Friday, September 30, 2011

Farm Update - October 2011

I know its not quite October yet, but I have some special plans for October, so there will be no time for updates!

I suppose its natural that spring would be a busy month, but it seems like I've got so much to write this time!  Unfortunately we have had no rain in September (so far!), but there must be enough moisture in the soil as the grass is getting greener.  

I have finally harvested broccoli and we'll just keep taking small florets from this one

The frost damaged Poor Mans Bean has recovered and is thriving,
soon to take over my garden fence once again!

I returned from a trip to the parents-in-law with a stash of tomato seedlings
and a couple of basil plants that just self-seed in their garden.

Herbs in pot (escape risks - mint and oregano, and thyme)

Rosemary, sage, capsicum (survived the frost) and pathetic looking lettuce.

Aloe plants that used to live in a small pot, time to plant out,
and part of another experiment with fermented aloe....

Plenty of silver beet and mustard greens!

The bandicoot has been back digging holes...

This is a bandicoot (not my bandicoot, I haven't been able to catch him yet!)
Comfrey has also recovered and I have plenty for
compost and feeding to the cow.

looking across the garden

beans - I tried sprouting them in toilet rolls, so far so good

peas - still not happy, only getting 2-3 a day :(

lavender and trying to revive the paw paw plants

arrow root flowers, so pretty!

Tomato and zuchini seedlings nearly ready to plant
(plus some eggplant that didn't sprout yet, any tips?  might just be old seed)

finally planted the seed potatoes, hope its not too late in the season

Mollie is getting HUGE and could be weaned but we like having
the option of not milking some mornings and letting her have it all


We currently have more green grass in the house yard than any other paddock, so Bella have been allowed limited time in the house yard each afternoon (we have learnt from experience that they are fine for a short time, but when they have eaten their fill they will start to be naughty and tip things over....)

Not enough milk for hard cheese, but still making
cream cheese, yum.....

......and kefir (see the "grains" on the spoon? we feed the curd to
the dogs and drink the whey ourselves).


We've got the incubator running again (48 eggs!),
and I sold 5 cartons at work this week!

The roosters posed for a photo -  Randy the Rhode Is Red......

....and Ivan the White Leghorn, check out those beautiful tails!


The dogs are now great mates after only knowing each other for a few months


BEFORE: my husband has built a steel rack to tidy up all our scrap metal....

AFTER: that's better!

We finally got around to tanning the hide from Bruce, more on that one later.....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Septic system maintenance

When we first moved into our house at Nanango we thought we should probably get the septic pumped out, this went on the list of things we should do and quickly ended up near the end as we found more and more urgent jobs that required our attention.  Finally, 18 months later, with the evaporation trench getting a bit soggy, we decided it REALLY was time to get it pumped out and booked in a contractor.

a typical septic arrangement
Septic systems come in a few different shapes and sizes, ours is a large underground plastic tank, which all our waste water flows into.  The solids are supposed to sink and the liquid drains out of an opening near the top (but underground) and into a large evaporation trench (attractively located in our house yard!).  The evaporation trench should be a gravel-lined shallow pit, with grass etc growing on top, in which the pipes branch out so that the water can spread out and evaporate (also called the leach field).  Its pretty hard to tell whether or not its working as designed, and according to this report, many systems are not working because people don't know how to maintain them.

The "suck-truck" operator was very knowledgeable on the subject and gave us a few tips.  He said that the tank should be sucked out about every 3 years or so to remove the accumulated solids, this depends on the size of the tank and the number of people using it.  If the solids build up to the top of the tank and start to be transported into the evaporation trench it will eventually block up and you will have to dig up the whole thing and start again.  Not to mention the potential for pathogens to accumulate near the surface of the trench.

He also told us not to use any chlorine.  This will just kill the microbes that are working to break down the sludge and it will have to by pumped out more often. Some toilet cleaning products claim to be "septic safe" while still containing chlorine, so he recommended to use natural cleaning products (bicarb soda and vinegar) instead.  Just another reason to ditch the chemicals!  The only bleach we use is in cleaning the beer fermenters, so that is now being tipped outside instead of down the drain.

So if you have a septic system that hasn't been pumped out for a while, its probably worth getting a suck-truck out to do the job, then at least you know you're not going to block up your trench and have expensive repair work instead!  The other advantage for us is that most of our grey water goes to the garden instead of filling up the septic tank.

Do you have a septic tank?  Any tips for maintaining it?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Plastic free - Fregie sack

I bought these neat little Fregie sack reusable bags from a health-food store recently and found them really useful at the Nanango markets last week.  I probably should sew some of my own, but this was so easy and convenient!

I used them for almost all the produce I bought
(just one sneaky bag with pineapples, sometime the salespeople
put things in bags before you can stop them!)

The Freggie sacks

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Soil test - did we pass?

A few weeks ago I requested a soil test kit from a soil testing company.  They sent me several plastic zip-lock bags, instructions and a price list.  I chose two areas in our top paddock to sample.  The first was a bare patch and the second had relatively good pasture.  I was hoping that the comparison of the two samples would assist us to improve the many bare patches on our 8 acres.  I sent the two samples away for the 'premium test' and consultant report, at a total of $165/sample.

The bare patch (one of many!)

The stainless steel core-sample tool (made by my husband of course!).

The sample before I put it in the sample bag.

The good growth area

Sampling tool again

The samples ready to send away
We received the results a couple of weeks later.  The results from both samples showed a low pH (5.3) and deficiencies in phosphorous, calcium, copper, boron, iron and manganese.  These are all important minerals for plant growth and animal health.  Fortunately the report lists the treatments that we should use.  The main difference between the two samples was the sand content, the report suggests that the bare patch has more water repelling sand and recommends the addition of calcium and compost to correct this.  We also need to apply lime, copper sulphate, rock phosphate and a few other things to get the balance right.  We will need to source these chemicals in bulk, as we need several tonnes of lime.  At least now we know how to improve, but it will be hard work spreading all these minerals around!

Overall I think that its money well spent as we know what we need to improve pasture and what to feed to the animals in the meantime to keep them healthy.

An example of the test results graph.

The soil treatments required.

The comments about the bare patch sample.

Have you used a soil test to analyse your soil minerals?  Was it helpful?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Minerals, mastitis and miracle cures

Its funny that I have recently read two very different books that both focused on the importance of minerals for ongoing health.  The first book was Natural Cattle Care, by Pat Coleby, as recommended by Bel at Home Grown.  I was eager to read the book as Bella had mastitis at the time and I wanted to know the quick solution. The first few chapters are all about minerals in the soil.  I read them, thinking to myself "yeah, yeah, get on with the natural cattle care!", until I realised that was it.  Pat's theory is that if cattle have all their mineral, vitamin and protein needs met, they will be naturally healthy.  The interactions of the minerals is quite complex.  A deficiency in one mineral can cause a deficiency in another, so its hard to summarise, however the main points for me were:
  • Calcium and magnesium levels must be sufficient or cows will be susceptible to mastitis infection
  • Copper must be sufficient or cattle may suffer from worms
  • Sufficient sulphur will prevent external parasites (ticks and fleas)
  • Other trace elements are important for overall health
  • These minerals must be either in the soil (and therefore in the grass/plants eaten by the cattle) or supplemented in their feed.  I have organised for a soil test so that we can see what minerals are lacking and in the meantime we feed all the cattle a mineral mix, some extra sulphur for each of them and extra dolomite (calcium and magnesium) for Bella.
The second book I read was Norishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, which again began with a discussion on the importance of minerals and vitamins, this time for human health.  At first I found the similarities a bit weird, but I suppose its no surprise that cattle have similar mineral needs to ourselves.  The premise of both books is that if cattle or humans are receiving sufficient nutrition (i.e. minerals, vitamins, proteins, fats etc) then we will all be in good health.  This is to say that we only get sick when our bodies are compromised in some way and more susceptible to infection (whether by bacteria, virus, parasites or cancer).  This means that they key to good health is not preventative chemicals, as we had been using on our cattle, such as drenches for worms and ticks, and antibiotics for mastitis infections.  If we balance the body's nutritional needs, it can fight infection/invasion without the need for chemicals.



This seems so simple, but it is not common practice.  Is that because the drug companies and agrochemical companies make so much money from letting us think that we need to take medicines to maintain our health?  Balancing our nutrition would be cheaper and easier and lead to long-term health rather than a dependency on drugs.

What do you think?

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

Organic isn't everything.......

When I have to stay away from home for work, the one thing that miss the most (apart from my husband, the dogs and the other animals) is fresh eggs from our chickens.  We eat eggs for breakfast every morning whenever possible (sometimes we have to eat porridge or weetbix in winter when the chickens aren't laying regularly) and I do notice the difference if I don't have them, as I get hungry earlier in the morning.  I usually order eggs from the hotel for breakfast each morning, but they are not the same as my home eggs.  They have a darker orange yoke and a funny taste.  I assumed that was because they were almost certainly cage eggs, however on a recent holiday we bought eggs from the supermarket and they were just as bad.  I did my best to buy organic free range eggs, thinking that they were the closest to our home eggs as possible, but they still didn't taste or look right.


That's when I realised that organic isn't everything!  Our chickens don't eat organic grain, we haven't bothered to find a suitable source, they just eat layer mash, however they do have access to grass, either in their cage or out in the paddock on the (majority) days when we let them free-range.  And it seems to be the grass/pasture/green stuff that makes all the difference to the taste of the eggs.  Unfortunately its pretty hard to buy pasture-fed eggs from the supermarket and "free range" doesn't guarantee that the chickens actually have grass to eat, it just means that they don't live in cages and get to go outside occasionally.  Its still cheaper and easier to feed grain (organic grain if they are organic eggs).

