Saturday, January 31, 2015

Domesticated Horses, Donkeys and Cattle Need Additional Salt

Many of my friends are organic and biodynamic farmers. We have wonderful discussions on various farming practices and why we do things one way or another. I find that we are often in agreement on plant production but disagree on some aspects of raising our farm animals. The most recent topic discussed was providing salt to horses, donkeys, and cattle. The friend I discussed this topic with is a firm believer that her farm animals get everything they need from the beautiful pasture land she has them on. She was trying to convince me that I don't need to provide my animals with salt and that salt blocks are toxic.
First of all, as any of you who follow this blog know, my farm is very, very small. No large animals are going to meet all their nutritional needs on our pastures no matter how many species we grow in them or how well-cared for they are. We have to bring in hay in the winter and our old horse needs supplemental feeding with grain, alfalfa, and such to keep him healthy (see former blog post on caring for an older horse). Our donkeys and cattle are easy keepers, so all they need to eat is pasture during during the growing season and hay during the winter. BUT, we always have a salt/mineral block available to them and have loose salt/minerals on hand to provide them when more is needed.

Wild animals living in their natural environment get salt from natural salt licks including rock outcroppings.These natural sources aren't available on most farms. Salt is composed of sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl) which are electrolytes that serve many biological functions in the body. There are numerous websites and blogs saying that salt is poison and that no animal needs to consume sodium or chloride. Before you buy into that, please do a little reading on blood chemistry (look for sites from medical organizations and universities). You will quickly learn how important sodium is in keeping our nerves, muscles, kidneys, and more working properly. Chloride also serves an important function in regulating body fluids and is a constituent in stomach acid (hydrochloric acid). You don't have to consume table salt to get sodium and chloride into your body. Many of the fruits and vegetables that humans eat are natural sources of sodium and chloride. In contrast, the pasture grasses that my animals eat contain little sodium or chloride.

Within the horse world, there is controversy over the effectiveness of salt/mineral blocks which were originally developed for cattle. Some people don't think horses can get adequate salt from a block because their tongues aren't rough enough. We provide salt/mineral blocks to all our animals so there is always salt available to them. The donkeys, in particular, use them daily and as you can see from the pictures, they are getting the salt from it. When it is very hot out and the animals are perspiring and respiring heavily, we provide them with additional loose salt/minerals, often mixed with some grain. As for the claim that salt/mineral blocks are toxic, I have never seen any evidence to that effect.

I think an important point to remember is domesticated animals are not wild animals and we can't treat them like wild animals and expect them to be healthy.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ginseng Expert, Scott Persons, Explains Why and How to Grow Ginseng

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Photo from Accem Scott's video (link provided in text below)
Scott Persons is my coauthor for the book Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals. He is the undisputed expert on growing wild-simulated ginseng and his books on the topic are treasured by ginseng growers around the world. For those of you who are new to growing ginseng, I thought you might be interested in reading the beginning of the American Ginseng section of our latest book where Scott introduces you to the section and provides a little advice for future growers to heed (from pages 3 and 5 of the 2014 edition):
     "For 33 years now, I have grown American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) in the woods not 30 yards from my front door. It allows me a healthy, comfortable, low-stress life that is a treasure to find in our hectic culture. An individual can cultivate a forest garden of this revered herb just to have the fascinating plant around or for his (or her) own consumption, but ginseng also has great potential as a small-scale cash crop with a ready market. With little capital investment, the small farmer can net a greater profit growing ginseng on a rugged, otherwise idle, woodlot than he can net raising just about any other legal crop on an equal area of cleared land. Of course, you have to be willing to bend your back and get your hands dirty, and to take a risk and persevere when the payoff is years in the future [Author's note: A non-commercial home gardening approach to growing ginseng is discussed in chapter 32, but the home gardener will certainly learn from the material covered in the first half of this book].
     "To guide the reader in growing ginseng, I have drawn from my own hands-on experience, from discussions with other experienced growers and agriculture professionals, and from my own observations of ginseng operations throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia."
     "As this revised edition of Growing & Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal & Other Woodland Medicinals is about to go to press, the prices being paid for wild ginseng are higher than ever before. While this certainly makes woodland ginseng growing even more attractive, should roots continue to bring such high value in the future, wild populations could be threatened by overharvesting, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service might well feel compelled to prohibit the export of wild ginseng in order to protect the plant. Growers are therefore advised to proactively document their purchases of planting stock and their growing operation in order to be able to prove that their roots were not foraged from wild populations. Increased production of high-grade roots by woodland growers is the best way to keep supply in balance with demand, thereby keeping prices down and protecting the still widespread populations of wild ginseng." 

The picture at the top of this post was taken from a video of an interview of Scott Persons by Accem Scott. I think you might find it interesting: Link to Video

You can purchase a lead author signed copy of the book on my Our Tiny Farm website or through any of the major online booksellers or at many bookstores with good gardening sections.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Caring for Our Older Horse

Our dear sweet Tennessee Walker, Little Man, is over thirty-five years old. He has Cushing's disease and arthritis. His teeth are worn and many are missing and he doesn't see as well as he used to. He grows a very long curly coat that we have to clip and trim regularly. We don't ride him anymore and he really prefers to just stay in his pasture with his two mini-donkey friends. We give him pergolide every day for his Cushings and put glucosamine and MSM in his feed. His diet during the growing season is fresh grass supplemented with a little senior feed in the morning. During the winter we feed him hay. Last year the hay was poor and we noticed he was losing weight. So we started feeding him more senior feed supplemented with soaked beet pulp. That got him through the winter and he bulked up again on the pasture over the summer.

This winter the hay was much better quality, but he started losing weight anyway. Once again we started feeding him senior feed with beet pulp and oil twice a day. We also started measuring him with a weight tape every week. The weight loss slowed, but we still weren't pleased with his condition. So hubby spent some time reading about old horse nutrition and came home one day with a bag of alfalfa cubes. We soaked a handful in warm water for a few hours and took it out to Little Man. He loved it!
So now, three times a day, we feed him several pounds of senior feed with beet pulp and oil in one bucket and well soaked alfalfa cubes in another bucket. He never leaves a speck behind. He comes across the pasture just as fast as he can when we head out to the barn and he calls to us if we take too long to come out and feed him. The change in him is remarkable. In just one week he has put back on a substantial amount of weight, is moving faster, and is much livelier.

Isn't this a lot of work for an old horse? You bet it is. But he is a dear friend and helped one of our children through a tough time in life. We will do what it takes to make his golden years the best we can make them. I know there are many of you who can relate to this.

Love you, Little Man.