in general.  Also, she's in Wellington, New Zealand, where I grew up, so the photos of her backyard remind me of my childhood!

Greening the Rose - Rose has a lovely vege garden and some great green ideas, but the thing that's got me reading lately is her project in which she is tracking the ownership and ingredients of common foods, it has been revealing to say the least!

Vegetable Vagabond - This is a new one that I have only followed for a little while, but there's so much information on her blog, I'm looking forward to reading more....

3. Copy and paste award to your blog.

4. Have faith that your followers will pass the love to other bloggers.
I have faith!

5. And most of all, have Bloggity-blog fun.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Soap self-sufficiency

I was excited by the idea of making soap using our cows milk.  I thought that was another great self-sufficient product that we could add to the list.  I bought a book about making milk soap and I read it.  I was so very DISAPPOINTED to find out that milk would be a minor ingredient in the soap.  I would still need to use a fat or oil and lye.  Well, I don't regularly produce any fats or oils here, so it wouldn't be very self-sufficient to buy fats or oils (not to mention the lye) in order to make soap.  Having found out the realities of soap making, I decided that I'd rather just buy nice soap from someone and support a local business, than fuss about making my own, so we get our soap from the farmers market at the moment.

However, now that I have learnt so much more about soap, I am wondering about a self-sufficient source of fat/oil.  We did have a wheel-barrow of fat from the steer that we had killed recently and we did try to render it.  It didn't work, but I can absolutely tell you how NOT to render it!  Don't stick all the big chunks in a big pot over a roaring fire, it will just burn and go disgusting and be no good to anyone!  Having since read about rendering on the internet, I now know that we should have chopped it into small pieces, cut out all the meat, and heated it very gently.  This would have made brilliant soap, with a bit of essential oil to disguise the beefy smell :)  We will try to get it right next time (if not for soap, at least for cooking).

How NOT to render!  Large chunks and bits of meat are BAD.  Hot fire is BAD.
As for the lye, I have read that wood ash can be used instead, however being mostly potassium hydroxide, rather an sodium hydroxide, the soap won't go solid.  Still its worth a try even to make a liquid soap, then it would be totally a self-sufficient soap (apart from the essential oils, although my husband has a still that we could use to extract lavender oil from lavender growing in our garden!  Am I taking it too far now?).

In the meantime, I will be buying locally hand-made soap (even though I'm sure the ingredients are not local, relatively its better than mass produced soap).

Do you make soap?  What ingredients do you use?

For more information, see these posts:
Rendering fat in a slow cooker
Making soap from beef tallow

Monday, August 22, 2011

Early morning milking

I keep forgetting to take photos at milking time because its usually still dark, but we slept in a little the other day, so I was able to take a few photos so that I can explain the process.

As you can see we bought a mini milking machine.  I would have loved to hand milk, it seems so romantic and in touch with nature, but we have tried to hand milk Bella a couple of times, just to see if we could and that made me very glad to have a milking machine instead!  Bella has VERY small teats, you can only wrap a couple of fingers around them, instead of your whole hand, so it makes hand milking very slow (apparently cows are being bred to have smaller teats to suit milking machines, rather than hand milking which is better with longer teats, just another frustrating consequence of industrial farming).  Its also interesting how much dirt and hair ends up in your hand milking bucket.  When we'd finished, I wasn't too confident that the milk was clean, whereas if it get sucked straight from the teats into our milk can, there's not much chance of any contamination.  So its turned out to be a good purchase.

Each morning we get up around 5:30am.  People say that you have to milk at the same time every day, but if you think about a large farm, with 100+ cows, milking may take a couple of hours and in that case each cow would get milked at a different time each day anyway, so I don't think Bella minds if we are half an hour either way (usually late!).

We prepare a bucket of milled grain of Bella food the night before, so we can just grab the food bucket, a bucket with a little hot water in it and the milking machine and take it all down to the milking bales.  Bella is usually waiting by the gate.  For the food, not the milking!  I doubt that any cows actually enjoy milking, unless they have a very full udder, but they all get fed either immediately before, or during, milking, so that's why you see them walking over to the milking shed.

We then wash Bella's teats with warm water and turn on the milking machine.  When the vacuum is established we put the teat cups on Bella's teats and watch the milk being sucked up into the milk can.  When not much milk is coming over we break the vacuum and remove the teat cups.  We tip the milk from the can into a stainless steel bucket via a funnel with a piece of cheese cloth clamped over an in-built filter.  Depending how much milk is in the bucket, sometimes we then pour it into jugs, or just put the whole bucket (with lid) in the fridge.

The milking machine is then cleaned by sucking a bucket of warm water/detergent through the machine (steaming hot water would damage the pump, as does strong chemicals or too much suds).  The clean up for the milking machine is pretty simple, so its really not any more difficult than hand milking.

Bella then gives the rest of her milk to Molly while she eats some hay.

Do you hand-milk or machine-milk or both?  Any advice?

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Raw milk update

Following on from my post from the other day about raw milk, a friend who works in the food regulation area sent me some great links from NZ.

Firstly, NZ takes a risk management approach and allows farmers to sell up to 5L of milk directly to customers for their personal consumption.  This is a very sensible approach that allows farmers and consumers to get what they want, raw milk direct to customers, without unnecessary regulation.

There was also a link to a study of the pathogens (disease causing microbes) that can be found in raw milk and how to minimise the risk of food poisoning.  From reading this report, my understanding is that the risk can be controlled by the following actions:
  • Keep your cow healthy and free of mastitis - mastitis is most often caused by non-pathogenic bacteria, however there is a possibility of infection by human pathogens, which will cause tummy-bug/food poisoning symptoms.  I'll write more later about natural methods to keep your cow healthy. 
  • Keep your milking area clean - many of the human pathogens that find their way into milk are found in feaces and/or soil, if the milking area is clean, there is lower risk of contaminating the milk during milking.
  • Wash the cow's teats prior to milking - feaces or soil on the teats (due to lying down in dirty yards) can contaminate the milk.  We wash Bella's teats with a face cloths in bucket of warm water.  
  • Discard the first few squirts of milk - the "foremilk" (the first few squirts) has the highest pathogen load as its closest to the outside environment, therefore the overall pathogen load of the milk can be reduced by squirting this milk onto the ground after washing the cow's teats.
  • Handle milk with care (all milk, not just raw milk) - raw milk should be refrigerated immediately after milking and all milking containers and equipment should be kept clean.  Milk is nutrient rich and the perfect medium for bacteria to grow.  Even pasteurised milk can become contaminated after pasteurisation (particularly after the bottle is opened) and cause food poisoning if its not kept cold.
In my previous post I said that milk from healthy cows milked in sanitary conditions is safe.  If you are going to buy raw milk, you will need to make sure that you're statisfied that the farmer is following the above guidelines, that the cows are healthy and that the milking conditions are clean, otherwise you do put yourself at risk of food poisoning.

Any thoughts on raw milk and the milking process?

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Whole Earth Catalogues - good advice from the 70s

I suppose its true that there is nothing new under the sun, but now I have proof. Its in the form of a series of large books, A2 size actually, called Whole Earth Catalogues. My parents gave them to me recently to show me that they were once “hippies” too, back in the 70s. I am now the proud owner of “The last Whole Earth Catalog” (from the US) and the first and third editions of the New Zealand version “The New Zealand Whole Earth Catalogue”. The US catalogues were designed to list all sorts of products for sale (clothing, books, tools, machines, seeds – things useful for a creative or self-sustainable lifestyle). They were not sold by the catalogue and the information wasn’t advertising, more just a list of things that might be useful to other people, with the suppliers listed. It was a source of information for people wanted to live differently, pre-internet connections. The NZ catalogues are a little different again, with more articles and cartoons, containing information about self-sufficiency and social issues, and fewer “products” described.

I haven’t read all of them in detail yet, but having flicked through and read a few articles from each, I was amazed at the content and how similar it is to all the blogs that I’m reading today. The issues that were discussed include, growing veges, making beer, butchering meat, as well as social issues like recycling/reusing resources, and protesting against big industry and manufacturers, even articles about starting your own printing press (the equivalent to a blog these days?). Reading these catalogues - the language, the illustrations and the subject-matter - really gave me an insight into life in the 70s, it seemed to be a time of hope for these “hippies” that their alternative life-style might one day become mainstream and that they might be able to change the world.

Then I started to think how sad it was that we’ve clearly made no progress in the last 40 years! If these issues were recognised in the 70s and written about then, why are we still working on the same things now? In fact, things seem to have gotten worse, industries are bigger and have more control over our lives, resources are wasted to an even greater extent, and society is even more disconnected from food production that ever.

