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winter grazing instead of hay (going hayless)

 
paul wheaton
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Kris Arbanas
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Great video!! Thanks for sharing
 
Mariah Wallener
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That was a great video. Thanks for sharing!
 
Doug Mac
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This can be applied to sheep, goats and other ruminants too.
 
Julia Winter
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That's an excellent video--we need beef producers to watch this. Completely practical--you will save money, you will save time if you let your cattle harvest their own feed through the winter. I heard the podcast, and that was talking about doing this in a harsher climate as I recall. This video is all about North Carolina, where the winters are mild. I believe this can be done almost anywhere, although the numbers of acres required will likely vary.

Not mentioned is the decrease in fertilizer runoff, but there surely will be less runoff with manure evenly distributed on pasture. Also not mentioned is how much healthier the farmer will be from spending his or her time walking and moving fence versus sitting in the cabin of a big tractor for hours and hours.

They note that the cows are finishing the winter in better condition, but not mentioned is how much better it is for them to not spend the winter in a small area, pulling old hay from the feeder and standing in ever increasing piles of manure.

The fact that the cattle are happier is implied, but not stated.

I liked how they stopped the action to define new terms, and supplemented the audio with text to emphasize a few statistics.
 
Doug Mac
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I also noticed that the cattle were very calm, almost like dairy cattle. Beef cattle out here in California tend to be a lot more skittish . Maybe that's because they are in smaller groups 20 to 40 as opposed to hundreds or maybe it's because they are used to having the rancher walk among them.....
 
andrew curr
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early weaning /later calving will make the system work better
As will treecrops!
 
Mary Berry
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Great system IF you have enough land!
 
Erica Wisner
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That "Mmmmm" around 11:00 says it all.

I've seen the strip-feed winter pasture method used with good success in New Zealand, with both cattle and sheep. They do more pasture planting than we do, and some areas have erosion problems.
(This was also attributed to the tough bush being cleared from steep hillsides, which held up as pasture for 50 years until the last roots rotted. Now landslips are common and one of the rivers is nicknamed 'upside-down' for all the mud that flows on the surface. So I wouldn't necessarily recommend intensive pasture tillage like they do, especially on sloped lands.)
I remember swedes being a popular pasture crop for winter forage, a herd of several dozen cattle needing only maybe a 10-15 foot strip opened every day or two.
I imagine you could do a no-till version where you gradually improve pasture mixes by managing grazing times, and by feeding choice pasture crop hay or seed as a 'treat' in areas where the existing forage is thin or poor quality. With the right timing to let the pasture re-establish, cattle pretty handily sow the seeds of their favorite foods.

The same fences also work great to block off fruit trees, hedges, or other plantings you want to establish for variety and shade.

Anybody using this method in areas with routine winter snow accumulation? 4" with a frozen crust is a good start, but a couple of feet?

Not a farmer, just like hanging out around them
-Erica W
 
Valerie Dawnstar
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I had understood that one acre could accommodate 1000 pounds of animal. What I don't know is under what system. Was that assuming hay would be fed in the winter? It follows then that how much land you had would determine how many animals you could run.

This would be problematic for me since I have alpacas and thus far they have refused to come out of the barn once it starts snowing. Perhaps they can be encouraged but that remains to be seen.
 
Adrien Lapointe
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Erica Wisner wrote:
Anybody using this method in areas with routine winter snow accumulation? 4" with a frozen crust is a good start, but a couple of feet?


That is what I was wondering too. We have a few feet of snow on the ground right now with ice crusts in between layers of snow. I wonder how cows would do to access the stockpiled grass in such a case.
 
Jerry Ward
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My goal is to be able to raise one head of beef cattle at a time to supply my family. I'm in S.E. Michigan, can anyone tell me how many acres of pasture I would need to do this? I was thinking about one of the smaller breeds like a Dexter. My hope is to spend 2013 building up the needed pasture and get the animal in the spring of 2014.
 
Cj Sloane
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Adrien Lapointe wrote:
Erica Wisner wrote:
Anybody using this method in areas with routine winter snow accumulation? 4" with a frozen crust is a good start, but a couple of feet?


That is what I was wondering too. We have a few feet of snow on the ground right now with ice crusts in between layers of snow. I wonder how cows would do to access the stockpiled grass in such a case.


Pretty sure they show that in the video. The cows dig out the snow with their feet.
 
