Our new poultry house

We, unfortunately, have had some difficulty with our next door neighbor. And our poultry going into her yard has made it worst. I like the idea of free range poultry because they eat less commercial feed, have more nutritious eggs, eat grasshoppers (a real problem here), ticks, black widows, scorpions and all sorts of creepy nasties. They have also, amazingly, completely eliminated the poison oak from the front of our property. I guess their scratching did the trick. Anyway, our neighbor doesn’t appreciate all these great benefits and it got to the point where we had to do something, quick. I couldn’t take the stress anymore.

I also had to build something big, because our flock is big, especially the Muscovy ducks. So I ended up building a 20’x30′ partially covered enclosure for them attached to our livestock barn.

Though it was under stressful circumstances that this was built, in the end, I am very grateful for having it. I can easily find eggs, I don’t have to worry about predators or the birds flying off the property, and I can develop a sustainable organic, non-gmo fodder production system for them using duckponics, soldier fly composting, and home grown mealworms. It is also much easier to keep track and harvest birds as the population grows.

I do worry about the poison oak and other unpleasant arachnids and insects coming back. But we still have a few birds free that we haven’t been able to catch yet. Maybe, as long as they can keep out of the neighbor’s yard, they can keep the bugs and poison oak in check.

Here are some links that I found especially helpful:

Five gallon bucket nesting boxes

Growing meal worms

Soldier fly composter

Permaculture News: How to set up aquaponics with ducks








Home-made Ollas (clay pot) irrigation


The benefits of Ollas irrigation: here an here.

I used 1/2 inch PVC pipe fitting and selected the clay pots that fits the fittings. I am using these Ollas pots both for trees and garden irrigation. My plan is to utilize a flow-through irrigation, using water from recycled ibc tote tanks filled with catfish. Here is an example of drip irrigation successfully being done using water originally  from a well, flowing through catfish tanks then on to the fields.












shade house 2

The IBC Tote tanks holding catfish that will be connected to Ollas for flow through irrigation.

I just finished the Geoff Lawton Online Permaculture Design Certification Course

And passed! It was a huge undertaking, but doing it online was the only way it could be possible in my circumstances. I am just too busy to attend a major course like this in person. I already knew quite a bit about permaculture and how to use permaculture principles on our farm before the course. But still, I learned a tremendous amount from it and am very grateful for taking it. That experience will hopefully transform our farm into something completely sustainable and self-sufficient for our most necessary needs.

I haven’t made much progress this year in planting fodder trees because I need to build swales first, which will help them establish better and survive our hot and dry summers. And I learned how to do that through this permaculture course. An example of what can be done with swales in a hot arid climate can be found here:


We also got a very important piece of infrastructure in, a solar powered well, with a 900 gallon tank, near where I want to plant the fodder trees. This will allow continuous drip irrigation in the summer to also help them get established.

I have managed to collect the seeds I want for this purpose: tree lucerne, mulberry, honey mesquite, honey locust, I also built a shade house that will allow them to grow a year or two in pots without being burned to death by the hot sun. I just need to buy a heat mat to get them started indoors this winter so that I can put them in pots in the spring and into the shade house by summer. While they are growing in pots, I will be digging swales, no small task.

Another fodder system I plan to build, which will be the primary system until the trees are established enough to harvest from, is a sprout fodder system. You can buy these for a considerable amount of money. But it is my plan to build an aquaponics system that will allow me to sprout barley grain. I will sow barley grain each day in enough trays to provide a day’s worth of feeding. And in seven days, I will feed it to them. This system can also work for horses. Though barley is not recommended for horses, once it is sprouted, it is considered very safe and nutritionally dense and can replace a significant portion of their hay. Cost-wise, it is significantly cheaper. They do need some low quality hay for roughage. But in our case, we usually have enough of that in the pasture. We just don’t have much green grass during the hot summer. The nice thing about recirculating aquaponics, is that its water use is actually very low compared to conventional agriculture.

