Nick Truscott

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since Sep 14, 2013
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We are two 50+'s working towards a greater measure of independence and self-sufficiency in North Central Bulgaria on about 8,000 square meters (about 2 acres) - and learning as we go with growing and raising livestock as naturally as we can.
We've been here full time since Summer 2015, starting with pigs and growing with them, trialed some goats (too smelly, badly behaved and too much work), have a small flock of Geese, Indian Runner ducks and Light Sussex chickens. We raise/keep our livestock with no chemicals at all - not true, we used antibiotics for a lactating sow with mastitis - but nothing apart from that.
We breed our poultry and livestock and sell the offspring (as young stock) mainly within our village, and of course slaughter and butcher what we need for our own family consumption.
We have a small orchard that we hope one day to evolve into a food forest, and we have planted a copse that we hope will develop for nuts, fodder/forage and canopy cover for our flock and pigs one day.
We are not "purist" permies but are trying to work wherever we can naturally... in line with what nature does, not against it.
We are confident that we will continue to learn and enjoy many contributions in the forums and hope we can share some of our successes and challenges for others to learn from.
Alekovo near Svishtov, Bulgaria
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Recent posts by Nick Truscott

Not being in America or an American and having little general knowledge of US regional weather, I'd nevertheless like to contribute to the "winter housing" conversation which I found very interesting.  We are in North Central Bulgaria in a small rural village (500 families) - winter temps from November to March can reach -20 degrees C (whatever that is in F) including a couple of months of full snow cover that can range from 10-70cm in our region.  We have a small smallholding of about 8,000 square meters, which incorporates a small orchard, a small food forest, permanent built/raised hugel-beds, a 2,000 square meter paddock for horse / steer / sheep (edged with 40 Paulownia to try and establish some timber production), 2,000 square meters of field vegetable and fodder crop growing and the final 2,000 square meters has 6 pig paddocks and barnyard opening up on 2 acres of common land that we have use of.

We have a small number of pigs: a boar and 2 sows, and we aim to raise 4 litters per year sold into the local village(s) market either as piglets or into the traditional winter (Christmas) and early Spring (March) whole-pig market. We have established a breeding pattern that suits us of a having litters normally in November and May - and we have found the litters do much better when farrowed in winter, for some reason.

Our 3 year old boar is from mountain stock (East Balkan Black x Landrace) while the sows are standard Bulgarian White (the traditional national normal breed) traditional kept in 2m x 1m huts for their entire lives. Nevertheless we have observed them all exhibiting "natural" behaviours when left to their own devices.

Each of our 6 paddocks have South facing, permanent 3 sided open shelters in which the pigs are able to create their own "nests" on straw.  

We never clear out the shelters:  the floors are dirt, the pigs chew through the straw bedding as they manipulate it to create their nests and compact it.  Last weekend we were showing some potential piglet purchasers around and in one recently vacated shelters I dug down 10 inches through finely shredded/chewed dry clean smelling straw until I got to base dirt. Our chickens and ducks also do a good clearing out job in any vacant shelters, regularly choosing the protected space to lay their eggs (grrrr).

We have also observed that living in these shelters, our breeding stock "sleep out" 70% of the time - from our limited experience it seems that high winds is the biggest condition which drives them to burrow into their nests.  Our boar sleeps out even in the snow, removing straw bedding put into his shelter outside where he build a compact, straw bed with walls that are actually above his height when he lays down.

We never vaccinate or medicate any of our livestock (or dogs) unless they are "really sick", e.g. we've had one case of pneumonia and one incidence of mastitis in the last 4 years that we had to treat with antibiotics.  We worm all our livestock (pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, geese, steer) and dogs monthly with a home-mixed treatment of garlic, tobacco, turmeric and animal grade diatomaceous earth.

As an experiment last year my son and I took turns to sleep in one of these shelters with a pre-farrowing sow we were worrying (due to our inexperience) about: We had 25cm of snow outside and the temperature was -10C.  Of course we had thermal kit on, but laying next to the sow, out of the wind, the air temperature was +5C

I've attached a few pictures to illustrate, although there are not many in deep snow / winter conditions.
2 weeks ago
We have a small flock of Light Sussex chickens and ex-battery hens, Indian Runner ducks and Saddleback geese - we are still novices having only had livestock for the past 3.5 years.

Andrew Mayflower wrote:The chickens do make their own dust baths.  Sometimes in places we'd rather they didn't.