While looking for more information on the books, I found a few for sale on the net, one was only $25! Considering that they were $10 when new, they should be worth up to $100 now. If you’re interested, have a look for them. I can’t find an Australian equivalent, but maybe Grass Roots has been around for so long, there was no need, can someone who was around at the time confirm that for me please?

I'll write more about the articles in these catalogues as I get time to read more, I think there's some great old ideas in them that we could benefit from revisiting now.......

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bottle feeding a calf

Getting a calf started on the bottle is not easy.  At first they are scared and miss their mum, so they don't cooperate at all.  When little Trevor first came home with us he was only a few weeks old.  We struggled with him for days, my husband standing over him to hold his head still and me trying to get the teat in Trevor's mouth. Eventually he worked it out and we were greeted each morning at sunrise with hungry mooing as he paced up and down his pen waiting impatiently for his bottle.  Those days when he wouldn't feed were very stressful though, we didn't know if he would die of hunger and we were seriously considering loading him back in the ute and taking him back to his mum!  Molly was exactly the same, but after a few days, just like Trevor, she got hungry enough to work out what we were trying to do and then she was waiting for her bottle after milking morning and evening and finishes it with no trouble.

eight acres: how to bottle feed a calf
Trevor working out the bottle after a few days
 - when he was hungry enough!

We use a Speedy-feeder that we bought when Trevor was being so difficult.  It has different speed settings and a nice big handle.  Its not really necessary, a teat on a soft-drink bottle is a cheaper option, but we were willing to try anything when we thought Trevor was going to die, so we spent money on a fancy bottle!

After a few weeks, when Molly was big enough, we started leaving her with Bella during the day and only separating them at night.  We started feeding Molly calf pellets and grain in the afternoon and leading her into her pen with her bucket.  Now she recognises her bucket of food and we can easily lead her anywhere.

eight acres: how to bottle feed a calf
Molly knows that grain comes in a bucket.
Starting a young calf on grain is also difficult.  When you start reading about the complicated processes that occur in the stomachs of ruminants, such as cattle, it can seem quite daunting!  To put it simply, ruminants need bacteria in their stomachs to help them to digest grain and grass, but they don't have any of those bacteria when they're first born.  They need to nibble on a bit of grain and grass so that they slowly build up some bacteria, but they can't have too much at first until the bacteria is established.  This was very confusing with Trevor, as we had to try to give him the right amount and build up his system so that he could be weaned (at $100 for 20 kg, you don't want to buy any more powdered milk replacer than you have to!).  With Molly having free access to milk and wandering around with Bella and nibbling on whatever Bella is eating, we have been able to let nature take its course.  We probably won't wean Molly until Bella is ready for her next calf, so she shouldn't have any trouble with digestion.

Have you bottle fed a calf?  Any tips for getting them started?

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

Friday, August 12, 2011

Joel Salatin - adapting Polyface farming method for Australian conditions

On Friday the 5th of August my husband and I left Nanango at 6:15am headed for Beerwah (Sunshine Coast) to attend a workshop with Joel Salatin of Polyface farm, he's a written a few books too. I didin't know much about Joel before we booked the workshop. I had heard of him because Emma has mentioned Polyface a few times in comments and he also wrote the forward to "The Raw Milk Revolution", which I read recently. When I heard about the workshop (from the South Burnett Permaculture Group) my husband and I checked out a few of his videos on Youtube and thought he seemed like a pretty good presenter, so it would be worth the effort to get there.

Joel Salatin at his farm
The workshop started at 9am, there were almost 200 people in the Beerwah community hall and Costa Georgiadis (of Costa's Garden Odyssey fame) was the MC. We hadn't realised that it would be such a big deal, Channel 7 news even turned up after lunch. The event was organised by a company called RegenAg, which organises similar workshops around Australia with various local and international experts (they have some other good ones coming up that I'd love to go to). The lunch was catered by a community food share organisation called Food Connect. All round it was a very well organised, interesting and enjoyable day. 

and again with a chicken :)