As I see the pasture improve and we are able to use more of our own fodder trees, I plan to transition this aquaponics system to growing mints and sweet potato greens. These are very fast growers, high in protein. I do not know if they grow biomass as fast as barley sprouts. I would like to experiment to see. But they are a more sustainable, long-term perennial option for us since we won’t need to purchase grain for sprouting. And they do grow very fast.



UPDATE: But after watching these videos; http://pacapride.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/barley-fodder-videos-including-our-fodder-room-walkthrough-and-bonus-cute-stuff-too/

I now realize I won’t be able to maintain the desirable 60-65 degree temperature range for growing barley sprouts year round. Growing mints and (in summer) additional sweet potato greens will be more practical in my situation. I want to build a large fodder growing system in a new greenhouse. But it will be a while before I can do that so I plan to build a smaller 16-20′ one attached to the shade house. I will build two 2′ wide levels 16-20′ long using sun-resistant organic certified pond liner that I can purchase from an aquaponics store locally. The fish tanks are already in place there as a part of a flow-through drip system to the shade house garden. I will incorporate them for this too.

shadehouse garden           shade house 2

The shade house I built this year. You can see the IBC-tote fish tanks in back, containing bullhead catfish. I will attach the fodder grow beds to the frame outside of the shade house. There is enough shade cloth to cover the additional beds, protecting the mints from the hot summer sun. I am also planting mint in the 50 gallon tanks above the IBC fish tanks.

And another inspiring video by Geoff Lawton (you can sign up for all his free videos here):


And about his very inspiring Zaytuna Farm:



Sheep milk soap


Unscented Milk and Honey


Lavender with Activated Charcoal


Oatmeal, Honey and Spice


Rosemary, Mint and Tea Tree


Orange, Vanilla, Spice


Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh


Packaged Soaps

Goat milk soap is becoming quite popular because the natural milk offers a very rich conditioner and lovely lather. Sheep milk has everything that goat milk has, but double. Sheep milk contains twice the fat and protein as goats milk and higher quantities of some valuable nutrients. So if you love goats milk soap, you will likely love sheep milk soap even more since it contains twice the goodness (and my recipe includes 3 oz. of milk for every 6 oz. bar).

These soaps use all natural essential oils and natural colorants as well as sheep milk and quality oils including tallow (locally processed from certified all-natural raised pastured fed beef until we are able to render our own lamb tallow), coconut, olive and castor oil and lanolin. There is also an all vegetable oil version including: sheep milk, palm, coconut, and olive oil. We are in the process of developing a shampoo bar and plan to also offer wool felt covered bars. Presently, these are primarily being sold locally and in church bookstores to benefit a church organization, but I hope to open an ETSY shop soon.

Breeding plans for the fall

East Friesian sheep, unfortunately, are not well adapted to Texas heat or parasites. This summer has not been as bad as the last two, but still they are struggling. Every day they pant heavily due to heat and the dust from our very fine silty/sandy soil collect on their nostrils. A few weeks ago I lost one unexpectedly to sudden onset pneumonia. I have come to the conclusion that high percentage Friesian sheep are not a good match for our harsh climate.

But there is hope and I have been doing a lot of research. I will be cross breeding my east Friesian ewes this fall with hardy parasite resistant rams, St. Croix and a dairy line of Gulf Coast Native sheep. Both of these breeds are the most parasite resistant in the world and are very heat tolerant. Their milking potential won’t compete with an east Friesian but as a part of a composite dairy animal (50% East Friesian/lacaune, 25% St. Croix or Gulf Coast Native, 25% dorper and/or katahdin), what they give in parasite resistance and hardiness is worth the slight drop off in milk production. When it comes down to it, I want animals that can live a long healthy life here and not be stressful to keep.

I will also be crossing my east Friesian rams with a dorper, a dorper katahdin cross and a couple of Royal White ewes. These are hair breeds (or in the case of dorper, a wool/hair breed that sheds) that can have significant milk production. The dorper/katahdin ewe that I just bought, and is due to lamb in 12 days, is developing a very nice, capacious udder that could rival the best of my dairy friesians. I am very excited about this because they are now out of milk until they lamb in winter. But this new ewe, as well as the fullblood dorper I just bought with her, also about to lamb, can carry me until then.

Haired breeds have a lot to offer and they are more readily available in Texas. They are way better suited to our hot climate and periodically poor forage, they are fast growing, their meat is excellent, and they have the right temperament for a dairy animal: calm, docile and if well socialized, not flighty at all. Plus they can breed every eight months, year round, allowing a staggered milk and meat supply and breaking up the intensity as well as they joy of bouncing baby lambs. I am really looking forward to seeing more baby lambs in a couple of weeks!


The developing udder on our very pregnant dorper/katahdin ewe, due in 12 days and a picture of both of our new girls.





Now that I am milking…

I have been so busy, I have fallen behind in posting. This year has been my first milking experience with sheep and the first time I have tasted and worked with sheep milk for cheese making. I must say, I absolutely love it. Yes, you do get about half the milk as a dairy goat. But the milk is twice as rich in protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, it makes equal amount of cheese. And if everything is right with the ewe, it tastes sweet and very mild.

We also have now tasted our first home raised lamb. Wow! What a difference from store bought! I never liked lamb because it was very greasy and ‘lamby’ tasting. But our lamb was sweet and milder than even beef. And it was incredibly lean. Minimal fat and no greasy feeling. But it still was very succulent. The family is hooked and appreciates our change from dairy goats to dairy sheep.




Going vertical (and under) in fodder production

With the ongoing drought in the central U.S., exhorbitant feed prices have been a countinuous challenge. Many ranchers in our area are getting out of the cattle industry because the costs are too high. And meat prices are expected to rise once the current sell-off is over.

Meanwhile, we are struggling with the cost of feed ourselves, as well as the resulting poor pasturage from the lack of rain. We don’t have a tractor, or sophisticated equipment or money to improve the quality of our pasture. And the continuously rising cost of feed makes continuing to purchase it as our flock size increases, unsustainable.

I do have a solution, and it is in imitation of what is done in the Third World, that also struggles with the same kind of problems: drought, lack of money for expensive commercial feed, lack of good pasture, lack of adequate acreage for the number of animals, etc. And that is, going vertical.

Advantages of fodder trees and shrubs include: low maintanance, drought tolerance, greatly reduces transfer of parasites, often nitrogen fixing and improves soil for nearby grasses, dramatically increases fodder production per acre, and high protein similar to alfalfa, which does not grow well in our area.

I have done a lot of research on fodder trees and have been buying and gathering (from wild sources) seeds for planting. The drought tolerant trees we will be planting include:

I also plan to plant some annual fodder plants including root crops:

  • moringa (a very fast growing perennial tree in the tropics, but most likely will be grown as an annual in our area outside of the greenhouse. Our growing season is long enough, however, to harvest seeds for the following year’s planting if it does not successfully overwinter)
  • pigeon pea (also a fast growing perennial shrub in the tropics, but even less cold tolerant than moringa. Because it also produces seeds the first year it can be grown as an annual too)
  • Chia (summer)
  • fenugreek (summer)
  • lambs quarters (summer)
  • cow peas (summer)
  • fodder beets (winter)
  • fodder turnips (winter)
  • fodder carrots (winter)
  • fodder kale (winter)
  • fava bean (winter)
  • Austrian winter peas
  • partridge peas (a local native)

I prefer the trees, since once they are established, they will require minimal labor or water. And success on the annual crops is highly dependent on growing conditions and how much available time I have. For this reason, my highest priority will be getting the trees started and growing.

A free download of an ebook on fodder trees for warmer climates: “Fodder Shrubs for Dairy Farmers in East Africa

And here is a cool website, though not completely comprehensive, on animal feed plants: feedipedia

And here is a cool idea for watering young trees that I want to try: diy ollas

And here is a great self-watering system idea perfect for starting tree seedlings: The Original Self Watering Rain Gutter Grow System