Valerie Dawnstar
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I could have all kinds of advice for you but # 1 is do your research. This is a living creature you are going to be taking responsibility for and thus you need to be aware of it's need. As I said previously, one acre can support 1000 pounds of animal. Dexters are on the smaller side, mature weight being between 700 - 1000 pounds. Perhaps you need one acre for summer and one acre for winter. Not sure about that part.
 
Adrien Lapointe
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yeah, but it looks like it is not too deep and not really crusted. I heard of people doing it in Western Canada, but they don't get nearly as much snow as we do around here.
 
Cj Sloane
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Jerry Ward wrote:My goal is to be able to raise one head of beef cattle at a time to supply my family. I'm in S.E. Michigan, can anyone tell me how many acres of pasture I would need to do this? I was thinking about one of the smaller breeds like a Dexter. My hope is to spend 2013 building up the needed pasture and get the animal in the spring of 2014.


Theoretically you could graze 3 minis on 1 acre but I don't think that includes stockpiling for winter grazing. Don't forget to include tree crops which can be grazed, used for fencing, or drop carb rich fruit which will extend the browse.
 
Cj Sloane
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Adrien Lapointe wrote:yeah, but it looks like it is not too deep and not really crusted. I heard of people doing it in Western Canada, but they don't get nearly as much snow as we do around here.


This would've been a good question for Sepp's people!
 
Elisabeth Tea
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I love it. I wonder how it works for other animals. Thinking of the critters that fit best into suburbia, this might work better for rabbits (harbivores) than for poultry (omnivores who also need worms and bugs).
 
Elisabeth Tea
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Jerry Ward wrote:My goal is to be able to raise one head of beef cattle at a time to supply my family. I'm in S.E. Michigan, can anyone tell me how many acres of pasture I would need to do this? I was thinking about one of the smaller breeds like a Dexter. My hope is to spend 2013 building up the needed pasture and get the animal in the spring of 2014.


I'm a fellow dreamer/planner. This is a good site for determining how much land you would need to support your herd/family cow. I'm calculating needing 1.92-2.88 acres of land just for 1 Dexter to have winter pasture, and an additional 0.688-1.032 acres for summer foraging. If you want a cow and her calf, you'll need to make adjustments. http://www.caf.wvu.edu/~forage/paddocks.htm
 
R Scott
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Adrien Lapointe wrote:yeah, but it looks like it is not too deep and not really crusted. I heard of people doing it in Western Canada, but they don't get nearly as much snow as we do around here.


A foot of crusted or harpack is not a problem. When they are strip grazed, they have an "edge" to work from and they just keep rolling the snow away and can go much deeper/crustier. The biggest limit is the fence--it has to stick out above the snow and not get rolled as they plow through the snow.

I have been doing stockpiling on a large pasture basis, but need to go to strip grazing if I want to increase my herd (and I need to in order to feed the family). I will never get away from hay completely, as the dairy cattle and goats need something to eat while milked and I can make hay cheaper than any feed or fodder. But if I can cut back to just that I will be very happy.
 
Adrien Lapointe
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I did a quick research and I found an article about a research project in Northern Ontario where there is a lot of snow. They were able to keep the cows on pasture until Dec 18th when snow was at 25 cm. They pulled the cows in when they started to lose weight. A while ago, I read in Grass-fed Cattles by Julius Ruechel that even if cow's condition deteriorates a bit through winter, they will bounce back quickly on Spring's grass.
 
Jamie Duncan
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Well,at least they mentioned near the end that this isn't a newly discovered way to raise cattle! After watching the video there are a few things that come to mind however. Number 1....one guy says it is tough to make quality hay in his region,but he is baling round bales. If you are going to bale round,pay the extra 2-3 dollars and wrap the bales with plastic! That way you are guarenteed good feed.If you wrap them and ensure there are no holes,you will be able to cut and bale the same day,thus not having to worry about any surprise rainstorm. Number 2... you guys have some awesome weather for the middle of winter!!! Here in southwest British Columbia,we are lucky to see the sun once a week,never mind enough to have nice,dry pastures! Which brings me to point Number 3..... we have a small dairy farm and allow our youngstock to roam outside in the winter whenever the weather cooperates. I agree that they,given the choice,they want to spend more time outdoors than in. But...and I guess THIS is Number 3.....people who drive past and SEE the cattle outdoors,and think that they are being mistreated!! Seriously,this has happened....the city folk see cows standing there and think it is their duty to call SPCA. Thankfully the local guys know us and just laugh off the complaints,but it can occur.One day a city-dweller stopped while I was out in the field and asked why I had cows outside in January......I asked him why all the other farmers have their cows inside in the middle of March and April. He just looked at me like deer in headlights......
 