I can appreciate the desire to provide dust baths if your birds are restricted to a particular area.  We tried providing a dust bath/box early on with wood ash and DE etc. etc. and never saw them use it - as they free range from dawn until dusk they "bathe" themselves wherever they want... it appears that their favourite places are our pig shelters when they are not in use, where they scratch the layer of straw and wood chips down to super fine, dry soil underneath that probably contains pig skin cells, various flakes of other stuff that has come off the pigs skin, etc.  That experience reinforced our desire to let our critters do what they might do naturally. Our ex-battery hens are a good example - despite living their first 12 months in an egg factory, after 3-4 months of spring/early summer free ranging with no daily feeding from us, their coats/feathers/skin/feet all became terrific and their natural habits have developed too.

Andrew Mayflower wrote:Also, a dedicated dust bath that we provide them allow us to more easily use things like DE to help control mites.  I haven't noticed any problems with mites, but it's usually better to set them up with a way to prevent problems than treat them after the problem becomes apparent.

We use animal grade DE (food grade is more expensive and it is not produced or retailed here in Bulgaria so we have to import it) in our home-mixed worming treatment for all our critters (chooks, ducks, geese, sheep, pigs, dogs) and we also routinely (every couple of months for the dogs, and during the "bug season" for the birds) give them a dust bath by hand - pretty much the only time we handle the birds unless there is an obvious issue. Our bird accommodation is deep littered straw and we do sprinkle a good dose over it everytime we add fresh straw.  When we do clear out the deep litter, and after scrubbing out and letting it dry, we liberally dust the inside of the wooden chicken coop and goose house, and dust any wooden things in the large duck house which is mud brick on 3 sides.

Andrew Mayflower wrote:Our ladies eat slugs.  I'd always heard chickens don't eat slugs and if you want to get rid of slugs you need to get ducks.  Well, that most definitely is not true in my experience.  Since they have more or less eliminated the slugs on my property (at least within their zone of typical free-ranging) do I need to deworm the girls?  DW thinks we should.  I'm not opposed to it if it's necessary, but they seem to be healthy and laying well, considering the low light of winter.  If deworming is called for what would be right kind of dewormer to use?

Perhaps because we rarely - if ever - put down any hard feed for our birds between April and October, we have seen the meat eating/catching habits of our chickens and ducks very regularly.  We have slug traps in our garden and fodder field which get emptied out for the ducks and chooks to fight over, the ducks regular catch frogs and toads during the season and we have seen the chickens eating mice and baby rats too.

Much as I prefer to leave all our critters to do their thing and we do not inoculate or vaccinate them, and only resort to pharmaceutical treatment in serious cases, we do worm all our critters on a monthly basis, all with exactly the same mixture: garlic powder, turmeric, tobacco and DE.  For the birds we mix this concoction with "wet" treats like chopped up tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, soft fruit and the like when they are getting plenty of fresh produce.  In winter we dampen their grain feed, add the worming mix and stir it in, then let it dry out overnight.  We also - in the season - grind our pumpkin seeds to powder and use that as an alternative natural anthelmintic for the critters and even ourselves as a general preventative.

PS: Never seen the chooks eating wood as is, but often seenthem pecking at any wood (or anything else) around the place where there are bugs, insects, wormy creatures, etc. actually in the wood.

Good luck!!
1 month ago
We're opposite side of the world from you, but we heavily planted our maincrop garlic in November and December just before it got REALLY cold, and mulched very heavily (4-6 inches) with autumn leaves and straw.  They started coming up very nicely in the warm weather before the snow which was the idea.  We will sow kale seeds between some rows just before the last frost and then plant our cabbage seedlings in the remaining spaces as soon as it warms up - this has worked well for us the past couple of years and we haven't had to do much more than pull out the odd determined weed that has appeared and both the greens and the garlic have done very well. We also sow field cabbage and kale (seeds) as fodder crops after the frosts and again interplant with garlic which has also been very successful. We've also somehow managed to establish a few "perennial" clumps of garlic in our orchard where I have simply dumped some damaged/soft cloves at various times - hopefully these are doing some good as they don't appear to be doing anything negative to the other plants in the orchard :-) - perhaps I need to dig them up this year and see what the bulbs are like.

