Grow More With Vertical Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few years ago I was faced with an issue of needing to keep some seedlings warm, combined with not a lot of money to spend and limited resources. This meant being creative with what WAS available and the result is functional, cheap and reuses things that mostly would have been thrown away.

I already had an existing 4’x4′ compost bin created by putting together pallets. To this basic pallet compost bin I nailed a “ladder” framework. I then cut the bottoms off of 2 liter soda bottles, putting a hole in the cap before screwing it back on which insured water dripped out rather than pooling in the container. The bottom piece cut off – a small ‘bowl’ – I’ve used for starting seeds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce the framework was done and the bottles prepared the bottles were turned upside down and a small screw attached it to the frame. A larger screw was driven through the neck for solid support – I used 1-7/8″ screws but 2″ would have given a little more security. The bottles were arranged 10 across the 4′ span, with the base arranged so it funnels into the bottle below it. The bottom row drips into containers. In this way watering the top layer goes through to drip into the 2nd layer. If, in the case of rain, it is too much it continues to trickle down and finally out the containers if excessive.

Once the bottles were arranged, it’s a matter of filling them – I used a handful of broken up leaves in the bottom followed by a soil mixture. The mix is compost, soil, manure and bagged top soil. On one side there are 20 pepper plants are in these, one to a container, with ten zucchini on the top layer. The zucchini will be ‘trained’ over the top providing shade over the compost bin as well as making use of space.

The other thought to this was keeping seedlings warm in case of an unexpected cold snap. A sheet of plastic from a farm store – less than $20 – was employed to go over the entire frame. The natural heat from the compost bin provides enough to, in the south, raise the temperature just that few degrees to keep them from getting nipped by frost.

Fancier materials from new purchase can be used with the same idea but for what was needed these have worked very well. It allows up to 170 plants in a 4×4′ space. For those with limited space, such as a patio or balcony, it would be easy to adapt to allow herbs and vegetables too be grown even if you don’t have a yard or garden area.

As it was used, in direct sun the soil will get too warm and ‘cook’ the roots, so plan the location well. Yes it will fall apart in a few years – but $30 for five years is not a bad value.

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Tips for Raising Dairy Goat Kids

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADairy goats are an animal that people seem to either love or hate. Raising dairy goat kids is a key part in keeping these animals as well as insuring that you have a continuous supply of milk with each generation being better than the one before. As you become familiar with these animals you will see a side that few others do. The purpose of breeding is to make the next generation better as even the best doe will not last forever. Having healthy, quality daughters to step up in her place insures a steady supply of milk, but this doesn’t come without a plan and a fair share of time.

Pound for pound a good dairy goat can outmilk a cow. In an open ag forum I would get teased by dairy cattle people and at the first insult of my goats I issued the challenge. The fact is a good Alpine in the herd milked 18 pounds per day on official test, and at roughly 100 pounds that’s producing more than her body weight in milk every week. Seen another way, a 1,000 pound cow at 10 times the body weight would have to produce 180 pounds (also 10 times) to equal her and that simply does not happen. This was a good doe but not even close to the world record holder. That title goes to a registered Toggenburg.

Heavy producing does need good management to maintain that kind of production without taking a toll on her body. These are the kind of does to product to the bucks for daughters that continue the family tradition. Often those criticizing the goat see the other side of the picture. This is the low production, hard keeping doe with poor tasting milk often because she’s grazing on brush and garbage forage that do not meet her nutritional needs. The dairy doe, like her growing kids, needs good nutrition to perform at her best.

As a homesteader you want the former type of animal or her daughters, whether or not they are purebred. Don’t gauge butterfat or production on breed as this can lead you wrong and any doe said to produce “a gallon a day” should have a clearly visible milk vein’ that runs on the underside of her belly. I’ve never seen a heavy milker without that vein clearly visible no matter what size the udder is.

Once you select your dairy kids from these types of animals you need to start early to keep them growing and healthy. If you are raising them from early on make sure they get plenty of colostrum from the doe, preferably two or three feedings. Due to some health issues many people remove the kids from the doe and pasteurize the milk. This also insures there is milk for the people as well as limits the damage a kid can do to a doe’s udder when aggressively nursing.

Contrary to often stated opinion goats do not “eat everything” and as you start feeding them you will wish sometimes that was true! They will nibble on many things and do have an appetite for boxes because it’s fiber. However, from early on the young dairy goat needs quality feed.

This means good clean hay and plenty of it! If you can find alfalfa mix hay so much the better. Have a feeder the goats need to reach into in order to eat and minimize what is pulled out of the feeder if it hits the ground many goats will not touch it! This adds up to a major cost for the homesteader as wasted hay may not be bad, just on the ground. Some people run a couple of hair sheep with their dairy goats to clean up such hay and make use of it!

Plenty of clean water is needed also for the growing dairy goat. Make sure the tank or bucket is cleaned often and keep it (again!) from where feet or debris can get into the water.

Many breeders provide a trace mineral block as well as a good mineral. If you run any lambs with the goats watch the copper level in the mineral goats need it but sheep can ingest toxic amounts of it. Don’t be tempted to feed sheep mineral but rather use a mineral for dairy cattle. The difference in this became clear when a change meant darker, richer colors on the Toggenburgs and a better hair coat on the goats. Some things goats and sheep are the same but in many you will need to adapt things down from dairy cattle.

Deworm young goats and treat for coccidia, a parasite that can kill a young goat remarkably quickly. This means treating with Albon or other drugs for coccidia as a regular wormer does not kill them. A good quality grain should be fed as soon as the kids will start nibbling on it. Don’t overfeed though as this can cause stomach upset which can be fatal.

There are not many vaccinations needed for dairy goats but a couple that shouldn’t be skimped on are tetanus and C&D. These will cost you under $8 including the disposable syringe and needle. The C&D helps protect against enterotoxaemia or “overeating”, a digestive upset that can be fatal. Tetanus is advised especially if there has been or are horses on the property.

Dairy got kids need a dry clean place to live. Dry is important as it not only prevents health problems but also prevents parasites. Good quality dairy got kids are an investment in your food supply. Feed and house them well and they will return it many times over not only in milk but also in their antics. There’s the occasional kid that especially likes people that grows into the doe that is always following you thisclose and it makes it even more rewarding to be able to say “I raised her.”

5 Important Tips to Starting Chicks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpring is near and for many that means the peeping of chicks being started inside. Selection of a breed that works for you is important, but once your research finds those birds, a good hatchery and your order is placed there are some important things to have in place when the chicks arrive. Ideally this will be set up so it makes the transition easy.

Chicks absorb the nutrition from the yolk before hatching, which allows them to be shipped the first day without food or water. However, on arrival they will need a good start to stay healthy and thriving. You’ll need a clean brooder to start with. Hold off on bedding at first, simply having a clean bare floor. The brooder need not be fancy – a commercially made one can be used or you can adapt from many options. I’ve used a rabbit carrier inside a box as an effective way to start small batches of chicks, with 12-15 in each section of the carrier. Once the chicks identify food then bedding can be added to help keep a solid floored brooder dry.

Safety. Too many times those heat lamps are not properly hung, or a cord is frayed or worn. This is critical as too many fires result from such simple and relatively inexpensive fixes. Make sure the light doesn’t come in contact with flammable materials. Temperature is important! You want the temperature at the chick’s level to be 95 degrees. If chicks are too cold they will pile in a corner or on top of each other…often the strongest ones push underneath to the center and are then smothered by the others. Make sure the chicks have enough heat – if they’re avoiding the heated area then it’s too warm, but they shouldn’t be crowding on top of each other either. A good balance is the ability to retreat to food and water and a cooler area if they want to but plenty of warmth. The temperature should be reduced by five degrees per week until the chicks are feathered out, when they can begin transitioning outside.

Feeders should be easy to find and filled with a good starter. This gets the birds started with all the vitamins and nutrition they need to thrive and become productive layers. It also supports muscle growth for meat birds. Make sure there is enough space for all chicks to have room at the feeder. A general rule of thumb is an inch of linear space per bird. Initially, because the brooder has no bedding, you can spread several small piles around the brooder. This makes it very easy for chicks to find feed and start eating.

Waterers should be cleaned and filled on arrival. Some people prefer a little sugar in the water for an energy boost, some prefer electrolytes and some prefer just plain water, but have it filled. As you pull each chick from the shipping box quickly dip their beaks in the water before letting them go. This shows them where water is, as well as the normal reflex of raising their heads to swallow. Quick introduction to water is important to combat any dehydration from their journey. Once bedding is put in the brooder, I like to (before bedding) but a small block, just a couple inches tall, to raise the waterers up. This helps keeps bedding out of the water, but be sure chicks can reach the water (no more than back high).

These five basic things can be provided many ways from reused materials to new name brand equipment. The important thing is attention to detail for healthy birds!