Alice Kaspar
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These folks have pastured pork, beef, chicken, and dairy goats. Hay fed ONLY if there are severe ice storms, etc.

http://www.realfarmfoods.net/
 
Tom Kozak
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Hi all,
not a deal breaker or anything but one worry I have is with pugging. I've worked on farms where the cattle where not taken of pasture before the fall rains and the parts of those pastures where the cattle were most concentrated were pretty "pugged" (damaged/compacted). now granted those cattle were being fed supplemental hay in those area and so were pretty concentrated and cattle in a grazing situation are generally not but still...
is pugging even a concern? and if so are there any ways to mitigate it or is it just a fact of life that has to be lived with?

For reference, this was in central Ontario.
 
Taylor Stewart
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So we're running about 85 head on stockpiled forage right now in central Nebraska. We had about 10" of snow recently, and I just moved the cattle this morning. We're back grazing through a long quarter (160 acres, 1 mile long), that's divided into 3 lanes. We had a severe drought this year, so we didn't get as much growth as we wanted but we have plenty.

We grazed 100 large commercial cow calf pairs last spring, about 1300-1500lbs each plus 200lb calves (monsters, way too big...but not our herd). We also cut some hay and then the grass shut down from the severe drought and heat until the fall (its a cool season 6 species mix and 3 legumes).

Now we're running the grass finishing herd on the early growth stage grass....this can be important. If it's too mature and rank it won't be as palatable and may have extremely low feed value...yes seed heads are energy, but the sugars in young grass act as a preservative...its a debatable topic.

The cows grazing weigh about 1100-1200lbs and we have some steers out there as well, mostly Galloway but some hereford crosses. We're selling grass FAT animals on Wednesday. I would estimate we have at least another 8 weeks of standing feed. We usually mob the animals, but since the snow we pulled the back fence and are allowing them to go south into areas they have already grazed (back/strip grazing). They go for the orchard grass first, then the bromes. Obviously the dicots lose all leaves in the winter, so there is little feed provided by the legumes in the winter.

Its important to have animals that still have good grazing instincts. Buy animals that fit your system, or select towards your ideal system. If you go buy Holstein calves from the sale barn, they may have no grazing instinct left and none taught. This can lead to a disaster. Animals need shelter in a storm, not a building....a dry creek or gulley works great. A good hill or windbreak is perfect.

The animals do have to work harder to graze with snow on the ground, but if its not crusted too hard and is under 12", they will still graze. If you are running dry cows, then good stockpiled grass is sufficient even in a good snow. However if you have calves on the cows, or are trying to keep gain on a finishing animal (we expect our cows to take the calves through to march, and are still selling finished animals)...some additional hay goes a long way when there's snow. We feed a bale of alfalfa every other day, rolled out across the pasture so they all can eat (prbly 1500lb bale, mid quality alfalfa) There is almost no waste, and the protein boost helps with the stockpiled forage. If we didn't have any snow, we would not feed any hay (as we have been doing for most of the year). Rolling it out, or forking from a wagon, spreads the nutrition as well.

Pugging- yes plugging can be of concern. However, only when the snow melts. If you start to get pugging, move them faster in smaller areas. They will spoil less forage and create less damage. If the snow melts slowly, and freezes at night pugging is of no concern. One of the reasons we pulled the back temporary fence was to help prevent pugging. It gives us more time to move the animals if pugging becomes a concern.

We have been running about 275 head hair sheep and 30 goats on stockpiled forage as well. However, with small ruminants they can go downhill fast. We feed them every other day when there is no snow (1 bale of cool season mixed grass/legume hay prbly 1600lbs forked into piles from a moving wagon). We feed them 1/2 a bale everyday when there is snow. With sheep, you can finish the lambs in the fall, so you're only taking breeding animals thru the winter. Thus a slightly higher hay expense can be justified. Additionally, we feed the hay on a 12 acre field that is not in permanent pasture....so we are fertilizing the field by feeding all over the place. We will grow specialty organic corn this spring and harvest many times the value of the hay in that crop....cutting out a lot of very fuel intensive steps commonly used in farming.