We get through a lot of garlic as we use it as part of our worming mixture for our livestock (pigs, chooks, sheep, ducks, geese) and 4 dogs, as well as loads of culinary uses of course. We planted 1000 garlic before Christmas and will probably plant the same again in late spring or early summer.
1 month ago
We have been using thick mulch of year old unsold/unused straw (the large 300kg rolls) from local farms for nearly 4 years to reclaim/dock kill areas of our property as well as winter mulch our fodder growing field and haveb been very successful.  It has usually been at least 1 year old if not 2, and well weathered barley or wheat straw originally grown for winter bedding on local dairy farms...  We still get some seed germination but its not particularly strong and in the larger areas we keep it down by the occasional going over with the brush cutter. We also mulch our raised beds in autumn (before winter weather, snow, etc.) after clearing using regular size bales - if we have planted the beds (e.g. onions, leeks, garlic, spinach, spring cabbage) we "fluff" the straw up, but still 12 inches or so thick.  If the beds are just being overwintered for spring planting we lay down the flakes/slices as others have mentioned.  The raised beds are easy to weed out any germinating seeds and they never amount to anything.

We have never cleared the straw away before planting, but planted through it in the beds - or in the case of field/row crops like beets, mangels, potatoes, field beans, corn, etc. we simply pull back the straw to open up a row, sow the seeds and tamp them in, then pull the straw back over them.  We haven't cleared any straw away for a few years, although we use our breeding trio of pigs (and any offspring) as well as our chickens, ducks and geese to go through our fodder field in autumn, then rake it over and roll out more bales on top of it.  It builds up great soil that is easy to work - and the critters also process huge amounts of with digging and stomping etc.

i can get bails of alfalfa hay that i would like to use to mulch my lettuce beds in a greenhouse this spring. any thoughts or other ideas?

- I wouldn't recommend using alfalfa hay or regular hay for mulching if you want to avoid seed germination - as I'm sure you know hay is cut with the seeds on whereas straw is the by-product of removing the grain (seeds) from the cereal.  So they will have many more seeds even if the hay is a couple of years old. If we do get any free or cheap old hay/alfalfa we use that as mulch/weed killer in our orchard, paddock (around trees) and tree nursery where germinating seeds aren't a problem as they eventually just add to the grass cover.

Best of luck!!!
1 month ago
(How daft am I??? Just realised the OP was over 2 years ago LOL)

We have a small flock of 16 Indian Runners, a breeding trio of Saddleback geese and a lone Light Sussex rooster. They all free-range sunrise-sunset in and amongst our small growing food forest (paulownia, indian bean, siberian pea, gorse, broom, elderberry, mulberry, wild plum, wild apricot, medlar, wild cherry), the barn yard and whatever of our 6 pig pens are fallow to forage in; a few days each week they get a couple of hours outside our back gates wandering around roughly 2 acres of common land adjacent to our property. In the growing seasons we let them into our domestic and fodder growing areas a couple of times each week to go after slugs and snails and bugs of every variety which is a massive benfit.

We've never trained them to food, but they simply come running to us every time one of us appears in the yard.  As for flying - the duck "squadron" love to do an early morning flypast down between the pig paddocks from their coop into our little fledgling food forest - flying just at the level of the pig paddock fencing - always brings a smile to my face.  They will hop over fences into a pig paddock to dig in their bedding or go through the muddy areas for titbits - and our pigs pay them no attention.  We haven't felt the need to clip any of our birds in the past 4 years.

We don't feed our birds any "hard" feed (whole grains or commercial/home made ground feed) from April through the end of October. November through March every morning we put down whole wheat grains and a large bird feeder of locally produced unmedicated ground pig feed (maize, wheat, barley, rape, millet, oats, lentils, peas, beans). We worm all our critters (domestic and livestock) weekly with a mix of diatomaceous earth + ground roast garlic + ground tobacco + turmeric added to a wet feed or a bran and potato mash.  We do not put feed or water in the bird's night accommodation except for the hospital wing :-).

Throughout the year we intentionally sow (and don't cultivate, weed or chemicalize) at least 2 x 15m x 25m pig pens, field boundaries and fallow plots with out of date and self-harvested vegetable seed to supplement (and reduce cost of) our livestock feeding throughout the year - e.g. watermelon, pumpkins, melons, squashes, courgettes, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, radish, spinach, kales and cabbages, turnip, ... after harvesting for storing the birds and pigs get to pick over and clear these areas too.  It's early winter here with temps between 2C and -7C at the moment and we are still feeding the birds and pigs daily extras of stored pumpkins, butternut and bell squash, marrows, watermelons, apples, jerusalem artichokes (of which we have plenty but the pigs cant get enough of) as well as kale (pulled up through the snow) and fresh spinach, beetroot and lettuce grown from 2017 bolted veg which survived through our first 40cm of snow with a simple low tarp cover to keep the snow off.  We also have a lot of well established comfrey plants, and that regularly gets added to pig food and cut/dried in summer to add to winter feed for all livestock.

