Friday, August 26, 2016

How to use diatomaceous earth on the homestead

We generally try to avoid unnecessary chemicals, but one area in which we've been slow to find alternatives is with our animals. Until a few years ago, we were regularly drenching the cattle with ivermectin, dosing the dogs with flea treatments and wormers and occasionally had to dip all the chickens in malthison so get rid of lice. Since we got our milking cow, Bella, we became even more  reluctant to continue with the chemical treatments as we drink the milk everyday.

Luckily we found Bel from Home Grown, who kindly answered my many house cow questions, including recommending Diatomaceous Earth for control of internal and external parasites in cows and cattle in general. I had also read about Diatomaceous Earth for chickens at Fowl Visions.

Diatomaceous Earth, consists of the micro skeletons of fossilised remains of deceased diatoms, which are a type of algae found in both sea water and fresh water. They have sharp edges, which kills both internal and external parasites, while being safe for the animals and the environment. Note that there are several grades of DE, and only FOOD GRADE should be fed to or used externally on animals.

It sounded like a great idea so I started trying to find out where I could buy it. Unfortunately most of our local produce stores hadn't heard of it. On a recent trip to Cairns, we were able to buy 1 kg of locally mined Diatomaceous Earth at the Yungaburra markets (mined in Herberton). I think our closest supply is actually Mt Sylvia Diatomite, near Gatton in the Lockyer Valley, but they will only sell it to our local produce store by the pallet (that's 50X20 kg bags, a bit more than we need!).  We eventually found a source and bought several bags on the Mt Sylvia diatomite fines product.

Chickens
I use DE in the chickens' layer boxes, this helps to prevent lice and mites living in the nesting boxes. The one problem with our movable chicken tractors is that they don't have a permanent dust bath area, but they do tend to fluff up in the layer boxes, so this is the best area for our chooks to get an external dose of DE.

You can also mix DE into chicken feed at 2% by weight, as an internal wormer.  We have never had a problem with chickens getting worms, however its good to know that DE is edible, as we use it in our grain storage bins to keep out insects.  The chickens no doubt end up eating a small amount of it, but we don't bother with an intentional dose for worming.

DE, lime and sulphur sprinkled in the layer boxes.
A hen inspects my work.

Cattle
There is not much information about DE used for cattle, I found one paper about control of internal parasites, which seemed to show that DE was as effective as chemical drenches when fed at 2% of dry feed weight as well. Again, we use DE in our grain storage bins, so the cattle get a dose now and then.  I have also read that its best to feed at full moon when the worms are more active, so if I remember I will give them an extra scoop of DE around that time of month.

There's also a bit of info about brushing DE into their coats. This is ok for the house cows, but the steers aren't so tame. We have been experimenting with neem oil and other organic options for external parasites.

eight acres: how to use diatomaceous earth on the homestead


Dogs
Apparently you can feed it to the dogs at 2% dry feed and also brush it into their coats to control fleas (and dust around the spots they like to lie down in).  We have not been doing this regularly, but we have continued to give the dogs a regular tablet for paralysis ticks, which I think also controls fleas.

eight acres: how to use diatomaceous earth on the homestead



In the Garden
This website reckons you can use DE to control pests in the garden too, and I think it could be quite useful for slugs! It is non-selective though, so best to use it only when you have a particular buggy problem so you don't kill all your good bugs too.  The silica in the DE is also great of plants, helping them to grow strong cells, so its a good soil additive,

Beehives
We use DE in our beehives to kill the small hive beetles, as I explained in this post.  We have a number of different traps that we load with a small amount of DE.  While the DE would also kill bees if they became coated in it, the traps are only accessible by the small hive beetle, so the DE is contained. I prefer this to using chemicals in the hive.




Do you use DE at your place?  Any other tips to share?  Where do you get it from?






By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Raising a big dog vs raising a working pup

Just so you know, this post is mostly an excuse to show off some photos of my big Gussy, but I did want to also share some observations about Gus' puppyhood compared to Taz, because so far they have been very different puppies.  I have been asked if Taz is helping to get all of Gus' wiggles out, but really I think Taz is still more wiggly than Gus, even though she is 2.5 years old now.  She is often the one barking at him to come and play, and she can still get him on the ground if she runs at him side on!

eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
A rare view of Gus with his mouth shut


Here is a list of observations and comparisons between Gus the Great Dane/Bull Arab/Big dog and Taz the Kelpie/Collie/Working dog (they are generalisations which may not apply to other dogs, just what I have seen so far).
  • Taz really benefited from her puppy box and we used it until she was 1 year old.  With Gus we only used it for a few months.  At night he started to hop onto Taz' bed, so we stopped putting him in the box, and then when he was big enough to not sneak under the gate, we let him out all day (but with chickens locked up).  He seems far better at calming himself and happily sleeps all day.
  • Gus has hardly chewed anything.  Although he does take Pete's thongs (flipflops/jandles, not undies) if they are left outside.  He doesn't chew them, just hides them.  So far everything else has been safe, which has been a nice change compared to Taz the collector of all lose shoes, gloves and sunglasses.
  • Gus took a long time to learn not to wee or poo on the veranda.  It got to the point where I had to take him down onto the grass every night before I went to bed and encourage toilet stops.  He seems ok with that now (we never had that trouble with Taz).
  • Gus eats SO MUCH FOOD!  We hope it will slow down where he stops growing.  His weight has increased from 7.5 kg when he first came home to over 30kg.  It took us a few days to realise that he was hungry in the afternoon.  Since then he now has breakfast and an afternoon snack.  We just keep putting food in his dish until he is full, I don't want a stunted big dog!  And if he's allowed to get too hungry he helps himself (or Taz helps, we're not sure, but it took two dead chickens to figure out that feeding Gus in the afternoon is number one priority before we let the chickens out).
  • The front clip harness has been the best investment!  Gus can walk next to me without pulling, even though he is stronger than me now, anytime he tries to run ahead the harness pulls him around, so he doesn't bother anymore.  I haven't tried the front clip on Taz yet, she has just figured out how to 'come behind' and walk behind us, so its a joy to walk them both calmy at my pace, instead of being towed down the road. - see video below
  • Working dogs have a heap of nervous energy, and they need to be taught to be calm, but big dogs seem pretty chilled out already and just need consistent discipline and a big bed.
What do you think?  Have you raised a big dog or a working dog puppy?  Any tips to share?

More about Gus
Puppy Gus - training a big dog
More about our big Gus the Great Dane pup

More about Taz
Happy Birthday Puppy Taz!
Training our Taz - puppy months and dog years
What I've learnt about puppies


eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
we had to get Gus a new bed, this one is 'dinosaur' size

eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
Gus has learnt to fetch sticks like Taz

eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
He has to 'give me five' before he gets his 'tucker'






eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
here's baby Gus when he first came home
eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
and my big boy now, don't know how much bigger he will get!


Monday, August 22, 2016

Baby hat pattern and a new crochet stitch

I've been doing a bit of crochet lately.  Mainly because I've been working on a lacey alpaca shawl and the pattern is so complicated that its not really fun to knit.  I love the way it looks, but I don't really enjoy the stress of getting the pattern right.  This leads to procrastination, which leads to a simple crochet project (or two.. ok three).

eight acres: front post crochet ear warmer and drink bottle holder
front post crochet in my ear warmer

A friend asked for a baby hat as a baby shower present, and when I was looking for a suitable pattern I found this textured toddler hat, which uses a front post crochet stitch.  It took me a few false starts and unravelling (and finding it on youtube - this is a good link too), but eventually I mastered the front post and finished the hat (and forgot to take a photo of it, I didn't have a suitable model, so you'll just have to take my word for it and maybe we will get some pics when the baby fits the hat!).


eight acres: front post crochet ear warmer and drink bottle holder
ear warmer

As I was still not feeling like finishing the shawl, I made myself an ear warmer (I prefer these to hats) using alternating bands of front post crochet and double crochet.  Then I made a drink bottle cover.  Mostly because I don't want the lovely bright pink paint to get knocked off my drink bottle, but it would also help with some insulation of the metal bottle.


eight acres: front post crochet ear warmer and drink bottle holder

eight acres: front post crochet ear warmer and drink bottle holder

How to make the ear warmer band

Chain about 20 stitches (depending how wide you want the band and what needle and yarn you're using) and crochet a few rows of double crochet.  Then switch to front post crochet on every second stitch for a few rows.  The trick here is that you have to to backwards front post crochet's on the row coming back so that the front of the work looks right.  I made the hat first, so I got lots of practice doing forward front post crochets going round and round, so it was a bit of a shock when I had to turn the work and figure out how to do them backwards, so it might be better to start with a round pattern first.