An extract from the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (the egg industry group) Egg Labling Guide:
7 Egg Production System
7.1 Egg cartons must use one of the following terms to describe the method of production: 
 
Cage’ eggs; or
‘Free range’ eggs; or
‘Barn’ laid eggs.
 
These words must be printed in a legible manner on the front of the carton (i.e. side which
faces the consumer when cartons stacked for retail sale). The font size to be used for the
labelling describing the method of production must be no less than 6mm in height. The font style used must be Arial Bold. 
7.2 A full definition of the egg production system as stated in the Australian Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry should either be printed on the carton as follows:  
Cage Systems 
Birds in cage systems are continuously housed in cages within a shed,
Barn Systems
Birds in barn systems are free to roam within a shed which may have vertical levels.
The floor may be based on litter and/or other material such as slats or wire mesh,
Free Range Systems
Birds in free-range systems are housed in sheds and have access to an outdoor
range;                                                              
   
or, if not printed on carton, the full definition must be made available to the public by providing an industry or producer website address, telephone helpline or postal address. These contact details must be printed on the carton. A reference to the Code of Practice must also be included with the full definition.
Note: that ACT has special laws for the labelling of eggs.  The Eggs (Labelling and Sales)
ACT 2001 (ACT) provides that egg packages need to be labelled with the condition in which the hens are kept.
It not just the taste, studies have shown that pastured eggs are better nutritionally as well see here for a good summary.  So forget all the crap about cholesterol, eggs only started being BAD for us when we started factory farming chickens and reduced the nutritional value of the eggs, if chickens are allowed to live a happy chicken life with access to pasture, there's no reason not to eat eggs every day, and that's exactly what we do.  I sell our excess eggs at work for $2 a dozen, because that's all it costs us to feed the hens.  And if you've been thinking about getting a few chickens for your backyard, maybe this will persuade you that its a good idea.

Its also not just about eggs, meat from pastured animals is tastier and has more nutrition.  See some of the link from Frugal Kiwi about pastured vs factory farmed meat (and some info on eggs too).  We only eat our own poultry and beef anyway, but it really makes you wonder how we could go so far in the wrong direction, I suppose it just proves that you get what you pay for - cheap meat production results in minimal nutritional value.  If you can buy organic pastured meat, it is worth the money.

The thing that annoys me most is when the factory farming industry tries to cover up the poor quality of the product.  An example is pork chops produced in our local meat works.  These pork chops are $20+/kg and taste great.  That's because they are "pumped meat", that's meat that's had flavouring and tenderisers injected, no wonder it tastes nice, but the chemicals aren't declared by the butcher or the restaurant, so what exactly are you eating??  In comparison, some farmer friends recently gave us several chops from a pig that had been raised on pasture and cow's milk.  No pumping required and it tasted beautiful, like pork should, not the tasteless chops were usually buy.  It seems that the producers have realised that industrialised factory farming has resulted in an inferior product, but instead of changing the system, they have 'fixed' it with an industrial solution (more chemicals) to disguise the problem.

AND why do we need yellow food colouring in supermarket cakes and biscuits?  If I bake a sponge or pancakes with my fresh pastured eggs it is a beautiful yellow colour, but if you use grain fed eggs you need to add yellow to create that colour.  Again, disguising inferior ingredients with chemicals instead of fixing the source of the problem.  That's why I don't trust anything with additive, usually they are just used to make the product cheaper, and definitely not to make the food more nutritious!  (See a very interesting history of food colouring, including lead-based colouring used for childrens' lollies in the 1800s).

So what do you think?  Can you taste the difference between pasture-fed and cage eggs?


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} gmail.com.




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


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Farm update - September 2011

Its amazing what a little rain can do!  40 mm actually, the first rain we've had since June, and with a little warmer weather as well, the garden is turning green again :)

The spring onion are flowering - I'm waiting to collect the seeds
(peas, parsley and broccoli in the background)

Broccoli, don't think it will get much bigger though,
looks like its about to flower so I'll have to pick it soon.

The crazy bean plant has re-sprouted!!!  Check out that stem!!!

Broadcast sowing of bok choy was a success,
I was hoping a few other things would sprout too though!
The chickens are laying and soon it will be time to start hatching some chicks, we're hoping to get started before it starts raining again, so that we get some better quality eggs.  We will be hatching Rhode Is Reds and White Leghorns again.

Bella is still providing 2-3 L a day and giving the rest to Molly.  We can leave them for a weekend if we want to and still have milk when we need it.  I am using the milk to drink, cook with, make yoghurt and cream cheese.  Its good to not have the pressure to make a hard cheese every week just to use up the milk!

The steers are cleaning up the back paddock for us.  Now that the weather has finally improved the grass is turning green again, so they will have plenty to eat.

The kelpies are happy as always.

Cheryl stood too close when we were scaling fish....
Chime was preoccupied with a giant bone from Bruce!

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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Suggested Reading