Ducks are of course omnivores (I would have said not as much as chickens until I saw two young drakes doing tug-o-war with a frog until it split in half) and so we mince and freeze about half (the other half goes to the dogs and pigs with any bones) of the scrap meat offcuts and fat from slaughters and butchering into portions that can be defrosted any time and crumbled out for the chooks and ducks which they love.  We also have a couple of maggot buckets under the trees from spring through summer and the chooks compete with the ducks for the produce from these.

We don't have a pond but we put out water buckets for the ducks and geese to clear out their nares. They will not survive without being able to clear their nares regularly, especially after digging and in conjunction with feeding - I have found buckets are good so they can get their head right under if they want to. The waterfowl make use of of the pigs' water filled wallows during the summer for swimming, washing and playing and we sometimes fill an old mortar-mixing trough with water for them as well in the height of summer. For drinking purposes they don't seem to care how dirty the water is - but for nose cleaning they definitely prefer clean water.

Huge amount of info in all these replies - very best of luck to you Destiny!!

2 months ago
I am no expert never having had sheep until this year.  But I think 2 hectares would be plenty for the sheep and separate (very well fenced) veg growing.  But they will decimate trees of many varieties and eat pretty much anything green that is growing!

We have a very very small smallholding in North Central Bulgaria, where lamb/mutton is the 3rd preferred meat after pork and chicken. We started off with pigs and chickens and now concentrate on pigs and ducks because it's easier to sell our piglets and adult pigs locally (within 7km radius) without any onsite processing other than slaughter.  We also prefer duck eggs so have a flock of Indian Runners who also keep us slug/snail free and just a few chickens who mainly do dung/compost cleanup duties with more eggs. Our egg production is primarily is for us, our dogs and for pigs.

This year we had sheep for the first time, as an experiment and to add to our larder variety.  Very successful on the whole.  Although expensive to purchase here (2.5 euros per kilo on the hoof for just weaned lambs) they were very cheap to run/feed kept on 3 acres of roating paddocks with the pigs, they cleared most of the weeds, dead grass, volunteer tree shoots, brambles, nettles, docks either before or running with the pigs. We used a scoop of corn for training them to come to us and only started giving them baled hayage (alfalfa) in late October when the temperatures dropped.

Sheep uses I can think of (just off the top of my head) as a novice...
  • roasting
  • companion for other livestock (horses)
  • prosciutio
  • mixed grazing
  • casseroles
  • flattening land
  • kofta
  • weed clearance
  • barbecue
  • tree maintenance (established trees - not young wood where they will strip the bark)
  • irish stew
  • bartering
  • lamb hotpot
  • leaf clearing
  • moussaka

  • I think I'd go with the sell them suggestion - after putting a couple in the freezer.  If you like the meat buy a couple of lambs to next year to hand raise once you have decided on your infrastructure.

    Very best of luck to you!!
    All life is indeed sacred. And the challenge of developing a practical and pragmatic approach to killing livestock either for food or to stop suffering is very real.  We have only been at this for 4 years.  The traditional method of slaughter here in Bulgaria for sheep and goats is to lay the sheep down and cut its throat (slicing, not sticking) then hang it to bleed out and subsequently dress the carcass. Having no experience I got a local friend to kill our first goats - but having watched him do the first I wanted to do the second and thankfully it went well. Our primary livestock is pigs and we spend many many hours handling and training the pigs to come to us and be handled, lay down for checking feet, teeth, tusks, genitals, etc.  I have slaughtered some juvenile pigs (5-8 months old) in the same way as the goats/sheep - getting it to lay down and then quickly cutting the throat.  However with pigs that is not always possible with lively youngsters or larger juveniles (over 50kg for example) and adult pigs of course - for these we use a captive bolt gun.

