Sunday, August 25, 2013

Adding Spent Grain To The Equation

We have been fortunate to arrange a weekly pick up spent barley from a local brewery that purchases their grain from a company with sustainable practices and uses non-gmo grain. After researching high and low, we have not found much information out there on the amount of spent grain that can be added to the diets of poultry and ruminants on the small farm scene.  So we have been experimenting with the spent barley as a supplemental livestock feed over the last few weeks and have made some interesting observations.  Our laying hens and ducks eat all the wet grain we give them but do not seem to be laying more eggs with the change in diet.  The goats and cows LOVE the grain!  They were not previously getting any grain and were fed mostly alfalfa and orchard grass. The addition of spent grain has significantly increased their daily milk production.  We have been giving it only with morning feedings, starting out with small amounts and increasing slowly to allow their systems to adjust to the new food.  

Since spent grain has already gone through a mashing and lautering process, it is much easier to digest than regular grain as the hulls have already been broken down leaving behind some carbohydrates and mostly proteins.  For us, this is basically a free protein rich feed we can give our animals that cuts our feed bills in half. One of our goals over the next few months will be to work out proper ratios of other ingredients to create our own nourishing layer mix with spent barley as the base.  Ideally these will be ingredients we can grow ourselves or source locally.  

Joel Salatin says something interesting about feeding spent grain to dairy cattle.  When the Industrial Revolution was changing the infrastructure of cities, dairies sprang up around breweries in order to feed the distiller's grain to the cattle.  However, it made the pH of the cattle's rumen much more acidic and changed the milk.  I imagine this was with cattle fed on only spent grain or a large amount.  We will see how it goes with adding it in as a supplement in moderation along with continuing the same amount of hay and fresh vegis.  

Feeding our animals what we produce (or recycling other's waste products that we can obtain close by for free) is all part of our bigger plan.  Cutting back on purchasing commercial layer pellets and adding spent grain to the equation brings us a few steps closer to our goal of obtaining a closed loop system on our small farm.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Family Cow Chronicles Volume IV: Diary of a Milk Maid

I'm not sure if one actually aspires in life to become a milk maid.  I certainly did not plan to land in these shoes.  But here I am, day in, day out, surrounded by udders, iodine wash, and a lot of stainless steel. I think when I look back on this time of my life -when I am older- it will be all the milk I will remember.  That and the sensation of my head pressed against soft fur, the smell of cow and of course the hard labor of farming.  I still feel like an impostor when I say that word "farming". That is what we are doing though, right?  No matter how small the scale.  I don't think it can be called anything else. 

But back to the milking...a few weeks ago Ginger decided I was no longer the Alpha cow.  I'm not sure what happened because our initial bond was so strong, she was my girl.  For whatever reason she has become infatuated with my other half, perhaps it is his maleness and she is longing for a bull.  Whatever the reason, she had been testing me at each milking, driving me crazy with her kicking and her stubbornness.  I managed to milk her but she made me work for it. Clearly this was not working, something had to change so I decided it was time for me to break her.  I do love her and I want to be her friend.  I believe in kindness and treating my animals with the utmost care.  But there can only be one boss in the milking parlor and that would have to be me.  I stayed up late two nights in a row reading all the family cow pro boards, going over each post where the people were having the same problems.  Time and again the advice was to break her in with either a wooden spoon to the leg each time she kicks or with a loud, low "NO!".  Well, it is pretty out of character for a gentle, soft spoken gal like me to use force, but I decided to try both...When I woke last Tuesday morning, I was determined to let her know I was in charge.  

All this must sound so foreign to those who don't have large livestock. It probably even sounds cruel.  But if you have ever had a 1600 lb. animal kick at you with full force you quickly understand that you have to nip it in the bud.  The bottom line is it's dangerous! Breaking in a milker is not for sissies.  And just for perspective, I did try the kick stop, and tying her leg, and bringing the calf up with each milking. My drastic measures came after several injuries from her and I really just felt like enough is enough.  If we are going to do this twice a day she needs to mind me and if it takes a fight- then so be it.

So that morning's milking was unpleasant for both of us.  But you know what, half way through she got the picture that kicking is unacceptable and shockingly, every milking since has gone smoothly.  Ginger is smart and a quick learner. I also made sure to stock my pockets full of oranges for her.  I am finding that consistency, firmness, and yummy treats are the key to successful animal husbandry, not forgetting patience and a generous dose of loving too.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Fruitful Week

Giving thanks for abundance is sweeter than the abundance itself...

In general it has felt like a late, lean year in our garden.  With the lack of rain and our attention focused mostly on the animals, the garden has kept us fed, but felt less abundant than previous years.  And just as I was thinking about how there seems like not as much growing around here (besides the ever prolific squash!), I take a spontaneous walk through the orchard and discover an abundance of fruit in need of harvesting.  In turn, this prompts several days of gathering and preserving.  There are so many plums and apples.  If we wait until the fruit ripens on the trees the turkeys and deer will eat it all.  So in an effort to keep some of these sweets for ourselves I harvested buckets full.  They can all take their time ripening in the sun in our driveway. Some of the trees produced less this year-like the prune plums and the gravensteins- but the grapes are off the hook!  I kept making trip after trip with my basket loaded, all in amazement that the laden vines were hidden under the leafy cover just waiting to be discovered.  Like a kid in a candy store, I can't imagine a better way to spend my day. And into the kitchen I go to make grape jelly, fruit leathers, apples sauce, and dried plums.  (My goal this year is to can enough jam that we will not buy even one jar from Trader Joe's!)  The oysters and shitakes from our mushroom bed are going into the dehydrator too for soups later in the season.  We're still crankin' out the sweet and spicy zucchini pickles, our preferred method to use up overgrown summer squash.  The Oregon Sweet Meat squash are piling up on the cob bench as they make their way in from the garden. These have become my favorite winter squash for their rich delicate flavor and their ability to keep for almost a year without refrigeration.  They have a striking grey blue skin with a generous bright orange inner flesh. In these days that our hearts are filled with gratitude and reflection, the harvest has begun, and we preserve the bounty one small batch at a time.