Joel showed a series of photos from his farm (Polyface - the farm of many faces) and used them to demonstrate and describe the farming methods that he uses. At Polyface, they farm beef cattle, pigs and chickens/turkeys. They have researched and tried to mimic natural processes to manage the animals without the need for fertilisers, chemical treatments or ploughing the fields. For the beef cattle they use a technique called "mob-stocking", where the cattle are kept in small areas using electric fences, and are moved daily, this allows them to eat most of the grass and trample any weeds that they don't eat. The chickens are kept in movable wagons and are moved onto the pasture after the cattle are finished, so that they can eat the insects/fly larvae in the manure and keep the cattle healthy. The cattle are kept in sheds in the winter, with deep mulch on the ground. They are fed hay during this time. Corn is scattered through the mulch. In spring, when the cattle return to their pastures, piglets are brought into the sheds to eat the corn and this is used to mix up the mulch and create compost, which is later spread on the pasture. When the pigs are big enough they are taken up to the mountain forests and moved through the forest using electric fences. This helps the forest to regenerate and reduces the fire-hazard (less vegetation at ground level). Wood from the forests is harvested and sold in the local area, branches are mulched and used for the floor of sheds. As you can see, the systems are interlinked and based on natural systems, with a the help of modern technology where appropriate (electric fences, tractors and poly-pipe to supply water).

Many in the audience had questions for Joel about how the system would work in Australia (e.g. what about rainforests? what about Australia not having any native hooved animals? etc).. Obviously Joel couldn't answer these questions, he only knows what works for him on his farm in the US. I think its up to us to now take his methods and adapt them to Australian conditions. The workshop was not so much about how to farm, but more how to think about farming in a different way to the conventional ideas of splitting the farm into monocutures, how to use natural systems and modern technology to our advantage. I think for some people the ideas were quite revolutionary, but for us we have seen some of these principles unintentionally in action at our friends' dairy farm. For example, they raise pigs on their excess milk and they move the dairy cows around to different pastures each day, so it wasn't totally weird for us to see how the systems on Polyface farm are interlinked. Its all about looking for synergies within the system and not letting anything go to waste.  Joel doesn't mention permaculture, but it all seems to be related.

Since the workshop, we have been thinking about how to apply this to our little farm. We need to adapt the principles to our scale and for our needs (more home produce than commercial production). We already have our chickens in movable cages, but we could do more to make sure that they follow the cattle (this means clearing our paddocks so that the chicken tractors can get through). We have already broken up our 8 acres into 4 smaller paddocks, but we can create smaller "cells" for the cattle using electric fences. We already compost some manure, but we could work harder to pick it up in winter instead of leaving it in the paddock to leach nutrients. We already mulch excess wood, but we could use it as deep litter first to add some extra fertiliser. We give excess milk to the dogs, but it would be great to get a couple of pigs to raise on the milk instead. We need to do more to ensure that we have winter grass available for the cattle so that we don't have to feed grain.

We already use movable chicken cages
We already compost some manure
We already mulch small trees
In some ways we are already doing more than Polyface, for example we hatch our own chickens and they buy theirs from a hatchery, which should help us to develop a line of chickens that is suited to our conditions. (OK I was hoping for more things on that list and I could only think of one!). My point is that there are many different ways to apply these principles and even if you only have a small garden, you can think about the links between garden and compost, adding in chickens or a worm farm to maximise the use of your scraps and create extra fertility. This is not just limited to big commercial farms, you just have to think about how it will work for you.

We hatch our own chicks (couldn't resist putting this photo in again!)

For those who missed out on the workshop, there are lots of videos on Youtube, which give you a pretty good idea of the things Joel talked about. He has also published a series of books. We bought the first two of them at the workshop and I'll let you know if we find them useful and then we might think about buying the others as well.

Have you read any of Joel's books or been to a workshop?  Are you using any of these methods on your farm or in your garden?

Getting started with homestead dairy
Interview with myself
Interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture
Interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow
Interview with Rose Petal
Interview with Marie from Go Milk the Cow
Interview with Ohio Farmgirl

If you want to know more about house cows, my eBook is available for purchase on Scribd.  Its only $4.99, and it includes lots of information about keeping a house cow in Australia.  There's more details about the eBook on my house cow eBook blog.  If you don't want to go through all the Scribd/paypal effort, just send me an email on eight.acres.liz at and I can arrange to email it to you instead.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The answers to all your questions....

Haha, maybe an ambitious title!  But the point is that I never know how to answer questions in comments.  Do I answer the question in another comment, or update the post?  but what if you don't return to the post to read the answer? or should I write a new post to answer the questions?  but then what about other people who read the comment later and still don't know the answer?  Well I've had a few questions lately, so I thought I'd just answer them all in this post and see how that works....