Carrying capacity depends on region and productivity. We have extremely productive ground due to over a decade of mob grazing. The neighbor has a field that can't grow anything without anhydrous ammonia. Lean on the side of caution, or expect to buy hay if you underestimate. Feeding some hay can be beneficial if you are building your fertility and organic matter, but it is expensive and fuel intensive (plus lots of work). Planned grazing is of great benefit, if nothing else it will allow you to estimate carrying capacity as you go. There is no equation that will give you anything more than an estimate of carrying capacity, experience and observation is the best way to calculate carrying capacity.

I'll try and shoot a video this afternoon of our grazing system.
 
Valerie Dawnstar
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Thanks, Taylor! I look forward to your video.
 
andrew curr
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A dry cow reqires 60 kg green dry matter each day
a lactating animaL more
 
Walter Jeffries
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Cj Verde wrote:
Adrien Lapointe wrote:
Erica Wisner wrote:
Anybody using this method in areas with routine winter snow accumulation? 4" with a frozen crust is a good start, but a couple of feet?

That is what I was wondering too. We have a few feet of snow on the ground right now with ice crusts in between layers of snow. I wonder how cows would do to access the stockpiled grass in such a case.

Pretty sure they show that in the video. The cows dig out the snow with their feet.


This idea is all the rage but it has some serious caveats. Winter grazing is highly dependent on climate. In areas where there isn't much snow or the wind blows the snow off to a thin layer this will work. In place like here in the mountains of northern Vermont this won't work. We get 14' of snow that packs to a hard 4' in many layers with hard crusts. The forage are flattened down by the weight of the compressing snow. The winter snow season generally lasts six months. We and the animals are walking up on top of the snow pack - even the 3' to 4' high posts disappear and that is before the drifting. Some areas such as dips and lees are 10' to 12' deep - careful where you step.
 
Taylor Stewart
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Got busy today, I'll try and put up some photos tho. Shoot a video tomorrow.

60 kg of dry matter is 132lbs, unless my math is off. That would equate to 11% of the body weight of a 1200lb cow? 3-4% of body weight on a dry matter basis is considered standard for beef animals....depending upon environment, size and efficiency of the animal, and relative feed value.
 
Taylor Stewart
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Walter is right, you can't graze in all situations. I would argue that wherever large herds of ruminants traditionally roamed, this can be practiced to some extent. Ideally we would have forages about 20-24'' tall, so that even if the cows didn't want to dig they could graze.

Here are some photos. The big steer is named Buddy, and is around 10 years old. Last time he weighed in around 2500+lbs, and has never had anything but grass. I put in some photos of the sheep as well, and our intentionally low tech feeding system. We could hook up a bale processor, but you can't really observe the animals from a tractor. Makes a big difference in catching health issues. Plus tractors stink like fuel and are loud. Feeding like this conditions the animals to your presence and makes it much easier to work with them.
I'll try and get a video or pics of the cattle grazing in the snow tomorrow.






 
Kris Minto
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I have to agree with Adrien Lapointe for those of us who live in areas where you get more then a foot of snow. I live in the Ottawa valley (Canada) and this system would likely extend the grazing period from mid April to mid December. For the remaining winter months I would suspect there would be to much snow for the cows to adequately feed themselves given my backyard has more then two feet of snow at the moment and we've had two warming (above 32F) temperature with rain this winter.

Kris
 
Cj Sloane
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Cj Verde wrote:
This would've been a good question for Sepp's people!


I think I have the answer via Paul from podcast 82 which I happened to listen to this morning! He said that Sepp feeds his cows hay for 2 months. He doesn't hay himself but trades with a neighbor.
 
Kevin MacBearach
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Well it won't work for dairy cows, but it's good to see more beef farmers doing this.

Problem is, the majority of these videos shows beef farmers that farm in the Midwest, or places of the Southeast, in Virginia such as the Shanadoa Valley (Joel Salatin). These are areas that have had grasslands growing on them for thousands of years, with root structures that go way down. But where I live in Western Oregon, where the trees have been very recently cut to make "pasture land," I very much doubt that the same quality of grass can be grown.
 
Heather Brenner
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Jerry Ward, you're going to want to talk to people more local to you about the number of acres you need to raise a beef cow. That will vary according to how well grass grows and how much rain you get in your locale. It takes a lot more acres of pasture to grow a cow in dry Wyoming vs. warm, wet MO, for example.