How to make a bottle holder
I used a magic ring and 10 double crochets to start my bottle holder.  The two doubles in each stitch to make the circle.  You might have to vary this depending on the size of your bottle, but that was enough rows to get me started on the rest of the bottle holder.  From there I did a few rows of double crochet with no further increases, just round and round and then I started on the front post crochets every second stitch until I got to the top of the bottle.  I finished off with double crochet as that seems to pull a bit tighter around the neck of the bottle.  I got the size just right (by fluke) so that the bottle holder stays on perfectly.

And how is that shawl going?  I've used half the alpaca yarn and I thought I may have made some mistakes, nothing like the great unravelling hole that brought the whole project to the halt last time around.


What do you think?  Do you use front post crochets?  Or other crochet stitches for texture?  Do you procrastinate and start another fun project when one gets hard or boring?



Friday, August 19, 2016

What to do with a bull calf - 2016 update

When we were planning to have our second steer butchered (this is another story), we started to look around for a young steer to replace him and keep the remaining steer company.  We have learnt the hard way that one steer will not stay home (also another story) and now always have at least two in the “herd” so they don’t get lonely.  Unfortunately it was not a good time of year to find a cheap poddy calf, with most around $300, it wasn’t really worth us buying one to raise if they were that expensive.  Finally someone answered my ad and told me he had a “Hereford cross steer”, just weaned, for $180.  Perfect!

We turned up early one foggy Saturday morning to pick him up.  After driving 30 min with the cattle crate on the back of the ute, and with no real alternative, there was little chance that we weren’t going to buy the little fella.  When we saw him though, it was clear that he wasn’t a Hereford, or a steer!  So we brought home our little Fresian bull and wondered what to do.


eight acres: how to castrate a bull calf
Little Rocket, the"Hereford cross" bull
We started doing some reading.  First on the methods of making our little bull into a steer, and then whether we should even bother, as I started to wonder about the processes suggested and their relative levels of cruelty.

After considerable research on the topic, I concluded that we shouldn’t keep him as a bull.  Although I found mixed assessment of the meat quality of bulls, it seems that bulls are more likely to suffer from excess adrenaline while waiting at an abattoir, which will taint the meat (i.e. dark cutting), however if the animal is not stressed prior to slaughter (e.g. a home kill) there is no significant difference in the taste.  The main reason for our decision was that aggression in bulls can be a problem, with some examples on the net of dairy bulls that were hand-raised and became aggressive at 1-2 years old.  As our little fella was most certainly of dairy heritage, and has horns, we decided that it would not be safe to keep him as bull.

With one decision made the next issue was which of the many options to use to make our little bull into a steer.  There are three options that are most popular: surgical removal of the testicles, emasculation and rubber bands.  Emasculation, using an ‘emasculatome’ is the process of crushing of the blood and nerve supply to make the testicle atrophy and become non-functional.  The first two options require a certain about of skill and experience, which we didn’t have.  Surgical removal requires no special equipment if the calf is young and can easily be rolled onto his side, for older calves a crush is required.  A workmate offered to come over after work and "fix up" our little bull with his pocket knife, but it seemed a little cruel to me (besides I was worried about infection, its ok when you've got hundreds of them, but we only had one little calf, it would not have been good if he'd died from nutting).  For both emasculation and elastic bands you need a special tool, ranging from $50-100.  With emasculation, the testicles remain intact, so you never know if it actually worked, which is a little off-putting for the unskilled operator!  After much deliberation (and by this stage he was too big to roll over anyway, which reduced our options) we finally bought ourselves a rubber banding tool.


Tri-Band Bander
example rubber banding tool

Fortunately the little fella was hand raised and VERY tame at this stage.  He really liked his calf pellets, so one afternoon while he was tucking into a large pile of pellets we sneaked around behind him and applied a rubber band.  Thus followed the most pampered and fussed over bull calf castration activity of all time.  We checked him every day while he was eating, for the entire 7 weeks it took for the damn things to fall off!  After 4 weeks we started to worry that he’d got an infection, and bought an antiseptic spray.  The spray had a purple dye so you could see where you’d sprayed it and the poor thing had purple legs for the rest of the time.  When they finally fell off we were overjoyed with relief (I'm sure Rocket was sick of all the attention too!).