A Mattock :)
  1. A question from Emma about "Easy Peasy Cheesy...": Ooh, I can't wait to see how your hard cheeses turn out. How long do you have to wait? A year? Ten?  Well we're not sure yet, but it should only be 6-8 weeks for the cheddar, but for the parmesan we should wait a year.  
  2. Emma also asked about the post "Weeds":  what's a mattock? I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't know!  My husband loves his mattock, it must be an Aussie thing, it is a garden tool that looks like the picture to the left.
  3. Another questions from Emma on post "The Monster Mulcher": Have you studied permaculture? Not studied exactly, but read a bit about it, and take ideas from lots of different areas, organic, biodynamic, permaculture etc etc, just trying different things and finding out what works!
  4. I had lots of questions about the post "I made butter!" and replied in a comment as follows:
     The butter doesn't last as long because I don't do as good a job of removing all the buttermilk liquid as an industrial butter factory. The liquid is what makes the fat go rancid, that's why I also have to add a bit of salt to it. I have heard that butter can be frozen, so I shall try that when we have excess.
    I have seen a book on making soap from milk, so I'm going to get that. I'd rather make cheese at the moment, but you're right, frozen milk will be good for soap, so I can put some away and get back to it eventually. I've never made soap before (just read a bit on the net), so that will be interesting!  (I got the book and turns out you still need to use a fat/oil to make the soap and put in a bit of milk, doesn't seem very self-sufficient if I still have to buy fat/oil, however if we are more sucessful with rendering the beef fat next time, that will be a good source).
  5.  Emma wondered in response to"Top five veges for beginner gardeners" where to get poor man's beans seeds in NZ:
    The botanical name for the Poor Man's Beans is 'dolichos lablab'. It looks like you can get the seeds from here, among other places. 
  6. Joyfulhomemaker asked about "Home butchering - some tips for beginners" what breed are you doing there? We just buy whatever we can get hold of when we need the next steer (see here), so far we have had a Jersey X Low line (maybe?), a Fresian X Murray Grey, a Fresian X Limosine, a Fresian X "Hereford" (unlikely?), and 2 more Limosine crosses coming up.  I'm not sure that the breed has much influence on the taste, but we have noticed a difference in the temperament, the limosines are very aloof, they seem to like to hide behind trees and stare at us (unless we have a food bucket).
  7. Liz asked about "Winter Woodfires: part 1": Are those types of stove popular there? I don't know if they are, does anyone else have one??  We just needed a woodfire and thought the stoves were a great idea, so were happy to pay a bit extra for the extra function.  There are three or four brands available here in Australia, different sizes, prices and quality etc, I wonder if they are available in other countries too.  We use ours for cooking most days in winter, so its been a good buy.
  8. I also had lots of questions on "On my mind - Yoghurt update + exciting news!", to which I replied in a comment:
     Honestly, it is REALLY easy, I make the next batch of yoghurt before I go to work, as I'm dishing out the last of it to take for lunch! I can't even make decent bread, so if you can manage bread, you can definitely make yoghurt!  
    As long as you have the Easiyo thermos you just make it with cold milk/water and put boiling water in the thermos, and leave for 6-10 hours. If you have a different system you will have to follow the instructions or experiment until you get it right. There's lots of ways of keeping it warm enough, just find a way that works for you. I used full milk powder because I like the taste, but there's no reason why it wouldn't work with skim milk. You can get EasiYo in skim/reduced fat variety. Also, you can use supermarket plain/natural yoghurt as the starter/inoculant if you don't have a batch of your own to use.
I hope this answers some questions.  Keep asking them, its great to know that my posts are interesting to someone :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Feeding time - what's in that bucket?

Each morning and afternoon we walk around our property with white buckets of animal feed.  Some animals are happy to eat their own feed, but others wonder what is in the other buckets, this can make life difficult when walking past Bella with a bucket of chicken food!

The Chickens
We have been very lazy and feeding the chickens the cheapest layer pellets.  I suspect that is part of the reason why we are getting so few eggs.  I read the back of the feed sack the other day and noticed "animal protein" in the ingredients, followed by the big bold instructions that I shouldn't feed the pellets to any other livestock.  It occurred to me that this warning is most likely due to whole "mad cow disease" scare and the regulations that were introduced to prevent offal (particularly brains) being fed to livestock of the same breed, so I assume that the chicken pellets contain scraps from the meat works and that's why I shouldn't feed it to any other animals.  I have to say that was enough to encourage me to look for an alternative feed, I don't like vague and suspicious ingredients like that!  We have decided that when we finish the last bag of pellets, we will be feeding mixed grain/layer mash instead.

The reason we started using pellets instead of grain is that our picky wee girls tend to flick through the mixed grain and eat only the ones that they like.  The rest ends up on the ground to be eaten by the mice.  However, we have since found that a mix of a couple of grains results in less wastage (although may not be as well balanced).  We are currently trialing a mix of wheat and sorghum, which seems to be getting eaten up.  The other option is a milled grain laying mash, with some minerals mixed in.  This is probably the best one, so we'll see if we can make that work.

We usually check all the chicken cages in the afternoon and top up any feed and water as required, a full feeder usually lasts for about a week.

The Cow
Bella is the only animal that gets fed twice a day and her feed is the most complicated.  She gets about 1 kg of mixed milled grains, with some lucerne (alfalfa) chaff, twice a day.  In her afternoon bucket, Bella also gets a little bit of a mineral mix, dolomite, sulphur, garlic, apple cider vinegar, liquid seaweed and a splash of molasses.  The extras are due to me reading "Natural Cattle Care", by Pat Coleby, which explained the need for balanced soil minerals to maintain animal health (funny that "Nourishing Traditions" starts the same way, in regards to human health).  I am going to get a soil test done so that we can target the minerals that she's missing from the grass, but in the meantime, a mix of a few extras won't hurt her. The sulphur is for external parasites and I will increase her copper if its low in the soil, as that should help with internal parasites.  The aim is to use no chemicals on any of the cattle this year (extending to all the animals eventually).

More about natural cattle care here.

Bella eats both meals in her milking bales, so that she associates it with food, rather than milking.  In the morning she eats while we milk her.  We've had to make a few modifications to her food dish since she arrived.  At first we bought a D-feeder for her, the kind that horses used, but it was a bit too small.  She would take a huge mouthful, then lift up her head to chew and it would all spill out the side of her mouth.  She seemed to be spilling more than she was eating!  My husband fabricated a huge food dish for the front of her bales, so she now gets to eat ALL of her food in comfort.

When she's finished eating, Bella is led back into her paddock using a "woofle" of hay (see the The Healthy House Cow).

The Calf
We've taken a while to figure out what we wanted to do with Molly.  At first we had her separated from Bella, while we milked Bella twice a day and bottle fed Molly.  This didn't last long as it was heaps of extra work!  We now find that its easier to let Molly stay with Bella during the day and only milk Bella in the morning.  So the end result is that Molly has milk all day as she wants it.  In the afternoon, while we're feeding Bella in her bales, we give Molly some calf pellets in a bucket.  I was worried that Molly wouldn't be tame enough if we didn't bottle feed her, but she hasn't taken long to learn about the bucket.  She will now follow us into her evening accommodation if we have a bucket, she will also stand still for (and possibly enjoy) a pat and scratch behind the ears.  This makes life easier, as we don't have to chase her anymore!  See video of messy Molly enjoying her bucket of grain and pellets.


The Steers
Poor Rocket got very used to helping Bella with her twice daily hay ration after Bruce was gone, but now he's in another paddock with the other steers, so he can only watch (and moo) from a distance when he sees Bella eating.  All the steers are fed only in the afternoon.  They get about half a kg of milled mixed grain each, and a little bit of minerals and sulphur and a big splash of molasses.

Bruce and Rocket enjoy their afternoon bucket of grain.
Over summer (especially this past one) we have lots of grass for the cattle to eat.  This tends to lose protein content as the weather cools down, and now that we've had a few frosts, its particularly dry and low in nutrients.  This time of year we need to think about buying in a round bale of hay just to make sure the animals aren't getting too hungry.

The Kelpies
The dogs are fed once a day (apart from tid-bits!) in the morning.  They get a small scoop of dry dog biscuits (various "light" varieties, as they aren't very active nowadays) and then any spare milk or yoghurt - up to half a litre each.  Finally they get a bone before we leave for work (this prevents barking as we drive away).

What do you feed your animals?

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy
Interview with myself

Interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture

Interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow

Interview with Rose Petal

Interview with Marie from Go Milk the Cow

Interview with Ohio Farmgirl

Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on EtsyLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at to arrange delivery.  More information on my house cow ebook blog.

Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"

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

By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at}

What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

Never miss a post! Sign up here for our weekly email...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Suggested Reading