I could easily see doing this winter grazing in MO, where I used to live. There's green grass all winter, even if it's not long enough to need mowing--and there's only about 3 months out of the year that it's not actively growing. I, too, want to know more about how this method translates to colder, snowier, climates.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Heather Brenner wrote:I, too, want to know more about how this method translates to colder, snowier, climates.


In the articles I've read for the colder climates it is in the places where there is wind to blow off the snow that the stock piling works into winter. The photos I see there show only inches to a foot of snow and the forages sticking up through the snow. This is grazeable although it isn't as nice as summer forages, of course.

In our climate where the snows pack on and don't get blown off by the wind we get about 4' of hard pack. The wild life such as deer and moose evolved to eat the young trees during the winter since the grasses and such simply aren't accessible. It takes too much energy to break through the many layers of ice and deep snow for the little bit of food value they would find flat against the ground. The other big way that animals in the north country survive fat reserves. They go into winter with thick coats of fat. In bad years when they don't get a lot of fat built up we get a lot of winter kill.
 
Cj Sloane
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Walter, you have 4' of snow now? Sheesh, you're not much further north then me (just south of Rutland). We've had quite a few days when it's gone down to bare ground. I have several more years to improve my pasture before I attempt stock piling. Bill Mollison does try to make the case that cattle are forest creatures. During dry hot summers our neighbors cows do break fence to vacation in our woods.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Cj Verde wrote:Walter, you have 4' of snow now?


Pleasantly no, not right now, not this year, but typically we do. This last year was a low snow year and this year, while not quite so dry, has not been as deep as usual either. But in both cases it is much too deep for digging up forages - not a blade of grass is showing and the snow is hard enough to walk on. I don't mind a low snow year after the one we had three years ago which was very deep. All the fences vanished that year and I had to do a lot more plowing. Snow's nice on the slopes for the ski areas but I don't mind less.
 
Chris Kott
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I would love to know to what extent it is possible to tweak the texture of the land to increase the types of sheltered grazing area/area scoured of snow by wind. Would it be possible to alley crop with hugelbeds and fruit bushes/trees and eventually nut trees, and generous swaths of pasture between, creating grazing alleys with windbreaks that make food, and hang on to some of it (fruit trees that hang on to their fruit until well into winter and get blown off by wind)? I figure snow accumulation will build up on the windward side of every obstacle, but if the beds were perpendicular to prevailing winds, would the snow not be extremely thin on the leeward side?

As you can all see, I hail from Toronto, Canada, but I've spent quite a bit of time in the Ottawa Valley (Madawaska Valley, to be specific).

Just some thoughts. Please let me know where it all falls down.

-CK
 
Cj Sloane
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Walter Jeffries wrote: All the fences vanished that year ...


I remember that & it was horrible! 4' fences + 3' snow + escape artist cows = 1 nervous wreck me!
 
Walter Jeffries
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Cj Verde wrote:
Walter Jeffries wrote: All the fences vanished that year ...

I remember that & it was horrible! 4' fences + 3' snow + escape artist cows = 1 nervous wreck me!


Actually, they tend to stay in for a number of reasons:

1) They have already learned the boundaries long before the snow gets that deep.

2) They don't pack snow right next to the fence because of the hot wire so as they approach the fence they sink in the last foot or so down a bit which is very disconcerting next to a hot wire they know is there.

3) There is almost nothing of interest outside the fence. The biggest key to fencing is having what the animals want inside the fenced area and what they are scared of outside the fenced area.

4) If they do exit, which does happen on occasion, such as when we leave a gate ajar bringing in the tractor, the livestock guardian herding dogs quickly put the livestock back in. The dogs have a very strong sense of order, of right and wrong. They do not like things being in the wrong places. They know where the livestock should be and if the wrong animal is somewhere they move it back to its proper place. Dogs are a bit anal compulsive about this and they love their work. The stock learns at an early age to obey.

On occasions when important fences have become completely buried I stick a line of extensions above them with a hot wire to reinforce the concept. It is important that the wire be very hot since one is now up off the earth and on the snow which does not conduct quite as well. For this reason we turn off most of our fencing during the winter, including lower wires as they get covered, to focus the 36 joules of power in the important places. No touch!

Cheers,

-Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/
 
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