    I started this post by saying that all life is sacred.  Having invested many hundreds of hours training and handling our livestock and giving them the best life we can, slaughtering is always reverent event - whereas for locals it is a festive/community event.  I am always quiet, often just me and my son and wife around; talking and petting the animal and I always offer up a little prayer of thanksgiving for all the work the animal does for us before the kill - as all of them have to work on our place, otherwise we could not survive!  I never ask for forgiveness - I am always immensely grateful for the pleasure I have received from them during their lives, the work they have done for our family and for the pleasure that we will continue to receive from them as food.  We had to cull a large 3 year old breeding sow (one of the first pigs we ever bought) last year due to a broken hip, and every time we eat her meat we ALWAYS say "thank you Pop".

    Whenever we slaughter large livestock we move them to a separate pen/paddock. Afterwards we let a pig(s) and the chickens in to do cleanup and there is rarely any evidence of the event.  With the exception of geese I have never noticed any adverse reaction from other livestock to a kill other than (from chickens and pigs) the desire to eat.  In practical terms it would be nearly impossible to move an animal far enough away from our other livestock so that they could not either smell the blood or hear the death noises. Our geese always go crazy when a goose from the flock is slaughtered or when goslings or youngstock are removed for sale. Chooks, ducks, pigs, sheep, goats all seem to be indifferent.

    With butchering we are very grateful to have a friend who is a trained butcher and we usually invite her over to watch and learn.  In fact she is coming over tomorrow to help us butcher two sheep we slaughtered last week.  We usually hang our carcasses for 4-7 days before butchering.  The carcasses are split into two halves (four quarters for a pig over 150kg).  For a goat or sheep the head will usually go to one of our breeding pigs as their meal for the day or put down for the chickens. From the offal we take the kidneys and liver, often eaten on slaughter day or day after; lungs, sweetbreads, stomach (emptied), heart are cooked up for our dogs on the day and the intestines cleaned and stored in brine for sausage making. I think butchering the carcass is all about what you as a family prefer to eat - when we do a pig we skin the pig and pretty much bone it all out completely.  For a goat or sheep we may bone and roll one leg and cut into two roasts, and leave one leg on the bone for a celebration/event meal - similar with the shoulders. We love goat curry, so much of the meat is diced or minced (ground) simply because that is the most versatile state for packing, freezing and subsequent usage.  However, the loin is wonderfully tender (as in a lamb) and the chops/cutlets are fantastic. All the offcuts, sinews, excess fat (if any) and other trimmings are minced and frozen to be fed either to our dogs or the chickens and ducks during winter months. Bones from goats are usually boiled up on butchery day to make a broth as an additive to the feed for chickens, pigs and dogs.

    Although the OP is some years ago I am sure this thread has been useful to many people.

    Daniel Bowden wrote:Also, what about pigs? P.s. > I'm thinking of more of a rotational / mob grazing system, not a constant presence of animals in the orchard.

    We have old, well established elderberry trees inside some of our pig paddocks.  Based on 4 years experience the low fruit is not particularly interesting to our pigs - our chickens will graze on low level fruit/leaves, our ducks eat the fruit on the ground and of course our sheep and goats decimate them.  Pigs might not be a good idea for young trees as they will likely be more interested in rooting close to them or pushing them over when they attempt to scratch on them - even young pigs can bend/break young saplings.  Our 3 year old boar (about 300kg) decided one day to root up and push over a 10 year old elderberry - thankfully not too much of a loss as we let our two sheep go at it and didn't feed them, the chickens or the ducks for a week!

    Our ducks, chickens and geese all do well grazing/feeding under our trees -the ducks and chickens are always particularly active during autumn/spring with all the bugs in the leaf-fall.
    2 months ago
    Our pigs and sheep graze Paulownia, Hazel, Elderberry, Mulberry, Willow, Acacia, Medlar, Apple, Wild Plum and Wild Peach trees whenever they can reach them.  We intentionally harvest Paulownia, Mulberry, Hazel and Willow leaves in Autumn (from the ground) to feed the sheep fresh and also to dry and add to our hayage stock.
    That's a beautiful, healthy looking and hungry litter!  No idea where you are in the world so can't offer any concrete suggestions on marketing - not that we have to market our piglets, our villagers ask if our sows are in pig or have farrowed and then they leave a message at the supermarket that they want to buy some!

    In our location your piglets would be in good demand - ultimately (possibly depending on diet) stronger in flavour than traditional "commercial" pigs and better (hopefully based on the wild boar genes) for fully outdoor / free range living.

    If you lived near my village (or within a few hundred kilometers) I'd definitely take a couple of females off of you - one for taste testing and one for breeding next year.  Good luck whatever you do!
    10 months ago