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Beaver pond/aquaponic system for processing wood waste

 
Dale Hodgins
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I've done a little searching and it turns out some people keep beavers for pets. They are quite friendly and follow the owners around. They enjoy being petted and groomed and since they are not predators like cats and dogs, biting is very rare. Those teeth are for your table legs. If you leave them alone in the house they chop up the IKEA furniture and plug the toilet with it. Then they build the den in the bathtub with expensive family heirlooms. I'm not kidding about this, don't do it

   So I'm going to have mine in a special naturalized enclosure with a chain-link fence buried deep enough that escape is impossible. I'll strategically place the beaver pond so that it can be viewed by visitors to the bed-and-breakfast and by those visiting the public Park section of the property. The enclosure will contain dry land and a deep pond since beavers must have this to construct a home and feel secure in their environment. Tame beavers often try to run off and it's always because they are searching for the type of environment which is natural to their species.

      The reason I'm doing this is twofold. Firstly – I want some unique animals for people to look at when they come to my bed and breakfast/nature Park. We get plenty of international visitors, many of whom associate Canada with beavers. They are very tough to sneak up on in the wild so most people go home having seen the dam but no sign of the beavers other than stumps and woodchips. So the beavers will serve a purpose as a draw card to my property.

    But every creature needs a job. My land has plenty of Cottonwood, Maple and Alder which constantly needs thinning. Beavers will do better on this than with the artificial pellets being fed by some owners. My resource is available year-round. I won't turn beavers loose on this since they would certainly destroy the wrong trees. I've already piled 150 m³ for hugelkultur beds. Most are in quite long lengths since they were handled with an excavator. At some point in the future I'd like to use beavers to process some of this wood. Quite often they strip the bark off larger logs but don't process them further. These logs could be snatched out of the enclosure and would make unique building elements and souvenirs for my guests. I've incorporated beaver wood into rock gardens and I've seen one used as a walking cane. They are all one of a kind.

       One man with a large forest in central BC used his beavers to debark cottonwood and aspen logs before hauling them to the paper mill. Debarked logs are worth more and trucking is more efficient since only useful wood makes the trip. The Ministry of the environment wouldn't give him a permit to build a dam to ensure that he had water during the dry season so he dropped the beavers in that location and gave them dozens of Cottonwood tops. Problem solved, dam built. Since his beavers run wild he's found it necessary to control their numbers through trapping and to constantly bring them logging waste so they don't cut down all of his riverside trees. I read about his adventures more than 10 years ago and have been enamored with the idea ever since. The story was in a farm magazine and was chiefly concerned with how he got around the no dam rule.

    I hope to one day cover up to 2 acres in hugelkulture beds so there will be a constant need for more chopped up wood. And other areas of the farm will benefit from the compost from spent beds.

    The quantity of wood required for all of this far exceeds what is available from my land so I'm actively seeking landscapers in the city, which is only 8 miles away who can bring me all of their waste from deciduous trees and other landscaping compostables. Between the beavers, goats and the pigs this material will be well utilized and processed before being piled up to build beds. This should make for quick decomposition and well fed and exercised animals. Everybody wins.

    I'm sure there will be those who feel it's cruel to take beavers from their natural habitat, and this may be so. But in many areas they are legally considered vermin and trappers are licensed to clear them where they plug ditches and culverts. I won't be capturing any beavers from the national Park, I'll get them from one of these trappers. Since there is very little money in fur anymore these trappers charge a fee for removal and then the carcasses are used for dog food. Any beaver used on my property will be one who has escaped this fate and they will live in a petting zoo type atmosphere free from predators. Definitely the lesser evil.
 
S. G. Botsford
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For wood, talk also to your local dump.  Most muni's are desperate to reduce dump volume, and so a sign that said -- "garden waste?  Dump for free "-- and a phone number.    You may have problems with non-garden waste.
 
Dale Hodgins
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sgbotsford wrote:
For wood, talk also to your local dump.  Most muni's are desperate to reduce dump volume, and so a sign that said -- "garden waste?  Dump for free "-- and a phone number.    You may have problems with non-garden waste.
 
Dale Hodgins
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    Unfortunately the local dump and most others in any sort of waste management are my enemies, not my friends. This is the nature of recycling, those who seek to dump and destroy resources constantly lobby government to limit the playing field and to implement impediments to innovation. I'll do this despite them, not with them.

    I won't be offering any free dumpage or any free labor or trucking. The going rate for organic waste disposal around here is $75 per ton plus trucking. The going rate for chainsaw work is $40 plus per hour. There is no logical reason to charge less than this.

  Finding a giant hole that will never fill up on a property close to the city is better than finding a gold nugget. The hole will never fill up because compost constantly shrinks and because I have a never ending need for the material on other parts of the farm.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I did some searching around today, to see just how much food a beaver eats. A variety of sources have it at about 1 kilogram or 2 pounds of food per day for a big male who is actively building. They eat less during leisure time and in captivity where they aren't as active, but even captive beavers keep fairly busy frolicking and chewing up scrap wood to keep their teeth in shape. About a 1 1/2 tons of branches per year per beaver are required, since only the bark and cambium layer are eaten and the sticks are tossed aside. They only eat leaves and bark from deciduous trees. In the wild they eat mostly cottonwood, alder and willow but they will selectively devour fruit wood when they find it. Evergreens and other non food trees are sometimes used for building dams and lodges.

It was mentioned in another thread that a family of beavers had cleared a couple acres of hardwoods in a season. They will do this when forced to build a very long dam on flat land. Each beaver will clear and drag up to 500 lb. of wood per day, for a few months if needed when establishing a new pond and lodge. In 100 days of frantic building, a beaver could cut 50,000 lb. of wood. That's 25 tons which is enough material to feed him for 16 years. Once the dam is built, cutting rates drop dramatically.

In a captive situation, it would be easy for me to provide enough food for a family of beavers annual needs in a single day of dropping my abundant hardwoods. I wouldn't do that. It makes more sense to feed them a few hundred pounds of wood in a go, whenever I prune fruit trees or clear cottonwood and alder that are in the way or fallen. I imagine that they might drag much of this material into their pond where it would be difficult for me to retrieve it for fuel wood and hugelkultur. A fenced feeding paddock could be designed which would force them to drag branches up a hill to reach the pond. It wouldn't have to be much. Beavers can negotiate quite steep slopes but naturally drag wood down hill. Zoos give them lots of wood which they happily shred. I'd like to save some debarked branches to give to guests. Debarked beaver wood seems like the perfect fuel for a rocket mass heater. Their poop is pretty woody, so I don't imagine the wood would look like it's covered in pig shit. The bulk of their work would be gathered up to create new hugelkultur beds. Overall, it seem that they are quite easy to accommodate. Even small, low budget zoos keep them. Probably the single biggest challenge would be to keep the quality of pond water at an acceptable level. Sucking dirty water out for irrigation and replacing it with clean water from the well or stream, seem like the easiest option. And then there's fencing. The fence has to be really good chainlink that is buried. They dig. They are afraid of dogs. It is possible that they would refrain from digging their way out if the dogs are right there.

This is the first time I've posted to this topic in over two years. I did start another thread called --- Using Beavers to Store Water and Dodge Water Catchment Laws. It doesn't apply to my wet environment. http://www.permies.com/t/29120/desert/Beavers-Store-Water-Dodge-Water#243677
 
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