Pages

1/22/10

Small Farming IS Diversified Farming

I do outside chores for a neighboring dairy in trade for their bull calves. We raise the little buggers on the bottle and then get them up to a size to sell as feeders usually around 400-500 pounds.

Now this isn't nearly as pastorally photogenic as frisky calves frolicking around their mommas on a pretty meadow but on a small farm of 40 acres like ours, making very much moola as a cow/calf operation is hard. You must feed momma the whole while she is pregnant and nursing a calf to weaning age. The net effect is you are feeding 1,200 pounds of cow/calf to nourish a 200# calf. Once our calves are on the pasture we can feed 5 with the same amount of grass as one cow/calf pair.



Raising bottle calves entails 6-8 weeks of bottle feeding, then transitioning to grains and hay and only after several months to grass. They are kept in single hutches for a couple of weeks to get used to the bottle and so we can keep a good eye on them.

The first big challenges to their young immune system comes at around 2 weeks as the passive immunity they received from the colostrum collected from their mothers in the first days after birth begins to wear off. Once they are starting to eat grains we put them in groups of 5 and continue feeding milk replacer. Finally at around 6 to 8 weeks and once they are eating grain well and starting to pay attention to hay they are weaned.

But the truth of raising bottle calves in any number is that poop happens! Mix in some spilled hay and bedding of whatever kind and what you have is the makings of some fine compost. Of course w that is black gold for market farmers. Our tight, silty loam soil can use all the loosening compost we can pour on. We follow organic rules for hot composting but still always let it mellow the required time before applying to crops: from raw manure to harvest - 120 days for ground contact crops like carrots and 90 for above ground crops.

So in just that little chain there is labor trade, cattle ranching, hay farming and market gardening. The best part is the fertility from the hay and feed concentrates brought on the farm for the most part stay here, cattle use very little of what they eat - and heaven knows I don't sell enough vegetables to export much fertility!

0 comments: