Those who pursue a different path often meet with skepticism in our society. This is perhaps nowhere quite as true as in the area of agriculture.Continue reading The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer
Looking for something good to read this year, or maybe just through those cold winter months? How about a reading challenge?
The theme of this year’s reading challenge at Homestead on the Range is nature. One of the key tenets of sustainable agriculture is to work in sync with nature. Another, closely related rule of thumb is to mimic nature’s systems. A good way to start is to read up on the subject.
To complete the reading challenge, you must read 12 books by the end of the year, or an average of one book every month. Each book will be in a different category. This year’s categories are as follows:
- A book about plants.
- A book about animals.
- A nature-themed photo book.
- A book about a specific ecosystem.
- A book about weather or the atmosphere.
- A book about water.
- A book about habitat restoration or conservation.
- A book about how to observe nature.
- A book about agricultural practices that benefit nature.
- A book about outdoor recreation or skills.
- A book about an endangered species.
- A book about an extinct species.
A few rules:
- Books in electronic formats count.
- Both fiction and nonfiction books count.
- You can work through the categories in any order.
- Books cannot be counted twice, even if they fit into more than one category.
Need some help finding the books? Check out The Homestead Bookshelf to browse our favorite titles. Then sign up for On the Range, your free weekly country living update (learn more here). At the end of every month, we’ll suggest a book for one of the categories.
Let us know what you decide to read! We’d love to hear from you!
When it comes to keeping livestock, the water supply of your land base can be a major limiting factor. Therefore, before you invest any money in farm animals, it is crucial that you take stock of your water situation first.
Let’s start by examining the water resources you have available:
- What water sources do you have? Wells? Springs? Creeks? Ponds? Cisterns?
- How much flow or capacity does each water source provide?
- How reliable is each source, especially in a drought?
You might want to consider writing out a water source inventory and keeping it in a handy place for reference.
As you write down the different sources of water available to you, also make a note of the general quality of the water. There is a saying that if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t make your animals drink it, either, but this is not necessarily always either true or practical. While you obviously want to avoid contamination as much as possible, and you should always strive to be a good steward of the water on your property, the importance of quality varies a great deal with the type of livestock you are raising. For dairy animals, clean water is an absolute must for quality milk production. Sheep also need reasonably clean water, or they won’t drink it. Chickens and beef cattle, on the other hand, seem to care very little about the state their drinking water is in. Yes, you should definitely give your livestock water that’s as clean and fresh as possible. But fit for human consumption? That may be a little over the top in most cases.
Water quality problems that are not acceptable include:
- Unpleasant odors.
- A pH below 5.5 or above 8.5.
- Excessive salinity.
- Fecal contamination.
- Bacterial contamination
- Blue-green algae.
- High nitrate levels.
- High sulfate levels.
- Heavy metal contamination.
If there is reason to suspect that your water sources are less than ideal, some testing and remedial action is in order.
While you’re already thinking about water quality, you may also want to take a moment to think about extremes of temperature. Your animals will need cool water in the summer and unfrozen water in the winter. How will you get it to them?
Now that you know what you’ve got to work with, you need to find out how much water your chosen animals will drink in a day. Will your water resources limit the number of livestock you can keep? Bear in mind that there are many variables at play here. For example, a lactating cow will drink more than a steer, a milk goat more than a meat goat, and a European sheep more than a Navajo sheep, especially in summer.
For a starting point, consider the following estimates of daily water consumption per head:
- Calves: 5 gals/day.
- Stocker calves: 15.
- Dry cows and heifers: 15.
- Cow/calf pairs: 20.
- Bulls: 20.
- Finishing cattle: 25.
- Calves: 5 gals/day.
- Heifers: 10.
- Dry cows: 15.
- Milking cows: 40.
- Ponies: 5 gals/day.
- Light horses: 10.
- Heavy horses: 16.
- Donkeys: 6.
- Weaners: 1 gals/day.
- Feeders: 3.
- Boars: 5.
- Gestating sows: 5.
- Lactating sows: 6.
Sheep and Goats:
- Lambs and kids: 1 gals/day.
- Rams and bucks: 2.
- Gestating ewes and does: 2.
- Lactating meat ewes and does: 3.
- Lactating dairy ewes and does: 4.
- Bison: 6 gals/day.
- Elk: 6.
- Llamas and alpacas: 3.
Please be aware that this is not intended to be a definitive guide to animal water consumption. The amount of variables that can affect the amount of water any given animal drinks on any given day is staggering. Until you get a better feel for your livestock and your water supply, think in terms of worst-case scenario.
So does your projected water use match your available water resources? If not, you will need to plan to either reduce your water use or increase your water supply.
Water delivery methods vary by species, but there are a few golden rules that always apply:
- Your animals should never run out of water at any point during the day.
- They should have a fresh supply at least every 24 hours.
- Their water should be protected from soiling as much as possible.
This means that you may be breaking ice at regular intervals in the winter. It also means that hanging poultry drinkers should be monitored for leaks periodically. And it means that livestock should not be allowed to swim in the pond (ducks, geese, and swans are the exceptions, as they benefit from having water to bathe in).
Other logistical factors unique to your situation will apply. For example, moving cattle to fresh paddocks daily will likely necessitate a portable stock tank.
So do you have enough water to supply your animals? If so, you’re ready to take a look at fencing and facilities.
Waterers and Watering Systems
Free PDF from K-State that provides an overview of water sources, power sources, drink delivery options, livestock water requirements, and permits.
Summer can be a tough time to garden. The heat is challenging to many plants. Coupled with dry weather, it pulls the moisture right out of the ground and wilts leaves and stems. Paired with humidity, high temperatures may stress plants and foster fungal diseases.
But never fear! Gardens can continue to be productive in the hot summer months!
Here’s how to keep your plants in peak health despite the heat:
- Water deeply and infrequently, but regularly. It stands to reason that plants will need regular watering in the heat of summer. However, it is important to avoid weakening them by watering shallowly and thus encouraging their roots to grow near the surface. By watering deeply and allowing the surface of the ground to dry out in between waterings, the plants will put down extensive root systems less prone to damage from rapid soil moisture evaporation.
- Mulch. Mulch helps the soil retain moisture longer. This will allow to you water less frequently, and will help protect the plants from stress due to water deprivation. In a hot, dry, windy summer, an unmulched garden may literally require watering every day, and even that may not keep it alive.
- Protect cool-season plants with shade cloth. Still have broccoli or lettuce persisting through the summer heat? Increase your chances of a successful harvest and give these cool-weather plants a helping hand by shading them from the intense sun. Shade cloth is sold specifically for this purpose.
- Avoid excess nitrogen. Heat and humidity promote plant diseases, and so does excess nitrogen. A quick boost of nitrogen will indeed result in large, lush plants, but there are hidden side effects. The new cells grow very quickly, resulting in soft tissue susceptible to the invasion of pathogens. If your plants need nitrogen, apply it in a slow-release form, such as compost or well-rotted manure.
- Grow vines vertically for better airflow. Not only do sprawling vines take up space and promote weed growth, they are prone to disease and attract insect pests looking for a hiding place. Growing vertically exposes the entire plant to light and air. While this means that it will require more water (again, a mulch is recommended here), the trade-off is typically beneficial because the plant is healthier overall.
- Pull dead and dying plants. Not every plant will be able to keep going through the summer. Leftover cool-season plants will succumb, and even some hot-weather plants, such as bush beans, will eventually reach the end of their productive lives. Trying to keep dying plants going through the summer rarely produces miracles—in fact, it typically just attracts pests. Do the rest of your garden a favor and remove sickly vegetables.
With these tips in mind, your garden can continue to produce bountiful harvests throughout the summer.
