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Regenerative Fiber Farming

It was sheep shearing day on my grandpa’s ranch in the mid-20th century, and all I knew was that I was having fun. Everyone, including Grandpa, was clad in blue denim jeans on this sunny day. Gathered with other neighboring small-scale ranchers, we sheared and then stuffed and stomped wool into the gigantic bag that would be taken to market

organic cotton farming in California

Sally Fox of Vreseis Ltd., a Fibershed producer member in the Capay Valley of California, amidst the organic, naturally colored cotton she has been breeding for over 30 years.

Though considered old-fashioned and outdated in that era of get-big-or-get-out agriculture, small farmers in our area still gathered for shared missions like this. And there was no reason at the time for a kid like me to realize that what we were doing — raising textile fiber (a.k.a. fiber farming) in an Earth-regenerative manner — would become a world mission to support the health of the planet.

Holistic by default, Grandpa’s sheep were rotationally pasture-grazed, the ranch was diversified, and he planted by the moon’s cycles. That’s the only way he’d ever farmed. Yet that type of farming didn’t appear out of an inability to know better. It evolved from a powerful ability to sense what is needed to thrive.

Fast-forward to being a grandparent myself, and climate change adds a sense of urgency for not just our food and fuel to be Earth-restorative, but also our clothing and textiles. The after-harvest processing of fiber must be considered when improving the ecological impact of the textile industry, but eco-farmers serve the initial production of the fiber themselves, and it must happen in a way that also sustains them financially. Continue Reading →

Managing Parasites in Livestock

Internal parasites are part and parcel of the animal’s ecosystem, or its “body ecology.” Wild ungulates are continually moving, leaving their parasite loads behind where they desiccate in the sun or just plain run out of nourishment before the animals return to the pasture. However, animals that are subjected to pasture or loafing areas without adequate rest will build up parasite loads, especially on humid landscapes, where moisture and temperature are conducive to their growth and reproductive cycles.

Young animals and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable, and this includes pregnant and lactating animals. Never allow your stock with parasite challenges to become underweight.

Parasites: Landscape Management

The first and most important component in parasite management is landscape management by employing sound rotation practices. This includes not only the adequate amount of time for the rest period between rotational grazing, but also grazing height management.

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Be Counted: 2017 Census of Agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture has started sending out the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Sadly, in a world filled with scams attempting to gain your personal information for nefarious reasons and a lack of confidence in the government, the agricultural census is often met with distrust.

Conducted once every five years, the census aims to get a complete and accurate picture of American agriculture. The resulting data are used by farmers, ranchers, trade associations, researchers, policymakers, and many others to help make decisions in community planning, farm assistance programs, technology development, farm advocacy, agribusiness setup, rural development, and more.

Naturally, most homesteaders, farmers and ranchers have an independent streak. We crave the independence that this lifestyle lends us, and we desire to hold onto it with all our might — especially since it seems to be under attack from numerous directions lately. Despite what may at first seem an invasion of privacy, the census is nothing new to producers and provides a means of opportunity for those involved with agriculture.

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Breaking into the Egg Business

Perhaps the best place to begin a discussion about the egg business would be with the egg itself. There is just a nine-ounce difference between a dozen medium and a dozen jumbo eggs. A dozen large eggs, the standard in the retail mar­ketplace, weighs twenty-four ounces. A dozen medium eggs, commonly used in the food service sector, weighs twenty-one ounces—just three ounces less. These slight dif­ferences can become big factors when calculating what it costs to produce a dozen eggs.

table eggs

A six-pound hen that lays two or three eggs per week will eat as much as one that lays five or six.

Egg grades—AA, A, and B—have nothing to do with egg size or shell color. Rather they are used to rate shell cleanliness and uniformity and the condition of the egg’s interior. Under examination and candling, an AA egg will have a clean, unbroken shell with even shape and shell surface. The air cell will be 1/18th-inch or less in depth, and regular in shape. The white will appear clean and firm, and the yolk will be centered and free of defects.

An A-quality egg will also have a clean and unbroken shell. The air cell will be 1/4-inch or less in depth and fairly uniform. The white should be clear, although not quite as firm as that of the AA egg. The yolk should be fairly centered, have a more defined outline, and should also be free of de­fects such as meat or blood spots.

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Calves: Rearing Them Right

Tips for rearing calves from former New Zealand dairy farmer, agricultural consultant, and all-round farming legend Vaughan Jones, interviewed by Stephen Roberts.

Calf Rearing Starts Before Calving

Vaughan, let’s talk first about the financial impact of correct calf rearing.

Correctly-reared calves continue to grow at a faster rate after weaning than poorly-reared ones

Correctly-reared calves continue to grow at a faster rate after weaning than poorly-reared ones.

If you are too busy, unsure about calf rearing, or don’t have the proper facilities, then forget it and buy weaners. Sometimes it is more profitable to buy yearlings, which often sell cheaply.

Calf rearing is a specialty job requiring specific knowledge. Correctly-reared calves continue to grow at a faster rate after weaning than poorly-reared ones, and the eventual size of adult animals relates to their weaning weight. It’s the farmer’s knowledge of this that encourages the high bidding at calf sales for well-reared ones.

How important is managing cow nutrition prior to calving?

Successful calf rearing starts before calving, with the dams not being too thin or too fat, on a rising plane of nutrition from drying off to calving. Calves can die within the first month of being born due to mineral deficiencies in the dams before birth. Deficiencies can be caused by insufficient feed for the dam or poor quality feed that lacks necessary minerals, especially selenium, copper, and iodine.

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Pastured Turkey Tips

The turkey says “America” and “real local food” as do few other things, and varieties are often reflective of specific geographical regions of this nation, the Narragansett of the Northeast and the Bourbon Red of the South.

Pastured TurkeysThe producer can play this trump card to the maximum by breeding and raising his or her birds to be marketed directly from the farm. Thirty years ago I visited a Missouri farm where numerous turkey varieties were being propagated well before terms like “local” and “heirloom” filled the pages of food and ag publications. Into 8 x 16-foot, used hog range houses those folks were placing trios of breeding turkeys. The houses were divided in half with a short segment of a 54-inch high cattle panel and each half sheltered a breeding trio. Seven other 16-foot x 54-inch cattle panels were used to create two large pens fronting the Southern-facing house. The pens and shelters had a deep straw litter, a practice old-timers will recall as straw yarding.

Those folks kept four varieties of turkey with between one and three trios of each variety. A few extra breeding birds were kept on hand in case of injury or loss. From their modest numbers and simple housing they produced poults, hatching eggs, breeding stock and table birds for sale. Their houses and panels were bought used, and their main investment in equipment was for a cabinet incubator with a 240-egg capacity.

A friend with a small flock of turkeys has found his niche producing some of the more vividly colored varieties such as the lilac. The poults do not all color up the same, but that challenge is a part of their appeal to him. His sales are generally in quite small numbers to people who first want just a few birds to raise for their own needs and then are drawn to more colorful birds. Continue Reading →