That is the story of our successful nutting of a bull calf.  If anyone has any other experiences and comments, please share!

Footnote: several weeks later we found Rocket's balls on our front fence post.  We assumed that a bird had picked them up and left them there.  However, when I mentioned it to my neighbour we found out that her dog had brought the balls home one day and proudly presented them.  My neighbour, not knowing that the object was, had picked them up and examined them, then taken a photo and put it on facebook.  Eventually someone was able to identify them for her, and that's how they ended up on our fence post - plonked there in disgust!!  When I stopped laughing, I was able to tell her that the moral of the story was that she shouldn't have let your dog stray onto our property as you never know what he'll find there!


2016 update: we have used the rubber bands on over 20 young bull calves over the last 5 years and have not had any trouble with this method.  It is our preferred option as it easiest for us and seems to be relatively low stress for the calves too, as long as you get them young enough.  We use our cattle yards and head bale to apply the bands at Cheslyn Rise, but on our small property we often have to use the crash-tackle method to get the calf on the ground and then tie his legs with rope to incapacitate him temporarily while we do the band - this is best done while the calf is too young to escape from a chase, or it can be quite difficult to get them on the ground!


Getting started with homestead dairy

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Choosing a rooster

This might sound weird, but we let our hens chose their rooster.  I better start at the beginning (although its hard to tell where that is, chicken and egg and all that).  Here's a summary of how we hatch and dispatch our roosters, and let the hens chose a few to keep.


eight acres: how to chose a rooster



By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

Chris from Gully Grove

Going Grey and Slightly Green

Monday, August 15, 2016

Soapmaking resources and books

I reckon there are three types of people who want to make soap:

1) people who just want to follow the recipe and don't want to understand the chemistry behind soapmaking

2) people who want to know enough to design their own recipes, but not the full detail

3) chemistry geeks who want to know everything about soapmaking

The third type are probably the rarest, but that is the category that I fall into, having studied chemical engineering, I do find the chemistry and process detail very interesting (and I know a few chemistry geeks who will join me here).  I recently found a book that satisfies that interest, Scientific Soapmaking: The Chemistry of the Cold Process, by Kevin M Dunn (Affiliate link).


eight acres: soap making resources and books


This book explains in great detail how oils and fats react with caustic soda to make soap, how to test and standardise your soap and how different processing conditions affect the final product.  You can following through different experiments in the book to see for yourself how different oils produce different soaps and how varying the caustic amounts changes the soap.  I particularly appreciated the tips for making larger batches of soap and producing consistent results.  The chemistry in the book is around highschool level, I breezed through some of the basic chapters as it was all revision for me.  I'm not sure how easy it would be to follow if you hadn't studied university chemistry, I expect that you would need to dedicate more time to carefully reading the chapters to fully understand the concepts, however I think the author has made an effort to explain most of it from scratch, assuming little prior knowledge of some fairly complex concepts (acid/base chemistry and organic chemistry).

The detailed experimental methods would be very useful for homeschooling chemistry classes, as you could learn the practical applications of standardisation, titration, and various organic chemistry reactions.  For the chemistry geek who wants to know everything about soapmaking, this is an excellent book.

For those who fall into category 1 or 2, there are plenty of less detailed books that will provide everything you need to know to make nice soap without worrying too much about how the chemistry actually works.

For basic soap making instructions you can't go past Jan Berry's book Natural Soapmaking, which I reviewed here.  This is your cheapest option for getting started, it includes step-by-step instructions for basic cold-process soap with lots of photos, and some lovely recipes which you can follow exactly to create your own soap.

If you want to know more about the process, without getting into too much detail, I found Soap Naturally, by Patrizia Garzena and Marina Tadiello (Affiliate link), to be a fantastic starting point.  It explains all the different oils and fats, colour, texture and fragrance options.  Cold and hot-process soap methods are described in details.  It gives standard recipes and then explains how to devise your own recipes safely.

What soapmaking resources have you found useful?  Are you a chemistry geek or just like to follow the recipes?


     


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