Many sustainable farmers are fascinated by the concept of allowing the land and its contours to dictate the best practices for every acre. For those of you who are looking for some grist to add to the mill on this subject, give Water For Every Farm: Yeomans Keyline Plan by P.A. Yeomans a try.
After a brief explanation of what keyline is (a plan of irrigation custom-tailored to the lay of the land), the book launches into an examination of land contours and how they should be treated when tilling and irrigating. These contours then become the basis of choosing the best sites for dams, roads, trees, fences, and more.
While the book is heavy on theory (e.g., the chapter on city planning), it is backed by practical experience. Yeomans implemented his ideas in the challenging landscape of Australia and by all appearances made highly efficient use of his water resources for irrigation.
Water For Every Farm is not exactly a resource for beginners. It’s rather technical and not always easy to follow. However, if irrigation is a topic of interest to you, you will probably find the time spent studying keyline principles to be valuable. Even if you are simply interested in making the best possible use of your land, there is still information here you can use.
Perhaps for the average reader, the best way to make use of this book would be to read the first four chapters to gain an understanding of what keyline is, why landscape geometry is so important, and how to identify the contours of the land. After that, the reader may choose to skip to any relevant chapters, such as those on cultivation, development of water resources, planting contour strip forests, or soil fertility.
Water for Every Farm is rather heavy reading, but it does present some information well worth considering on adapting farming practices to the land.
Is the thought of planning a rotational or management-intensive grazing system daunting to you? If you are new to the concept, you will probably appreciate this free guide from the University of Minnesota Extension Service—Grazing Systems Planning Guide.Continue reading Grazing Systems Planning Guide
If you are new to gardening, you definitely need to give mulch some consideration. There are good reasons that many experienced gardeners use mulch. In short, mulch is good for both you and your plants. Here’s why.
Reason #1: Mulch Keeps Weeds in Check
Mulch covers up bare soil and keeps weed seeds from germinating. If any weed does manage to sprout, it stands a good chance of being smothered. And as for those few weeds hardy enough to poke their leaves up through the mulch, they will be spindly and rooted in moist, loose soil, and therefore easy to pull.
For this reason, mulch is a must around and in between all garden plants. However, it is important that by mulching you don’t introduce the very problems you are trying to solve. Choose a quality source—hay with weed seeds in it, for instance, is likely to give you a headache in the long run. Whatever type of mulch you choose, apply it thickly. A dense mulch such as wood chips can be spread on 6 inches deep; a light, airy mulch such as dry straw will need to be a foot deep to be effective.
Reason #2: Mulch Improves the Soil
Bare soil is typically not healthy. If it contains any clay in it, lying exposed to hot suns, drying winds, and pounding rains is a sure recipe for hardpan. In fact, the weeds that spring up on bare soil are nature’s tools for healing it and providing it with a protective cover.
Mulch works to improve the soil in both the short term and the long term. In the short term, it prevents the soil from hardening into a brick, thus providing an immediate improvement in soil structure and aeration. It also moderates the soil temperature, creating a more friendly habitat for garden plants and soil-building earthworms.
In the long term, mulch decomposes and adds vital nutrients and organic matter to the soil. It is staggering how much healthy soil can be built over one gardening season just by the use of mulch and compost. As your soil grows and improves, your plants will become healthier and more vibrant, better able to ward off the attacks of insect pests.
Reason #3: Mulch Keeps Soil Moisture Even
In wet weather, mulch is a useful tool to keep your plants from being drowned. As rain falls, the mulch intercepts the drops, preventing them from compacting the soil and forcing them to trickle down slowly to root level. In the process, the mulch itself will absorb some of the excess moisture. The organic matter added to the soil by decomposing mulch will also help out by allowing any surplus rainfall to drain away from the level of the roots, ensuring that the plant has adequate oxygen.
In dry weather, mulch is a must because of its water-conserving properties. Mulch protects the soil from rapid drying due to sun and wind. Without mulch, you may have to water your entire garden every day in the summer. With mulch, you can water less frequently, promoting deeper root growth that will in turn make your plants even more drought-hardy.
