Making the most of it – stacking on our farm
In our society, single use is the name of the consumerism game. Gadgets abound, and specialization is the key. Granted, I like some gadgets here and there, and I can’t argue that my handy dandy New Zealand fence energizer can weed my garden or make pesto. But if you look around you can probably find places, things, or buildings that can be used more than once throughout the year to make or save you money, by making the spaces more productive. In permaculture this is called stacking – in other words it just makes sense.
I went back through some old posts and have put together a time-line of some of our spaces here.
Early spring the chick brooder/greenhouse (20′ x 20′) serves as a warm place to start vegetables. Lots of light, warmth and a great place to make a mess with all that potting soil. I am always talking about rest when it comes to pasture, but it is equally important to give livestock housing a rest too. With natural sunlight and rest and maybe a different use in this building, the parasite cycle is broken, making this a sanitary (without chemicals) place to raise chicks each year.
About the time the plants are ready for planting out, we get ready for chicks. The deep bedding process starts in here now. Growing annuals (vegetables) takes a lot of organic matter. In case you’re a new reader, I am not a fan of free-range. I want to gather and tie down as many nutrients as possible.
Chick arrival day. It’s blustery outside, but they have lots of natural light here in the brooder/greenhouse and we provide heat lamps for warmth. Much nicer than an old dark garage or barn, where the lights have to do double duty as lights and heat for many weeks. Losing this inexpensive building if there is an electrical fire would be much easier to take than burning down a frame structure like a barn or house.
After a few weeks, the chicks are moved out, we clean out the bedding, which was added as needed, almost daily by the time the chicks were able to move out to their field pens. The soil is still fertile even with the bedding pack removed, so we plant some type of heat loving plants in the space. This year it was peppers. No rest needed between different uses.
The peppers did very well, we ate fresh peppers from mid-July to now, and Saturday I did the final harvest of 82 pounds. Peppers keep well on our cool porch, and I will freeze a bunch. The greenhouse is 20′ x 20′ but we only use 15′ x 20′ for chicks and growing. The front 5′ is for feed storage and serves as a place for more plants, or curing vegetables like onions and soon, squash.
On a larger scale, when we run out of stockpiled grazing, the cows are moved to the feeding shed. They eat their hay in a feeder and we deep bed them. We used to feed the cows outside on the ground which is very common. We fed in a different place each day, to avoid the common blown out mudholes that happen when cattle have access to the same ground day after day. Think of those round bale feeders that are so convenient, but very hard on the ground in the long run. (We don’t have those, but I am sure you have all seen them and damage that is done.) When we fed outside, we used more hay, some was wasted from getting wet, the cows ate more to stay warm, and we had to haul the hay to the cows, and we were wasting all that manure at a time during the year when the soil could not use it. Soil microbes necessary to metabolize the manure are hibernating, and/or dormant during the cold season. Not capturing any manure and urine that comes your way even in a small homestead setting is a money waster for sure, and causes pollution since the plants and soil are not able to utilize the nutrients during the dormant season.
I am so not a fan of free-range. I believe the health benefits of any free-ranging eggs you may eat, or barn cleaning chores you can avoid in this manner are offset by the continual mining of nutrients from the soil in a free-ranging type scenario. The pasture plants are weakened by continual access by the animals, making the plants even less able to handle nutrients that come their way. As much as we would like to, we cannot go back to simpler times, times are not simple. And the notion that by getting a few chickens, and a milk cow or goat or two to wander around on the back 5 will not make it so. Wasteful is wasteful, whether it is buying too much packaged food or wasting a resource right under our noses. Namely any livestock manure that comes your way. Especially if you’re expecting to grow many annual vegetables. Growing annuals be it vegetables or grains takes lots of inputs – period. Anyone that tells you different is woofing you. That’s why I think touting free-range and growing annuals shows a lack of understanding on the touter’s part, unless of course they have unlimited funds. Then I guess I can see where this mind-set comes from.
This is no free-range lunch, it sounds good on paper, but it doesn’t pencil out. But bedding and cleaning out barn areas is not near as glamorous as the notion of animals wandering hither and yon, finding what they need and coming home to roost after a hard day of foraging. And really who doesn’t need keeping livestock to pencil out these days. Ok, sorry about that little rant – back to business… .
After the cows go back to pasture in the spring. You can bring pigs into be housed in the same area. I first saw this method used by horse farmers, Anne and Eric Nordell, now Joel Salatin has made this popular. We are more in the Nordell’s size range using a couple a pigs, instead of the dozens used by Salatin at Polyface. The pigs root through the bedding pack and aerate it, turning it into a loose, friable compost perfect for spreading. We did not put any corn in the bedding this year – since we weren’t absolutely sure if we were going to get pigs or not. They still turned the bedding. They didn’t do all of it of course, we would have needed about 30 pigs to entirely do the job in a building our size but nonetheless, they did a pretty good job.