Often we build animal housing to be temporary or at least moveable. This is a good way of managing pests and disease naturally without harsh chemical controls. Either it is working or we’re increadibly lucky. The basic concept is that by moving the animals to new spaces, by rotating their grazing areas, by changing their winter corrals from time to time we leave the pests and parasites behind, thus breaking any cycle of reinfestation.
There is another important factor beyond health. Temporary structures give me a chance to try things out and explore ideas before I set things in stone. Plans I’ve seen in books and on the web for livestock sheds and barns give me ideas but often they aren’t quite right for our situation. Given my preference for building with granite and concrete, it is a good idea to test ideas with less permanent structures before I build for the ages.
During the warm weather when the animals are out on pasture we accomplish this by intensive rotational grazing. We graze the animals in a paddock which is a subset of the entire field for a few days to a week. The goal is for them to be in each area long enough to mow down the vegetation to a few inches in height without damaging the grass crowns, roots or compacting the soil. The animals should then be off that area for 30 days or more in order for the parasite eggs they deposited to hatch and die and the grass to grow back. This naturally breaks the cycle of parasite re-infestation without the need for resorting to medicines and is an important part of organic farming practices. This on-again-off-again grazing pattern also results in the livestock utilizing the pasture better and eating down even the less tasty items which all results in the gradual improvement of the pastures. The intensive grazing pattern favors the growth of legumes, herbs and grasses over brush and ‘weedy’ species of plants.
Another trick is changing the animal species that uses a space. Different species put different loads on the pastures. They each have their own adapted set of parasites and hangers on who can’t survive with other species. By changing who is using a pasture or permanent housing space we again break the cycles in a safe natural organic manner.
With permanent housing like the winter dens I carved into the hillside or the post and beam animal sheds we built, we achieve the cleanout by only letting the animals use those spaces for part of the year. These are all winter spaces so during the warm weather the animals are not in them. In the spring, fall and summer the livestock move out to pasture giving the dens and sheds time to air and rest. The bedding gets composted and then used on the gardens. Disease and parasite loads are vitually eliminated without having to use any chemical treatments. This is healthier for us, the plants, the animals and the soil. Good practices like this are also less expensive and less work although they do take more thinking to implement. Thinking is fun.
The poultry coop is an example of moveable housing. For the chickens we made light weight wire hoop houses which we are able to move about the pasture during the spring, summer and fall. The birds don’t live in the houses, they free range in the pasture and then return to the houses to lay eggs and roost for the night. Each time the hoop houses are moved we leave behind the week’s worth of poops and bedding along with the parasite load. In the fall and spring we remove the wooden perches and replace them with fresh saplings we cut from our woods. This eliminates the primary hiding place for mites that can infest the birds. Moving the hoop house around distributes the poultry’s night time manure over the field so it fertilizes the grass and saves us the bother and time of having to do the dirty job of cleaning out a chicken coop. Less work and better for everyone.
Over the winter is the one time the poultry hoop house stays in one place for any length of time. During the cold weather, when the snows set in, we place the hoop houses up on a foundation of hay bales. The birds come out and enjoy the nice weather but still have protection during the worst times. Fortunately, during the winter it is so cold that parasites like the mites and worms are not as active. Over the course of the winter we keep adding the bedding hay to the central part of the deep foundation. This creates a 12′ long by 4′ wide by 18″ high compost pile by spring. This is known as a deep bedding pack. The decomposition heats the hoop house a little and gives the birds warm toes all winter long. Come spring we’ll move the birds back out to pasture and they’ll get their coop back with fresh roosting bars.
Another example is pallet sheds. I need to move some young boars out of the herd so I can sell or trade them for breeding stock. Hard wood pallets make for a quick shelter in one of the garden corrals. After the young boars are gone I plan to use this space for farrowing the sows who will start dropping piglets over the next couple of months. When spring rolls around the quick shed will get disassembled, the pallets and plywood will get saved for other projects. The space will become a garden again and better for the use.
For the dogs we have several different structures including the barrels, a stone dog house and a pallet dog house not all of which get used all the time. This gives them a chance to air out time to time. Fleas and ticks are not a big problem in our area, fortunately, but every time we change the hay bedding we are helping to ensure they don’t get a foot hold. The bedding then goes onto a special compost pile, with any dog poops, to eventually become organic matter for the fruit trees and similar plantings. Moving the dogs around and simply changing the hay bedding means they stay clean, healthier and smell fresh.
Another temporary housing is the 666 WWW (Welded Wire Mesh) with plastic over it. This can be used for everything from animal housing, to waterer covers to keep the water from freezing, to garden season extenders. In the picture at the top you can see two of these structures. One goes over the waterer that is a 50 gallon barrel set in the ground along the fence line. It keeps the water ice free and provides the ducks with a pleasant winter space to get out of the cold. In front of the chick brooder is another of these WWM with plastic covers. This provides the chicks with extra protection so they can grow through our winter to become layers early in the spring. Both of these structures are open on the ends so the animals can easily go in and out. Even with that opening, they still provide a significant amount of shelter from the elements and gain heat on sunny days. By closing the ends you could create little greenhouses – just don’t cook your birds.
So far so good. We have had no disease outbreaks. Perhaps it is the fresh air. Maybe it is the uncrowded conditions. Could be the rotation through different pasture areas and housing. Another thing is our bitter winters that help kill off parasites and pests. Or maybe we’re just lucky. What ever the case, I plan to continue to keep trying to bias the odds in our favor. There is no one magical fix but rather a system of interrelated practices that work with the species we’re raising to keep everyone healthy, naturally and organically.
If they can stop you from askin
g the right questions, you’ll never come up with the right answers. -?
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