Are You Sold on Mulch?
Give it a try for one gardening season—you won’t go back!
For best results, we recommend cedar mulch around perennial plants, such as berries, asparagus, and some flowers. In parts of the garden where you will be rotating crops frequently, such as in the vegetable beds, use weed-free wheat straw.
And remember, apply your mulch six inches to a foot thick for best results.
One of the most recent trends in health is “raw” water.
Simply put, raw water is water that has not been filtered or treated in any way. It may come from a well, a spring, a pond, or directly from the sky, but the point is that raw water is water in an unprocessed state.
Some companies have decided to cash in on the raw water philosophy, bottling unfiltered spring water to sell at amazing prices at health food stores, especially on the West Coast. While this product has proven so commercially successful as to be frequently out of stock in stores that carry it, some customers opt for the less-expensive-in-the-long-term alternative of harvesting raw water themselves. This latter solution has particular appeal to the off-the-grid set.
Raw food has long been advocated by health food proponents. Raw water was a natural next step, and the suggested benefits are quite similar. Just as cooking vegetables, for instance, has the potential to destroy beneficial nutrients, filtering and treating water has the potential to eliminate everything from essential minerals to helpful probiotics—substances that not only promote overall health, but that keep the body hydrated.
Furthermore, raw water advocates observe that regular bottled water is by no means contaminant-free. While there are regulatory limits on the amount of contaminants permitted in bottled water or city tap water, the regulations do tend to lag behind the science, resulting in perpetually outdated monitoring. Furthermore, some contaminants may actually be added during treatment, ranging from fluoride to chlorine to lead leached from pipes. Raw water avoids many of these problems.
Of course, if the good substances, like probiotics, can remain in raw water, contaminants can, as well. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can all lurk in unfiltered water, depending on its source.
In fact, scientists observe that many diseases and infections in underdeveloped countries come from what health-food buffs are now hailing as raw water:
- E. coli.
Furthermore, some of the claims made by those selling raw water can be alarming. One company cautions not to leave the water sitting on the shelf too long or it will turn green. Some regard this as evidence that the water is still “alive,” unlike “dead” filtered water. Others feel that the disturbing green color suggests that harmful organisms may be present, while the CDC warns that even water that looks sparkling clear may contain invisible pathogens.
A Final Note
Whatever one may think of the hefty price tag accompanying raw water products sold at health food stores, it is only fair to note that the providers have obtained laboratory analyses of their products. So does that make their water safe? A great deal depends on the integrity of the company—but that’s true with all food and water products.
Those who are interested in harvesting their own raw water should exercise caution. Unfortunately, relatively few homesteaders are likely to have access to a truly clean source of raw water on their property. The fortunate few are encouraged to thoroughly read up on water safety and to test the quality of their water on a frequent, regular basis.
Adjusting Livestock Production
In an effort to reduce hog numbers, payments were also distributed to farmers who would destroy their piglets and pregnant sows. About 6 million piglets were slaughtered under the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).
A cattle-purchasing program was similarly implemented under the Drought Relief Service in areas where the Dust Bowl had hit the hardest. The federal government purchased approximately 7 million cattle, most of which had been in imminent danger of starvation.
At first, surplus livestock were typically shot and buried. However, a tremendous public outcry arose over the waste at a time when many people were starving. In October 1933, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation was established to placate Americans and put the livestock to better use. From then on, most salvageable meat was purchased by the government and distributed through various relief programs. Because many slaughterhouses were not equipped to process the massive numbers of small pigs sent through their doors, however, they often took the easier route of processing young pigs for grease and fertilizer. Meanwhile, enough cattle hides entered the market that newspapers reported a price crisis among tanners.
The Economic Results
Many Great Plains farmers welcomed the subsidies. In some areas, as many as 90% of the local farmers came to rely on the AAA. By the end of 1935, the AAA had shelled out about $1.1 billion, about half of which went to farmers in the Great Plains. According to the USDA, farm income increased by 50% between 1932 and 1935, 25% of the increase coming from federal payments.
Commodity prices did indeed rise between 1932 and 1935. In fact, the prices for corn, wheat, and cotton doubled. However, prices remained well below 1929 levels and the parity goal set by the New Deal. Of course, higher prices only benefited farmers who had crops to harvest in spite of the drought.
The AAA payments were rarely enough to help small-scale farmers subsist. Families with small acreages generally failed, abandoned their farms, and left agriculture to the major players. An estimated 2.5 million people had evacuated the Great Plains by 1940. A large number of these former farmers moved to California to seek jobs picking seasonal produce for low wages.
The situation was particularly bad for tenant farmers. While tenant farmers were not as conspicuous in the Great Plains as in the South, they did exist, and they, too, suffered. Under the initial provisions of the AAA, the landowner was to share the money with any tenant farmers he had working for him. Unfortunately, this part of the contract was poorly enforced, and some landlords resorted to fraud to keep the money for themselves. More honest landlords often used their rightful share of the subsidy to purchase modern machinery to reduce their labor needs, setting their tenant farmers adrift. In Oklahoma alone, the number of tenant farmers was nearly cut in half between 1935 and 1945.
The end result was a decided trend toward the consolidation of agriculture. Farm numbers declined in droughty areas, while farm sizes increased. In southwestern Kansas, for instance, the average farm had more than doubled in acreage by 1950.
A New Act
In the 1936 case United States v. Butler, the Supreme Court declared the Agricultural Adjustment Act to be unconstitutional:
The act invades the reserved rights of the states. It is a statutory plan to regulate and control agricultural production, a matter beyond the powers delegated to the federal government.…
From the accepted doctrine that the United States is a government of delegated powers, it follows that those not expressly granted, or reasonably to be implied from such as are conferred, are reserved to the states, or to the people. To forestall any suggestion to the contrary, the Tenth Amendment was adopted. The same proposition, otherwise stated, is that powers not granted are prohibited. None to regulate agricultural production is given, and therefore legislation by Congress for that purpose is forbidden.…
The Congress cannot invade state jurisdiction to compel individual action; no more can it purchase such action.
However, the AAA was replaced by a new farm relief act. This act did not overtly pay farmers to reduce agricultural production, but instead set up a soil conservation program. Landowners were now paid to implement cover-cropping and similar practices. The money came out of the federal treasury, instead of the tax on food processing. The new program was popular while the drought continued, but most farmers resumed their former cropping practices as soon as the rainfall returned.
But the original AAA had left a lasting legacy. By 1940, 6 million farmers were receiving subsidies. Farm commodities have been subsidized ever since.
Growth cracks are a problem most gardeners will have to contend with sooner or later. Fortunately, the problem is structural in nature, and therefore will not cause an epidemic.
Commonly affected plants include:
Jalapeño peppers frequently crack, as well, but this is normal and not likely to cause a storage problem.
Growth cracks appear when the skin of the fruit in question cannot expand fast enough to keep pace with a rapid increase in pressure inside the fruit. This can be caused by a number of conditions:
- Irregular or excessive rainfall.
- Irregular temperatures.
- Excess nitrogen.
- Concentric circles around stem end of fruit.
- Starlike cracks spreading from stem end of fruit.
Growth cracks will usually correct themselves given time and the proper growing conditions.
A good starting point is to look for fruit and vegetable varieties that are resistant to cracking.
Your next best bet is to promote even growth:
- Choose a garden site with good soil drainage.
- Water deeply but regularly.
- Mulch to keep the soil moisture steady.
- Use compost, not chemical fertilizer, to keep nitrogen levels even.
Of course, we can’t control the weather. If a heavy rain is in the forecast, take a walk through the garden and harvest any vegetables that might suffer from the effects. If the fruits are almost ready, you can pick them a little early and ripen them on a sunny windowsill.