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If everything I'm doing is 'wrong', then how come my livestock is so much healthier than theirs?  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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Location: Left Coast Canada
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Talking with other small farmers, the litany of woes often comes up. Wild critters undoing our hard work, the weather, health issues in livestock (small as in small farm, not referring to the size of the farmer). This is where the comradery between me and other farmers falls apart. I don't have these problems and it pisses people off.

I'm going to put this in the 'ulcer factory' section because I know there will people in this world that will jump on me for all the wrong things I'm doing. But I wonder, do they know why these things are thought to be wrong? It's pure laziness on their part, that's why. They don't bother to learn how their actions work. They don't ask 'why' do we do something or not do something. That pisses me off.

Grain farming is a huge issue here right now. We have wild geese. I agree that perhaps there are too many of them but that's not the gooses fault. The farmers have called for a cull - and managed to convince the local city folk to go along with it. However, I've never had a problem with wild geese eating my crop, grain or otherwise. The reason why is because I plant my grain so that the seeds are at their most vulnerable (planting and harvest) when the geese have more delicious food to eat. So they leave my grain and other crops alone. In fact, we have two wild geese who take up residence here every winter. They nibble a bit on the chicken's food, but in return they watch during one of the main times of year when we have the most predator problems - the geese warn the chickens and chase off the sky monsters and ground monsters - thus drastically reducing our losses.

Thinking about loosey and goosey, our two winter wild geese who have domesticated us, and I think how fortunate we are. A goose can live well over 100 years, and lay into her 90s. Wild geese have significantly shorter lives, but these two have been coming to our area for as long as any human can remember. (yes, for you city dwellers, they are the same two geese, if you know how, you can tell).

I'm not against the cull. But it bothers me that other farmers expect nature to bend to their will instead of working with it to grow their crops.


This spring and early summer was particularly dry. The weather is getting more turbulent as years go on. In some parts of the province, there were restrictions on water so severe that they allowed no outside use of water - including framing, construction, watering lawns, washing cars... anything other than daily indoor use. It caused tremendous economic strain because so many people rely on water. Locally we had few restrictions this year, however if we have insufficient rainfall this winter, it looks like we will spend next summer on extreme water rationing. Farmers bitch about this. I don't see the problem.

We're on a well, not city water. Whoever designed this property decided to put the well at the dryest part of the land, so that even at 600+ feet it runs dry frequently. Doing the laundry and having a bath on the same day can be problematic. To deal with this, we prioritize our water use. The livestock get it first, then the humans, then... if any left... the garden. The fields get none.

Our average rainfall for July is zero. Here's a photo of the nearest weather station's average rainfall. We get less in the summer at our farm.



So what do I do, I grow staple crops in the rainy season like favas, chickpeas, garlic, kale, &c. I choose varieties for summer growth that require zero water input. Things that I can plant a month before the rains stop, allowing their roots to grow deep and draw up their own water from the soil during the drought. I've also begun breeding plants to discover what can grow in our weather conditions without too much human aid.

I get a lot of flack over this. First, I'm not 'encouraging' local produce like the other farmers because I don't grow the fresh, water intensive, greens and other luxury crops. I'm not a capitalist, my farm isn't about making money, it's about growing things well. Second, I get sneers and pity (usually at the same time) when I discuss my ways around limited water - with a focus on how impossible it is to grow with no irrigation - they don't focus on how successful I am! Instead they focus on how badly they would do in the same situation.

And third, I get a lot of complaints about plant breeding. Either a lecture about the importance of preserving heritage varieties (you can't 'preserve' a living thing, you maintain it - why don't people know this?) or I'm the local monsanto because I am playing god by breeding plants. They don't see that over the last few thousand years, humans have been working with plants to create low input, high yield crops. There's nothing new or political about growing food - why do they make it so?



But that's not what bothers me (or them) the most. The problem is livestock.


Focusing on sheep because it's easiest, I am often lectured on how wrong my shepherding is. Everything I'm doing is 'wrong'.

I don't worm (give parasite meds) on schedule.

Others worm at least once a year, often once a month, if the sheep need it or not. Parasite resistance is growing rapidly here. There are only three main worm meds that are legal for sheep, and they are becoming useless as the worms have built up resistance.

I worm on demand. Saying this to a woman the other day, she scoffs and sarcastically says "What?!? The sheep tell you when they have worms?". Well, yes actually. That's exactly right.


She has her own sheep and... well... I've met these sheep with a view to purchase once, and I found them too unhealthy to bring home. She's never learned how to check the gums and eyelids to tell how strong the wormload is. She can't get that close to her sheep.

All three of the worm meds work in my flock. I usually have to apply some worm meds to a sheep or two, every 20 months or so. We don't rotate our pasture, we don't have the land for that.

Instead, I control their health through nutrition. I make certain they have the minerals they need for the breed, feed and time of year.

These other farmers buy mineral mixes from the feed store. These mineral mixes are created for the region, which usually involves the whole province. Because the minerals in the earth vary so much from one place to another, the mineral mixes are not balanced right for keeping the animals top notch shape here.

What's more, each breed of sheep requires different minerals.

Sufficient selenium, for example, reduces pregnancy problems and mastitis (yucky infected udders). Store mineral mixes don't have much Se, because most of the province has too much in the soil and adding it to the minerals will kill those sheep. Farmers complain of prolapse (inside out sheep) and yucky infected udders, not to mention some strange wasting disease that paralyzes and kills the sheep - So many farmers don't understand that these are all obvious signs of Se deficiency. They do what they are told and buy what they are told. They don't wonder WHY. They don't do the research. They are lazy.

One of my sheep has a stiff back leg yesterday. It's always the left leg. This is the very first sign of Se deficiency, it comes on like reverse tetanus and takes about three months from slight stiffening of back left leg to textbook Se deficiency symptoms. I showed this to a shepherd who was visiting and they laughed at me. "she just got up wrong, the leg fell asleep". No. That's a boy! And No, it's Se deficiency. Look. The stiffness lasted till the next day, but went away a few hours after giving him a huge helping of kelp. I know my sheep well enough to know the difference between an asleep leg and a Se deficiency.

I feed my sheep copper.

If you know sheep, then the first thing you learned is that you never feed sheep copper.

However, copper is an essential mineral for sheep. They die without it. Depending on the kind of wool, colour of wool, the breed, age, time of year, and location, some sheep require as much copper as a goat (goats need lots of copper). Some sheep (modern sheep) have very low tolerance for copper - a very fine line between not enough and too much. Other breeds of sheep have a huge tolerance range.

Copper deficiency (citing Pat Coleby's book Natural Sheep Care) is also one of the primary causes of poor wool quality, parasites and fly strike.

I don't dock or pull my sheep - remove their tails or horns (usually very painfully)

Other farmers have a huge problem with this. Having a long tail can easily lead to flystrike (unless the animals are a breed that does not need docking and/or have the correct minerals to prevent this from happening). Of course all these other people understand is "having long tails kills sheep". Because that's what a book said somewhere or something.

Horns are the primary temperature control for a sheep. It's a useful byproduct of slaughtering a sheep. And I think it's damn right cruel to take hot brands to little lambs head to stop the horns from growing, of course they don't always do it right and there are week horns growing anyway that break off and bleed frequently. This causes some suffering throughout the life of the animal.

The justification they give is to stop the animals getting caught up in brambles or fencing or being dangerous to humans. Treated correctly, a sheep is never dangerous to humans. It's incorrect behaviour on the part of the humans that cause this to happen. If a sheep does become caught up on a fence, it just lies down and waits for rescue. I check on my sheep every few hours so I know if a sheep needs me. Not paying attention to their livestock makes horns a problem.



My approach to livestock is like this. First I observe my animals and notice any change. Second, I find a vet or other trained expert and use their expertise to make certain my animals are healthy. Third, I look at other farmers. If they have healthy sheep I want to know why. If their sheep aren't healthy, I want to know why.

My animals are healthy, not just by my standards, but by my expert(s) - I have two experts per kind of livestock. The vet says these are some of the healthiest sheep on the Island.

But I do everything wrong.

At least I know why I do it.

So many others follow generic instructions and can't understand why they have recurring problems.

I feel that it's this laziness that has caused a great deal of the problems in the local livestock population? The wormer resistance, poor breeding choices (and culling choices) that were actually nutritional issues rather than genetics? Sometimes I just want to shake them and get them to start asking 'why'.
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Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9740
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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"I feel that it's this laziness that has caused a great deal of the problems in the local livestock population"

100% agree it's the same case here. People blame predators for lamb loss when it is the fault of trying to raise sheep with virtually no care. These sheep are not wild animals and can't be treated as such without huge losses. Most livestock around here has typically been raised by fencing an entire parcel of land with one perimeter fence, and set-stocking far too many animals, with virtually no care. This of course has degraded the land so the carrying capacity is about 1/5 what is used to be 75-100 years ago.



 
Burra Maluca
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I'm going to put this in the 'ulcer factory' section because I know there will people in this world that will jump on me for all the wrong things I'm doing.


There might be people in this world who would try, but they don't last long on permies. Here, no-one is allowed to say another member is wrong. Everyone is encouraged to express their opinion, but never to declare that their way is 'right' or than any other way is 'wrong'. And mostly that's for the reasons you are discovering for yourself, ie a belief that there is only one right way tends to end up with everyone doing the same, obviously sub-optimal thing, while people who break away from the norm can find ways that work better for them.

Maybe we could think about moving this to a more appropriate forum, once you feel confident that we stop anyone who tries to 'jump on you for all the wrong things you're doing'.

 
r ranson
master steward
Posts: 6016
Location: Left Coast Canada
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books chicken tiny house
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Here, no-one is allowed to say another member is wrong.


I can still call myself wrong... right?

Maybe we could think about moving this to a more appropriate forum, once you feel confident that we stop anyone who tries to 'jump on you for all the wrong things you're doing'.


I have loads of confidence in you. If you feel it fits better somewhere else, please move it. I feel I can hold my own if someone would like elaborations on why I do things my particular method of wrong. (that was a terrible sentence, lack of coffee or beer I think - the meaning is in there somewhere).

You're right, the people at permies tend to be a more thoughtful and considerate bunch. I wouldn't dream of even bringing this up on most forums... I just got frustrated this week with so many real life people being ignorant and lazy. They have the energy to tell me I'm wrong, but not enough to justify why they think so. Real life people suck sometimes.
 
r ranson
master steward
Posts: 6016
Location: Left Coast Canada
749
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Tyler Ludens wrote:"I feel that it's this laziness that has caused a great deal of the problems in the local livestock population"

100% agree it's the same case here. People blame predators for lamb loss when it is the fault of trying to raise sheep with virtually no care. These sheep are not wild animals and can't be treated as such without huge losses. Most livestock around here has typically been raised by fencing an entire parcel of land with one perimeter fence, and set-stocking far too many animals, with virtually no care. This of course has degraded the land so the carrying capacity is about 1/5 what is used to be 75-100 years ago.



Oh... shall we get me ranting on why my view of predators is 'wrong' to real life people?


I lost two alpacas to a cougar a few years back. The cougar had been hunting livestock for over two years. But the farmers around here acted so stupidly (saying they acted stupid instead of calling the person stupid is suppose to be more polite, even if it feels like the same thing). They wouldn't allow the wildlife officers on their property to trap the cougar, or if they did, the farmers disturbed the kill site, making the wildlife officer's job impossible.

In the first few months, according to the trapper, the cougar could have been caught and relocated.

It was a young male. Cougars need something like two or three years training from their mums to learn how to hunt. However, like many young males, this one had been chased off by his mother's suitor. He didn't finish his hunter training. So he taught himself.

First he began with small pray like rabbits... and these tiny animals that are tied to ropes in back yards. Tasty critters. And fat. Cats, dogs, & other domestic pets. Then he found these slightly larger animals that were penned in these small areas, humans call them fields. These areas had a fence that he could jump no problem, but the food couldn't. Tasty treats. So much food, he started killing for fun/practice, killing up to 7 sheep or goats a night. Then he discovered he could kill larger animals and get more food for less work.

And all this while the humans didn't want the poor kitty getting shot.

Our alpacas were the size of a modern llama. These were big beasts and put up far more fight than most humans would. If a cougar went after these, then he would have no problem going after a human, or human child.

When we discovered the kill, we didn't go within twenty feet of it. Took one photo with the zoom and then backed off. We know that a cougar will come back to a kill for up to three nights to feed. Unless, the kill is disturbed by humans. This is the thing many/most/all of the farmers who were pro-trapping/killing the cougar did wrong. They disturbed the kill.

The officer set up traps... then came back the next morning, casually strolling into the forest. After all, he's been after this cougar for years, it's not like this time will be any different. He comes running back about 20 seconds later, like there's a cougar on his heals. Grabs his rifle - which for some reason is in three different locked compartments in his truck - and heads, cautiously, back into the woods.

This cougar never bothered anyone else again. One loud noise, a bullet through the skill and instant death. Far nicer ending than it gave my poor boys.

But the kitty didn't have to die.

Humans trained it to eat livestock, and it wasn't going to be long until this kitty was eating humans. Humans allowed it to remain a pest by preventing proper control measures like trapping and/or killing. Humans made the problem, and they made the problem worse.

A few months later, I met one of those humans. She had lost about 20 sheep to this same cougar over several weeks, yet refused to allow the wildlife officer on her property to trap it. She was one of the earlier farms it hit, so if the cougar had be trapped when it started killing her livestock, it could very likely have been relocated and live.

Yet she was proud of her actions. She was crowing about how she fought the law and protected that poor kitty "until some stupid farmer let them trap the poor little kitten on their land."

Her point of view - I was wrong for allowing the animal to die.

My point of view - she was wrong for creating the problem that cost over 200 dead livestock, countless dead pets and very nearly dead humans.



Things like using the wild geese to help protect my chickens during the predator months confuse the heck out of people. Understanding that right now, Sep through mid Oct, is our local hunger gap for wild meat eaters, so I take extra steps to keep my animals safe until the wild monsters can chow down on the spawning salmon. People get angry at me for having low predator losses? I get annoyed at them for not learning about the natural flow of life around them.

I've had a bad month. It's made me bitchy. Thanks for being the safe people I can express my frustrations to.
 
Tyler Ludens
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On the other end of the spectrum we have folks killing every animal just because that's what you do, even though the animal is simply behaving normally. For instance neighbors shooting armadillos, who harm no-one, and shooting raccoons instead of securing their poultry.
 
elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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So I have a bit of a different point of view on this.

I know that a coyote that lives near us just had 7 pups. Yup, 7. I had the opportunity to show some hunters where she lived so they could off them all. I didn't, even though I had lost birds to them. Why didn't I, you may ask. Well, I believe protecting my birds is my job. The coyotes are just being coyotes. I need to make sure my birds are up at night and I hadn't been closing the gate or forcing them to go into the pen, so it was on me. I started forcing them in and the problem was solved until the gate, the very old gate, fell off the hinges. I lost our largest Tom turkey 2 days later. Built a new gate, hung it up and all has been fine except when we went on vacation. I asked that the gate be left closed while we were on vacation, so no free ranging of the turkeys or ducks. However, the peacocks and chickens can just fly over, and do. When we came back I found the signs of a chicken who had flown over but couldn't figure out how to fly back in and had been caught, and eaten, right beside the run. This is too much for me. The yotes obviously know where to go for a good meal, which is my fault. Now, with 8 yotes around I'm becoming less concerned about my birds and more concerned for my children. So now I am ready to show the hunters where they are and let them have at them.

I felt my logic was sound before. The yotes dint' disturb them if they were gated up, so it was on me to do so. The losses were on me. Now I've simply seen the error of my ways and am ready to off the trespassers.

Though to be honest if we'd ever caught them in the act we would have shot them. We never caught them in the act. Didn't sit right with me, going to their home and shooting them.

R Ranson wrote:
Tyler Ludens wrote:"I feel that it's this laziness that has caused a great deal of the problems in the local livestock population"

100% agree it's the same case here. People blame predators for lamb loss when it is the fault of trying to raise sheep with virtually no care. These sheep are not wild animals and can't be treated as such without huge losses. Most livestock around here has typically been raised by fencing an entire parcel of land with one perimeter fence, and set-stocking far too many animals, with virtually no care. This of course has degraded the land so the carrying capacity is about 1/5 what is used to be 75-100 years ago.



Oh... shall we get me ranting on why my view of predators is 'wrong' to real life people?


I lost two alpacas to a cougar a few years back. The cougar had been hunting livestock for over two years. But the farmers around here acted so stupidly (saying they acted stupid instead of calling the person stupid is suppose to be more polite, even if it feels like the same thing). They wouldn't allow the wildlife officers on their property to trap the cougar, or if they did, the farmers disturbed the kill site, making the wildlife officer's job impossible.

In the first few months, according to the trapper, the cougar could have been caught and relocated.

It was a young male. Cougars need something like two or three years training from their mums to learn how to hunt. However, like many young males, this one had been chased off by his mother's suitor. He didn't finish his hunter training. So he taught himself.

First he began with small pray like rabbits... and these tiny animals that are tied to ropes in back yards. Tasty critters. And fat. Cats, dogs, & other domestic pets. Then he found these slightly larger animals that were penned in these small areas, humans call them fields. These areas had a fence that he could jump no problem, but the food couldn't. Tasty treats. So much food, he started killing for fun/practice, killing up to 7 sheep or goats a night. Then he discovered he could kill larger animals and get more food for less work.

And all this while the humans didn't want the poor kitty getting shot.

Our alpacas were the size of a modern llama. These were big beasts and put up far more fight than most humans would. If a cougar went after these, then he would have no problem going after a human, or human child.

When we discovered the kill, we didn't go within twenty feet of it. Took one photo with the zoom and then backed off. We know that a cougar will come back to a kill for up to three nights to feed. Unless, the kill is disturbed by humans. This is the thing many/most/all of the farmers who were pro-trapping/killing the cougar did wrong. They disturbed the kill.

The officer set up traps... then came back the next morning, casually strolling into the forest. After all, he's been after this cougar for years, it's not like this time will be any different. He comes running back about 20 seconds later, like there's a cougar on his heals. Grabs his rifle - which for some reason is in three different locked compartments in his truck - and heads, cautiously, back into the woods.

This cougar never bothered anyone else again. One loud noise, a bullet through the skill and instant death. Far nicer ending than it gave my poor boys.

But the kitty didn't have to die.

Humans trained it to eat livestock, and it wasn't going to be long until this kitty was eating humans. Humans allowed it to remain a pest by preventing proper control measures like trapping and/or killing. Humans made the problem, and they made the problem worse.

A few months later, I met one of those humans. She had lost about 20 sheep to this same cougar over several weeks, yet refused to allow the wildlife officer on her property to trap it. She was one of the earlier farms it hit, so if the cougar had be trapped when it started killing her livestock, it could very likely have been relocated and live.

Yet she was proud of her actions. She was crowing about how she fought the law and protected that poor kitty "until some stupid farmer let them trap the poor little kitten on their land."

Her point of view - I was wrong for allowing the animal to die.

My point of view - she was wrong for creating the problem that cost over 200 dead livestock, countless dead pets and very nearly dead humans.



Things like using the wild geese to help protect my chickens during the predator months confuse the heck out of people. Understanding that right now, Sep through mid Oct, is our local hunger gap for wild meat eaters, so I take extra steps to keep my animals safe until the wild monsters can chow down on the spawning salmon. People get angry at me for having low predator losses? I get annoyed at them for not learning about the natural flow of life around them.

I've had a bad month. It's made me bitchy. Thanks for being the safe people I can express my frustrations to.
 
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